Ecological Stations of the Cross, 2023
As Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday, many will engage in a practice called The Stations of the Cross. Also known as the Way of the Cross, or the Way of Sorrows, the Stations of the Cross is a series of images depicting scenes from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Often found in church sanctuaries or outdoor spaces, these images are designed as a kind of spiritual pilgrimage to help the faithful contemplate the Passion of Christ. [Read: “The Stations of the Cross, a City Park, and Justice.”]
This year, I am suggesting that Christians practice an Ecological Stations of the Cross to mourn the eco-crucifixion of our planet.
[This resource is part of the EcoPreacher 1-2-3 series that helps preachers and congregations address environmental issues in their sermons and ministry. The Ecological Stations of the Cross is made possible through support from the Interfaith Center of Sustainable Development with editing assistance from Rabbi Yonatan Neril.]
What do I mean by “eco-crucifixion”? I coined this word in my book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) to describe the torture, suffering, and death of the natural world and human communities due to environmental violence.
I draw support for this idea of eco-crucifixion from the work of ecotheologian Mark Wallace. In his book, Finding God in the Singing River: Christianity, Spirit, Nature (Philadelphia: Fortress, 2005), Wallace makes the case that the “cruciform Spirit” embodied in and through Earth suffers just as Jesus did on the cross, this time under the continual siege of “ecological sin.”
Wallace warns of a “permanent trauma to the divine life itself” through the crucifixion-like ecocide that humans continually inflict upon Earth and its inhabitants (129). He equates God’s suffering through Jesus on the cross with God’s suffering through the embodied Spirit in Earth. Understanding this will spur “a conversion of the heart to a vision of a green earth, where all persons live in harmony with their natural environments . . . [and] work toward a seamless social-environmental ethic of justice and love toward all of God’s creatures” (136).
Ecological Stations of the Cross as a way to process eco-anxiety and eco-grief
I’ve been working with the BTS Center and Creation Justice Ministries to host an EcoPreacher Cohort that gathers preachers monthly online for education, encouragement, and support for preaching about environmental issues. In our intake survey of the nearly 100 participants, 78% said that exploring their own eco-anxiety and eco-grief was either a “high” or “medium” priority. As species extinction, habitat loss, deforestation, and catastrophic weather events increase every year, feelings of loss and grief become more acute.
One way that the church can help process these feelings is by creating rituals for eco-lament, such as funerals for trees, remembering extinct species on All Saints Day, and offering prayers for those who protest environmental devastation. The Ecological Stations of the Cross is one of these rituals.
How to use the Ecological Stations of the Cross
This Ecological Stations of the Cross can be done in a church sanctuary, outside on the church grounds, in a local park, or in a labyrinth. Small crosses could be erected with images affixed that symbolize the form of eco-crucifixion commemorated at that station. In an outdoor space, the images could be temporarily fastened to trees (without damaging the trunks, of course). Or as in the photo below, participants could be invited to choose from images of environmental devastation and affix their chosen image to one large cross.
This ritual could be done as a group with different individuals invited to read the meditation for each station. Also, local musicians could offer appropriate hymns or songs to help sing the lament of the people.
Or the ritual could be done individually with a booklet handed out during the time that the stations are open. The booklet could contain the meditations from the Ecological Stations of the Cross (which are free for use with proper attribution) to enable participants to contemplate and reflect on Earth’s Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering). [Click here for the PDF version.]
The Ecological Stations of the Cross can also be used for personal devotions. There are seven entries which can be read as part of your meditations for the seven days of Holy Week, beginning on Palm Sunday and concluding on Holy Saturday.
Every day during Holy Week, beginning on Palm Sunday, I will publish each of the Ecological Stations of the Cross on this blog as a separate post. You can access them all as a full booklet here.
Lament leading to action
As participants in the Ecological Stations of the Cross conclude their time with this ritual, it is appropriate to have materials available for ways they can take action and respond to the eco-crucifixion. Here are just a few ideas:
- Begin a Creation-centered Bible study using Eco Bible to learn about the deep Earth-wisdom woven throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.
- Provide a list of local environmental organizations with whom people can join to maximize their impact for change.
- Start (or recommit) an “eco ministry” in the congregation to educate and advocate for Creation care.
- Educate clergy and parishioners about the climate crisis in order to take effective action on a personal level, professionally, and politically. Faith-based organizations with excellent resources include: Blessed Tomorrow, Creation Justice Ministries, The BTS Center, Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, GreenFaith, and Interfaith Power & Light.
The Last Rhino, Good Friday, and the Preachers’ Silence
The Pietà of a Mother Orca: Carrying the Grief of an Eco-Crucifixion
From Eco-Crucifixion to Eco-Resurrection
Feed the Right Wolf: Preaching Eco-Resurrection in the Midst of Eco-Crucifixion
Turning Earth into Golgotha – We Need an Eco-Resurrection
EcoPreacher 1-2-3 is a partnership between the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade and the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, publishers of Eco Bible, a Jewish ecological commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. EcoPreacher 1-2-3 provides Creation-centered sermon preparation that is short, accessible, and based on a solid biblical foundation. To see other EcoPreacher ideas and to sign up to receive future EcoPreacher 1-2-3 installments, click here.
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade is the Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; her opinions are her own. She is the author of Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019). Her newest book is Introduction to Preaching: Scripture, Theology, and Sermon Preparation, co-authored with Jerry L. Sumney and Emily Askew (Rowman & Littlefield, 2023).