published Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Cooper: Walking stations of the cross

They start in a garden, where the smell of woods from the moss and pine needles is faint but palpable. They end -- for now -- in a burial garden, a real burial garden, where the sky is visible overhead and verdant growth surrounds.

The Stations of the Cross -- this particular group at First-Centenary United Methodist Church -- call Christians to recall the last hours of Jesus through artistic representations of 14 events over his final day on Earth.

Often found in Roman Catholic churches, and meant to reproduce early pilgrimages to the Holy Land, they now are erected more and more often in Protestant churches.

The representations, which may be observed through Easter, begin in the 173-year-old McCallie Avenue church's Oak Street Center and recall Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. There, on a bench in front of a garden prepared by Laura Hartman and Patsi Walker, one can contemplate a collage of photos, acrylic paints and gold inlay by Theo Sayne to depict Christ's agony as he wrestled with what was ahead of him.

Next, in a painting by Laura Ashline, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas is represented by figures hidden within barren trees. How barren the disciple must have felt at that moment when his kiss told authorities this was the man he was looking for.

Overturned cups upon fine fabric covering a slapped-together table depict the condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin. The table is representative of the slapped-together justice system that quickly condemned Jesus.

Farther along the way, a resin rooster and dark, brooding portraits of Peter recall the disciple's denial of Christ; a crown of thorns of railroad spikes made by Bill Eaves suggests Jesus' judgment by Pilate; and a multicolored, multifaceted quilt work by Cheryl Powell represents Christ's scourging and the placement of the crown of thorns on his head.

The sharpness and rough edges of the railroad spikes and the scourge on the quilt -- complete with facets that would tear more skin -- are reminders of the awful punishment the son of God underwent.

Next, a cream knitted web by Ann Heys represents Jesus bearing the cross and the outcome of the choices each of us makes.

A rectangle mirror partially covered by children-made plastic crosses suggests the help in carrying the cross Jesus was given by Simon the Cyrene. As one looks in the mirror, the question is stark: Are you willing to carry the cross?

Photos of a shackled Jesus by Ben McNair from the Myeongdong Cathedral in Seoul, South Korea, next represent Christ meeting the women of Jerusalem.

At the station that marks the crucifixion of Christ, one can glance -- warily -- at the unsettling work by Morris "Mo" Mitchell, a Chattanooga resident who is retired as fine arts chairman at Ringling College of Fine Arts in Sarasota, Fla. The artist hopes the work will "eradicate complacency" and cause the viewer to react.

Observers, while there, also can listen to hymns such as "Were You There?" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

Three rough metal crosses depict the promise of God's kingdom by Jesus to the thief on the cross. The draping of the "good" thief's cross is deep purple, while the draping on the cross of the other thief is black. Next, an El Salvadoran cross, colorful and dotted by Hispanic heads, is representative of Jesus speaking to his mother and the disciple.

Blacks, browns and grays behind the pencil-drawn Savior are dominant in the painting by Mike Sayne that portrays the death of Jesus on the cross. The three vases of dried and crumbling flowers in front of the work also are emblematic of his death.

The final station takes the observer to the church's memorial garden, where a metal cross and metal cross of thorns symbolize Jesus being placed in the tomb.

A 15th station, the resurrection, will be revealed at the church's Easter vigil service on Sunday, April 7, at 4 p.m.

Each of the stations offers the observer the attendant Scripture, a church member's meditation, an artist's statement and the artistic representation.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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