March 24, 2020

Along the Via Dolorosa by Valerie Ronald

The streets of Old Jerusalem are silent witnesses to centuries of history. Their narrow, winding passageways still echo with the tramp of soldier’s boots and the soft scuff of barefooted pilgrims. One route in particular bears an ancient Latin name descriptive of an event that changed the world. The Via Dolorosa, meaning “way of suffering”, is believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. The winding route covers a distance of about 600 metres, marked by nine Stations of the Cross based on biblical accounts of events leading up to the death of Jesus.

I am not a traditional Lenten observer. For medical reasons, I cannot fast from food, and I do not feel a driving necessity to abstain from much in my simple lifestyle in order to remember what Christ went through. What I have done in my decades as a believer is spend the season of Lent walking with Him through His Passion; a mental pilgrimage down the Via Dolorosa, if you will. Considering the eternal impact of the events leading up to the cross, there are not a lot of descriptive details in the gospel accounts. As I repeatedly, thoughtfully read each account, I imagine myself in the various scenes or as the different characters. It is how it all becomes real to me, hearing the sounds, seeing the faces, smelling the odors of dust and blood and seething crowds. I walk the Via Dolorosa alongside my beloved Lord and Savior. His way of suffering brings paths of tears down my cheeks with each step I take.

Following is what I imagine Simon of Cyrene may have experienced in his singular encounter with Jesus.

Simon of Cyrene   

Drawn by the roar of an excited mob, I stepped out from a narrow Jerusalem street into a scene of mayhem. I, Simon, had traveled far from my home in Cyrene to celebrate Passover on the Temple Mount, never expecting to come upon such chaos on a Feast Day. Fists punching the air, voices yelling invectives, the crowd surged closer to the entrance of the Praetorium. I found myself absorbed in the seething throng, jostled and pushed until I was thrown up against the open gate.

The object of the crowd’s ridicule hardly seemed worth their fury. Surrounded by a company of Roman soldiers, a man beaten and bloodied beyond recognition struggled under the burden of a heavy beam. I winced at the gruesome sight of the prisoner’s back laid open by brutal flogging and his limbs purple and swollen from countless blows. I had seen condemned prisoners before but none tortured so viciously. The man’s face was a mass of open flesh where his beard had been plucked out; his brow gouged by the long, cruel thorns pressed on his head. Blood filled the hollows of his eyes, running down his chin to pool on the paving stones at his feet. I thought of my sons, Alexander and Rufus, relieved they were not here to witness this atrocity.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!”, screamed the mob while soldiers goaded the prisoner forward through the gate. His clothing hung in bloodied shreds, still I recognized remnants of the tasseled stole of a rabbi. Could this be the rabbi I had heard stories about ever since arriving in Jerusalem? The one rumored to have healed the sick and raised the dead? Some even linked the title Messiah to his name. Surely he did not deserve this inhuman treatment.

I wanted to shut out the awful procession; close my eyes to the pain and blood, my ears to the labored gasps for air, my nose to the reek of sweat, but I could not. The prisoner sagged beneath the weight of the rough timber, stumbled then collapsed to his knees at my feet. Sentenced to die, he was forced to carry the beam of his own cross to the place of crucifixion but he could go no further. 

Suddenly rough soldier hands grabbed me, shoving me toward the man on the ground, shouting at me to pick up the beam and carry it for him. I felt the sharp prod of a Roman spear in my side and knew I must obey or die. As I stooped to lift the blood-slick beam, the condemned man raised his head to look at me. Roaring mob, forceful soldiers, the smell of blood faded before that capturing gaze. The pain and suffering creasing the man’s brow and squinting his eyes could not diminish the absolute love blazing out. I felt my heart suspend its beat for the length of that look, only to take it up again as a renewed heart, an alive heart touched by this almost-dead rabbi. 

Hefting the rough wood across my shoulders, I felt sticky blood staining my hands but was not repulsed. Instead, strength coursed through my limbs, enough to grip the beam with one hand, reaching down my other to help the bleeding man to his feet. The crowd parted as we moved towards Golgotha.

(based on Mark 15:21)

Valerie Ronald lives in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. She is a graduate of Vancouver’s Langara College journalism program, and has worked as a newspaper reporter, freelance writer, public speaker and bookstore employee.Valerie finds being a member of the Manitoba Christian Writers Association has honed her writing skills and confidence. She writes devotionals for her home church bulletins and her online blog. Her current book project chronicles how God’s faithfulness saw her through the dark valleys of divorce and cancer. Along with her husband, Valerie enjoys spending time with their blended family and six grandchildren.She is a nature photographer, water colorist, cat lover and Scrabble addict.

More of her devotionals can be read on her blog


  1. Thank you for taking me on this vivid and detailed journey of Simon, Valerie. I paused at these lines: "The pain and suffering creasing the man’s brow and squinting his eyes could not diminish the absolute love blazing out. I felt my heart suspend its beat for the length of that look, only to take it up again as a renewed heart, an alive heart touched by this almost-dead rabbi." I heart come alive because of Jesus. Amen!

  2. This is lovely. It fits in well with what we hope to publish in our next anthology. I will message you about it. God bless.

  3. What a gripping history of when Simon met Jesus on the Via Dolorosa. Thank you.


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