In this work depicting one of the familiar Stations of the Cross, Jesus has fallen for the third time on his way to be crucified. The various characters in the composition play important though differing roles and suggest our own possible responses to the work of Christ.
In the foregrounds a religious brother, Brother William Dunn. He seems to faithfully accompany Christ on his trek to Calvary. He has not fled the scene as most of the disciples did, but his anguish at the sight of the fallen Jesus under the cross is too much for him: he shields his eyes from the sight. But with this action, what does he convey? Does he accept or repress the mission of Jesus? Can we be certain, from this image alone, whether Brother Dunn is overcome by grief and love at the suffering before him, or does he shield his eyes because he does not want to be confronted by the truth of his own need for Jesus’ death? Can you make a judgment by the painting only? No, that’s just the point. But his life work proves his love for God, though it is difficult to tell when we have only a mere glimpse of someone’s life.
The strong burly man reaches toward the cross—and thinks of picking it up—but looks to the religious brother for a sign to do so. He is looking for a worthy figure to tell him what to do. Do we delay good actions while seeking another’s permission or approval to do so?
Note the two men in the background with their backs to us: one wears a uniform; the other does not. These men are barriers to keep Mary and the other women from getting close to Jesus. Of course, the Roman soldiers did the same at Jesus’ tomb. Are we among those who prevent others from seeking Christ because of barriers we erect?
St. John is there with the women. He is dressed in red with an elaborately patterned headdress. He is observing, praying, and witnessing their reactions.
And Jesus, fallen under the cross, looks only at the earth. His hands and knees on the ground, he is entirely focused on completing the sacrifice that will conquer death. He is ready for death and burial, melting into the ground, he will become the powerful seed that dying and falling to the earth, will rise again and raise all creation with him.