Living the Cross
One of my favorite hymns is “Lift high the cross”. Every time I hear it, I feel encouraged and get goose bumps and nothing that I write here should be construed as criticism of that hymn. But…. But I think oftentimes we view the cross more as a power symbol than what it actually is. We carry crosses in our pockets or wear them on a necklace as if they are good luck charms or something to make an impression on those who might see them in our possession. Sometimes we reduce the cross to team colors. The cross has been turned into a symbol of victory and winning the battle. We do live as people of the resurrection, certainly, and we do celebrate God’s victory over sin and death. But we are called not just to have a cross in our possession to project an image. We are called to live the cross.
When I first arrived at St. John’s and stood at the altar to celebrate the Eucharist, I noticed that the Ascension window above the altar was reflected in the chalice of wine as I drank from it. The arms of Jesus, which from the perspective of the nave are pointed straight up, actually can be seen in the cup of wine reaching directly out to the celebrant. That image of Jesus embracing my life continues to touch me.
Think about the cross with Jesus hanging on it. It is planted in the earth, not flying high above the horrid atmosphere of hatred but right in the midst of it. On it Jesus has his arms reaching out with his hands nailed to the wood. At the time, his death was seen as passive and weak resignation to the evil in the world. But now we see Jesus’ stance on the cross as compassion reaching out to us in our suffering and the everlasting assurance that, as we come to trust God in our lives, our pain can be transformed. Contemplation on the cross brings us to the place of acceptance and endurance of our various struggles. Our pain actually brings us to know God more fully.
There are those who have nicknamed the Ascension window at St. John’s, “Touchdown Jesus”, his arms reminding us of what the referee does when someone crosses the goal line. More than just a reminder that football in our culture is far more important than it should be, this also indicates just how far we have strayed from the message of the cross. The Ascended Christ is victorious but the victory comes as Jesus allows himself to be led through pain and suffering and death.
Accept. Let go. Surrender. Absorb. Allow. Forgive. Trust. Those words are cross-like words. Those words can lead us to cross-like living so much more than their counterparts: Control; Fix; Win; Conquer; Impose; Blame.
Jesus accepts the atmosphere in which he finds himself. His faithfulness to God’s Spirit leads him to speak against the power structure in society. That faithfulness leads him to suffering and dying. On the cross Jesus accepts his station, he lets go of his need to control the outcome, he surrenders to the powers that be, he absorbs the cruelty of others, he allows things to take their course, he forgives those inflicting pain on him, he trusts that God will bring something more from this situation than can be seen in the moment.
Accepting, letting go, surrendering, absorbing, allowing, forgiving, trusting – that way of living is living the cross and that way of living is where we find the grace of God. We put so much emphasis on winning battles, controlling our environment, imposing our wills, and creating our own future that we often stray far away from the path Jesus lays out for us.
Life gives us challenge after challenge. We start out trying to beat down the opposition. But eventually we all come to see that accepting our own limitations and those of others is the path to redemption and growth. Accepting where our life is right now is the way we take responsibility for our circumstances. This is happening to me and in me. This is what I am experiencing. That sort of acceptance takes us out of blaming someone or something else for the pain we are going through. It honors the pain we are feeling. And it serves to honor God who dwells with us in this painful world. My acceptance brings humility and there I can know and be known by God.
Wherever you are, that is what you are called to accept. That is where you are called to live. That is your cross to bear. Live the cross. Who are we to think we can do anything else?
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.