Several years ago I participated in a spiritual deepening retreat. I remember one morning when we were out in the pavilion by the river when it was still early – the birds were just starting to sing, the sun was starting to break above the trees, the dew was glistening. There was peace.
As we sat there in silence, about 20 of us, I noticed a man walking down by the river’s edge. He was wearing a white robe, sandals, and had long hair and a beard. I realized that this was a community member who had come to portray Jesus. He certainly looked the part – at least what we imagine Jesus looked like!
He made his way toward us, slowly. We were in a time a silence until breakfast, so no words were spoken. But more of the group began to notice the stranger, nudging each other and pointing silently.
“Jesus” took his time. Although he was clearly heading our way, he was in no hurry. He took moments to pause, to enjoy each tree, each bird that flew by, delighting in creation all around him. In some ways it felt that this was the day of his resurrection, and that Jesus was looking at everything through new eyes. He had been dead for two days; this gift of life was one that he was savoring.
When he finally got to us he didn’t look at anyone in particular. He stopped by a large cross that was just outside the pavilion. Then he smiled and reached out his hand and patted it, as if to say, “You and me, old friend – we did it!”
And then he walked on.
I will always remember that moment. I had always seen the cross as a hardship, an enemy, a barrier to life. When Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” I imagined that as a hard thing that would cause me lots of pain and suffering.
And yet, seeing that look on Jesus’ face that morning, I saw Jesus identifying the cross as a friend. There were no words, but the look in his eyes and the tender way that he patted it told me that Jesus was thanking the cross for its help in redeeming the world.
Sometimes the deepest theology is something we don’t quite understand, but we know it in our soul to be true. If Jesus can call the cross a friend, the physical manifestation of His pain and suffering, then maybe whatever suffering I am going through can be redeemed, too. Maybe I can learn to embrace my failures and defeats, and let God use them to heal others.
How do you see the cross? Is it to be avoided, or embraced?
How is God renewing you?
- Rev. Bill