passion-christ (1)Our cantor adjusted his guitar, cued the pianist and adult choir, and learned into the microphone, saying:

“Our entrance hymn will be ‘Lift High the Cross’ found on Page 376. Now, please stand as we begin our celebration of the Eucharist.”

A thousand people rose and filled the church to the rafters with glorious singing.  I joined in and, caught up in the musical reverie, was tickled with religious goose bumps—until I turned and actually looked at the cross.  Screeee-ch! I stopped singing. The cross? The CROSS? I don’t want the cross!  As Gollum might say in Lord of the Rings, “We HATES the cross!”

I thought, Is anyone even thinking about what they are singing?

“Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred Name.

Come, brethren, follow where our Captain trod,
our King victorious, Christ the Son of God. Refrain

Led on their way by this triumphant sign,
the hosts of God in conquering ranks combine.” Refrain

It was like we were on a high school football march, with proud cheers rising above colorful, waving banners. After the “game” we’d all be celebrating some community victory with Father at the men’s pancake breakfast.

But crosses aren’t standards that altar boys carry in Sunday processions—crosses will kill you.

Crosses are those torturous parts of our lives that we don’t want to face much less carry—we want to hand them over to Jesus.  They weigh you down, wrench apart your joints, and are the place where you endure a hideous death: the death of your pride, ego, arrogance, sufficiency, and the intricate network of every little selfishness. Who wants that?

Those burdens are for laying down at the foot of his cross, not ours. We love Jesus because he took the cross for us, right?  Didn’t he pay the price so we don’t have to? Well . . . yes and no. That’s a faulty view of our faith and not the whole story.

Of course he paid what we could not pay on our own but he also asks us to enter into that perfect sacrifice of love with him. Jesus said:

Love one another as I have loved you. Jn. 15:12
How did he love us? With that bloody cross, that’s how.  Jesus’ perfect act of love allowed our sin to be crucified in him so that it no longer had its death-grip on us.

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; Matt. 11:28-29
Jesus didn’t say, “Give that yoke to me and you go pray.” Under the yoke of life’s injustices he will do the heavier pulling because he’s God, but we don’t get to sit on the sidelines and sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

And, in a sense, it gets worse: in Luke’s gospel Jesus made it quite clear that we were to pick up these instruments of torture daily.
Then he said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23

Protest, whine, and cry; that’s okay. Even Jesus asked his Father if there was another way, but he obediently surrendered in love. These are what we must believe and remember about the cross:

1 – We cannot reject, despise, or escape our own crosses. Not if we want to follow Christ and have true communion with him. Not if we want to enter into real love for others. By bearing our difficulties intentionally and out of love, our selfishness is crucified and our love is magnified.

2 – We must carry our crosses daily. That one little word—daily!—should help us understand why life will always be difficult. Think of our daily crosses as splinters of his one cross; they share in and hold the same mysterious power to save the world.

3 – We are never closer to Jesus than on the cross. There’s an intimate bond of understanding, love, and unforgettable unity when two people labor and suffer together. And it “grows us up” to share in his saving work. Little children let their parents do the difficult thing; when they mature they come alongside their parents and pull with them.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Ps. 34:18

4 – Every cross can bring life.  To think of the glory of Easter Sunday without the horror of Good Friday is unrealistic and spiritually naïve. But an opposite view—forgetting the resurrection—can drain our joy and kill our spirits. Always see both: the cross and the promise of new life that follows.  Lift yourself high on the cross. Climb onto it and let relationship pride, laziness, or selfishness be nailed right out of you—knowing that a resurrected heart will soon follow.

So “Put your RELIGION into your RELATIONSHIPS”:  Endure with patience your “cross”when your marriage is draining, your children are ungrateful, and when your coworkers cheat you. Offer it up . . .   on your cross with him.

And when it seems the music has died and it gets to be too much to bear, lift high your eyes and gaze into the face of Love itself.
* * *

May the Lord turn his face to you and give you peace. Num. 6:26
St. Dismas, pray for us.