Jesus’ prediction of his passion – in the wake of Peter’s Confession of faith – has popped up in the Gospel readings of the Liturgy 3 times in the last few weeks. Coincidence is probably what it is, but then coincidences seem to have a way of producing consequences, and they are always susceptible to providence.
There’s something quite muscular and manly about the cross. The idea of going through great physical agony for the one you love, laying down your life so that your bride may live, it all has obvious purpose and meaning. To the man with red blood in his veins, the doer rather than the talker, it is very appealing.
However, if we maintain that Jesus’ suffering was greater than that of any other human before or after him, then the physical aspect must have been the least of his trials. When I look out over a congregation on a Sunday or weekday, I see the faces of people who would suffer any physical trial if it meant their hearts didn’t hurt. The face of a woman who has lost her brother, the mother who has lost her son, the single parent abandoned by the one they pledged their body and soul to, they would trade their spiritual nails in an instant for physical ones. We can bear any pain for love, but take that love away, drop a person to the abyss of nothingness… how can the heart continue?
Now picture Jesus on the Cross, abandoned. Abandoned by his followers, abandoned by his friends, abandoned by the Father. Only his sorrowful mother at the foot of the Cross. He chose this, the loneliness, the utter desolation, the rejection and utter humiliation at the hands of his beloved creation. His pain was mirrored by his mother, and he had inflicted it upon her himself. Years of intimacy transformed in an instant when he set out on his mission. He doesn’t even use her name at the Wedding feast of Cana, and when she seeks him out, he will not even give her an audience. Reduced to the role of least – as befits the greatest – she can not even act out even the most natural of motherly instincts, of comforting her son in his agony.
Some crosses we make for ourselves, many crosses beset us, none we would choose. But if we seek comfort in the Cross, don’t look only to the nails in Christ’s hands and feet. Look to his broken heart, and know that he chose it for you, who broke it. An eight year old boy once asked me if Jesus was happy as he hung on the Cross. After recovering from the shock, I replied that he must have been because he was giving his life for those he loved. However, now I’m not so sure. We weren’t made for happiness in this life, we were made to love. Jesus loved to the bitter end, the bitter bitter end, and he rose again. Happiness is merely the bait which hooks us on to the line of love, and love always leads us to the cross, if it is authentic. Take it up, let it break you, drop it, but pick it up again. Life without the Cross ends in death, life with the Cross walks through death into eternal joy.