One of the most famous images of Our Lord is the one where He carries the cross up to Calvary. We have all seen this very common image of the the entire cross laid on Jesus’ shoulder as He labors under its weight.
From my studies of Roman crucifixions, this was not the normal way in which a cross was carried. Instead, the vertical part of the cross beam would already be present at the place of execution. The horizontal part of the cross beam would be tied to the condemned person’s outstretched arms and this is what was carried through the streets.
To be clear, I am not here to contradict our traditional images. I wasn’t there. But I want to unpack what this traditional image of the cross symbolizes.
In the movie The Passion of the Christ, the two men who were condemned with Jesus were tied to the horizontal part of the cross beam in the common manner. But with Jesus, He is not tied to the cross. Instead, the present Him the entire cross to carry. Jesus then places His arms around the cross and one of the condemned men shouts: “You fool! Why do you embrace the cross?”
And here is the key to understanding this image of our Lord. The others have the cross fastened to them as an inescapable torture.
Jesus embraces the cross freely.
Everything that happened on that first Good Friday happened because Jesus freely allowed it. As the Son of God, He had the power to end His suffering at any moment. He was not powerless as the other condemned men were. Jesus freely chose to pick up the cross. And the only way He could carry it is if He embraced it.
In this way, it gives us a model for our own lives. We too, must embrace the cross.
Now, I say this as the least stoic person that I know. I am a baby when it comes to pain. The slightest headache has me running for the Tylenol.
And it should be clear that pain for pain’s sake is not good. God is not pleased by the increase in our own personal suffering. There is nothing wrong with taking pain medication or treating our suffering in ethical ways.
But regardless, we do suffer. It is an unavoidable fact of life. But we can embrace our cross rather than run away from it.
Jesus embraces the cross. He embraces all of its pain and shame.
Do we do the same with our crosses?
For example, let’s say you become ill. You can take all the medicines and pain relievers you feel necessary. But even with all of that, you can embrace your situation to find what God is trying to speak to you and through you. Perhaps the Lord is telling you that you need to slow down and rest. Perhaps God is calling you to have more empathy for those who are ill and this will move you to service. Or you could turn away from the cross and ignore any of these messages.
Or perhaps someone you love rejects you and uses the opportunity to list all of your character flaws. You could retaliate in anger. Or you could embrace this cross. You could listen to all the things they said and discern if there is any wisdom there. To be sure, not every insult spoken is true. Many of us are actually disposed to only believe bad things about ourselves. But if we can have a listening heart, we might be able to hear God speaking to us, telling us where we need to change. Maybe this could be an opportunity of true repentance and character growth. It may be a bitter pill to swallow, but if we do, if we embrace this cross, we may be purged of these offenses.
Jesus embraced the cross and despised not its shame. He let others revile Him and mock Him. By doing this, we can unite our own rejection to Him. By embracing the cross, He embraced us in our crosses.
This Holy Week, let us reflect on this image of Christ embracing the cross so that we too can embrace the cross with Him. Because the cross is where we will find Christ.
And when we embrace the cross, we embrace Christ.
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson
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