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Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday – Thinking About Crosses That We All Bear

First appeared on Blogcritics.

cross1 Inspired by fellow Blogcritics writer Barbara Barnett’s terrific article, “Overcoming Our Personal Egypt(s) on Passover, I started thinking about Good Friday not just as a day of fasting and abstinence marking the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. I started considering the day in personal terms and how it affects us today. Ms. Barnett got me thinking when she wrote eloquently about her thoughts about Passover:
The story of Passover (Pesach) revolves around the redemption of the Children of Israel from their enslavement in Egypt. But the Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, also means “narrows,” and we can find new meaning in the story of Egypt, the rituals of the seder, and question beyond the usual four by considering what it means to be redeemed from “the narrows” for our ancestors back then, and for us, here in the 21st Century.
It seemed to me that Jews would identify with her "Egypts" now and in their faith, and that we Christians could do the same as we face the heavy cross that Jesus must bear on Good Friday, and the inherent connection with Passover and Easter seems to make this all the more possible. Many people sometimes forget that on the first Holy Thursday, Jesus and his Apostles were having a traditional Passover seder. As they gathered and celebrated as they always had done before, Jesus changed things by making “a new covenant” not just with them but all people.
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
In this way this new covenant does not subsume the one promised by God in the Old Testament; rather, it fulfills it – Jesus is the new covenant! All of this though comes at a price. The wine changed to Christ’s blood at that table for the first time (as we Catholics believe happens every time since when we celebrate the Mass) is not meant to be a symbolic chalice. We get to understand more fully about the "cup" later, when in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, Jesus’s humanity shines through when he prays and asks God to free him from what awaits him:
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
cross2Jesus warns his Apostles that “the flesh is weak,” and then he proves it by wondering if he can get deliverance from the terrible fate of crucifixion – this is the actual cup that fulfills what he had said earlier at the dinner table.

The next day Jesus is brutally murdered by the Romans in what was their excruciatingly barbaric means of execution. Crucifixion was a deliberate, painful, drawn out death for all who experienced it. Jesus had suffered greatly even before getting to Calvary, where he would be executed. Scourged, beaten, and made to wear a crown of thorns (the bitterly ironic attempt by Romans to not just physically destroy him but to embarrass him and all Jews), Jesus had to carry the roughly 300 pound cross through the streets of Jerusalem (which is now marked in the church by the Stations or Way of the Cross).

Today we mark this somber moment – the most dark day in the Christian calendar – and people everywhere go to churches, participate in the stations, and pray to overcome the deep sadness of what happened so long ago. Some people go even further and participate in actual depictions of the “passion” with processions of the cross and even mock crucifixions.

cross3In the Phillipines this is taken to an entirely different level where some participants are actually nailed to a cross. This very extreme recognition of Christ’s pain and suffering is frowned upon by the Catholic church in that country, but it is a vivid representation of the aged-old sentiment of Christians who know that Jesus loved us so much that it hurt.

In everyday life we are all called to carry our own crosses. Some may not be a literal 300 pounds, but these worries, fears, and troubles can seem overwhelming to us, for some perhaps as daunting as that Way of the Cross fro Jesus. How are we ever going to get out from under the heft of these things?

People carry the weight of their crosses in different ways, but the truth is it can sometimes seem impossible to bear. It is important to know that when the weight gets to be too much  we don’t have to go it alone – even Jesus gets help from Simon of Cyrene during the Way of the Cross.

On this day more than any other perhaps we can evaluate the cross or crosses that we all bear. Luckily, we are not moving inexorably toward our deaths as Jesus was, but we can sometimes feel there is no way out for us either – and that is dangerous and potentially lethal.

Christians will suffer through the day today when all hope seems lost, and they will keep vigil on Holy Saturday (the last day of Lent), but they do so knowing that Sunday morning everything changes – Easter Sunday takes away all the worry and suffering that comes before. Easter is nothing about death but the vanquishing of it – Jesus’s Resurrection means we live now and forevermore.

We Christians are fortunate that we have this wonderful resolution, but that is not always possible for people bearing their own burdens in today's world. Here’s hoping that all of you laden with things that seem to weigh too much on your backs or your minds will find your own Easters to not only help you cope but overcome and thrive.

  Photo Credits: result2015.net, pixshark.com, ibtimes.co.uk

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