Day 35 – The Way of the Cross
As we move into this final week of the Lenten Season, we come to the last part of the passage from 1 Corinthians 10: “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore, let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (vs. 11–13)
In the examples of the people of Israel, we have considered various ways we stray off the path as we journey through the wilderness. The invitation of the wilderness is to trust the voice of love … to trust that the pain, the disorientation, and the confusion is all used by God to deepen our souls. The temptation is to short-cut the process … to try to escape the wilderness rather than receive it. Jesus received the wilderness that was His life (taking on human flesh) and death. The last week of His life displayed a purposed, intentional movement that mirrors the transformational process into which we are called. In Luke 9:51, we read: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He willingly entered these days that lead to the crucifixion on Friday. His life was not taken from Him, but He freely gave His life. (John 10:17-18) He could have hidden or even quietly moved on. Instead, He modeled trusting the love of the Father.
Cynthia Bourgeault suggests Holy Week is “the most sacred and mystical passage in the Christian year, when we ritually re-live and re-claim the very epicenter of Christianity, as Jesus reveals the depth of love and wagers his very life for the reality of the premise he has staked his whole ministry on: that love is stronger than death – love is the strongest power in the world … stronger than fear — stronger than hatred – stronger than division — stronger than violence. This is the moment, this week, when we again have the opportunity in a very special way to enter into this mystery of love with him, confront our own fears and shadows, and emerge as shareholders in his resurrection — not only through faith but through our own lived experience.”
In Jesus, we are given someone to follow. Jesus invited, over and over in the Gospels, with the simple words: “Follow me.” This invitation is to be with Him, to trust Him, and to live like Him. This is the hope of the one who has been redeemed by grace … to be like Jesus. (Romans 8:29) 1 Peter 2:21 says: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” As Jesus walked this earth, he retraced the steps of Israel’s wilderness journey with faithfulness rather than faithlessness. He became the example for us to follow in learning what it means to live faithfully … to trust God’s love and presence in our lives. As we approach the cross this week … we will walk through the events of the Passion Week.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented: “The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship, we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus, it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
This may feel quite counter-intuitive. As we think about the spiritual journey with Christ, we may think of abundant life (John 10:10) as a sweet, nice, pleasant sort of existence. By this point in our Lenten journey, I pray that you have been disabused of such a notion and are embracing the reality that abundance of life (eternal life) is found in a gritty kind of faith that transforms us into lovers from the depths of who we are. The pattern of the cross is a stripping away so that life can emerge. It is letting go of what is so what can be will emerge. All of the movements we’ve explored in these previous weeks can be summed up with the movement from “death to life.” Jesus described this in John 12:24-25: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Jesus also put it this way: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23–24) The invitation is to die before you die. But there is a choice. God never forces us. He invites. He woos. He beckons. And He is always present, patient, and available to lead us.
In 1 Corinthians 10, we see a progression: humility, temptation, escape, and endurance which also marked Jesus’ life. This week, we will walk through these elements of trusting God in the wilderness. Humility comes as we trust that the way of the cross is the way … as we decide not to think we know better or that perhaps there is a different, easier way. Then, we notice the temptations to hold on, to protect, to run so that we can save our life. As we notice, we discover there is a way of escape which is most simply understood as following in the steps of Christ. Finally, we are able to endure and stay in the desert as God does His gracious work in us.
There is an intensity to the way of the cross and yet deep joy and freedom as we let go. Much of the pain, confusion, and turmoil comes as we fight and refuse the process. We can become fearful because it may seem too intense, but Jesus challenges us to see that the way of the cross is actually free and light. Matthew 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” His yoke, or His way, is not burdensome. It is actually “easy” which might be better translated as “well-fitting” or “free.” When we release and let go of that to which we cling, we actually find freedom and that this way of the cross fits us better than we could have ever imagined.
In Jesus, we see One who knew fully what He was walking into and yet trusted the Father step by step. It is those steps we are invited to follow.
Questions for reflection: will you set your face toward Jerusalem? What fears are you noticing as we move into this final week of Lent? As you pray, what are you being asked to release? What might the Holy Spirit be asking you to surrender?
Prayer: Lord, I want to follow the way of the cross, but I am often fearful. Give me the courage to release into trusting You and the process of Your gracious, deepening work in my life. Amen.