My morning prayers are said while sitting in the chair in my study. On the wall opposite is a treasured crucifix. The image of Christ’s body hangs as if near death. It is the cross of Good Friday. Above to the left is a beautiful flowered Easter cross symbolic of the resurrection. Underneath it are two icons. One is St. Antony of the Desert who spent a good part of his life fighting his own demons until he came to the place of life and peace. In the maturity of his old age and deep wisdom he helped guide the early church. The other is St. Stephen whose lack of wisdom and youthful indiscretion led to his early martyrdom, and yet he has inspired generations of those who would follow Jesus. Nearby is a black and white photograph of a sheet appearing to lift itself high into the air so that it can come down on a bed for a homeless person. Behind it on the wall is the image of a backlit cross. Hidden in the shadows is the hand of the man making that bed, a New York executive who will sleep along side the homeless that night, as he did each week. A portion of the customary Friday meditation asks us to consider that we might find walking in the way of the cross to be none other than the way of life and peace. So the question is, what is the way of the cross?
You and I have both heard that put upon sigh followed by a soulful “I guess it’s the cross I have to bear.” In my experience that “cross” has most often meant some unpleasant burden or personal thorn to be endured, often with the hope of earning a sympathetic hearing and appropriate recognition of one’s patient holiness. Sometimes it has been a more serious confession of living in conditions of abuse but under the illusion that it must somehow be God’s will. I do not believe that these are the ways of the cross upon which we are to meditate.
Jesus’ own cross was not just the tree upon which he was crucified, but the whole of his redeeming work that led to it and through it to the grave and resurrection. In other words, it was the whole of the work he was given to do. To pick up our own crosses and follow him is not to find our way toward crucifixion, nor is it to label some petty irritant as a holy cross, nor is it to endure abuse and oppression as if that could be pleasing to God. Walking in the way of the cross is to live intentionally as a disciple of Jesus through the way you and I treat each other and ourselves, and in doing whatever work is at hand as followers of Christ. That intentionality is not a particularly easy way to live. It requires vigilance, perseverance and a commitment to the basic principles that Jesus taught by his own word and example.
In my tradition we try to illuminate what that means through our baptismal covenant that asks us to, with God’s help: continue in the apostles teaching, participate in communal worship, partake of the Sacrament, resist evil, repent and return to the Lord when we foul up, proclaim by the word and example of our own lives the Good News of God in Christ, seek and serve Christ in all persons, strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. Those are high standards and not easy to live up to, but for me they define the way of the cross and it is none other than the way of life and peace.
It is a worthy meditation for Fridays.