To encounter the cross. To come face to face with three crucifixes atop a hill and set against a foreboding sky. Stark. Grim. Dismal. The cross.
Something to avoid, for sure.
But… we surely know that this is part of life. And impossible to avoid. To suffer. Three crucifixes against a foreboding sky… is just one image of it. One possible visual. Many here have their own versions. A child lost too young. An illness that progresses. Loneliness that does not fade. Mistakes we have a hard time moving beyond.
Tonight, we consider this fact. We have a form of prayer called the Veneration of the Cross whereby we all come forward and stand face to face with it… we encounter it. We touch it, we kiss it. But what is it exactly that we’re encountering in this form of prayer?
I would like to suggest that there are two possible answers to this question.
First, we can approach it with dread, for we know precisely what it represents.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? What was it that Jesus said or did that he found objectionable or unacceptable? Was it his curing of the sick? Was it the promise of eternal life? Was it saying that the first shall be last and the last shall be first? Was it the idea of loving our enemies? Was it the concept of forgiveness? Were those the things that prompted Judas to betray Christ? No… I suspect it was the very idea of the cross. When describing what it meant to be a disciple, to truly be a disciple, Jesus said to his apostles: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24).
Now if you were going to object to anything that Jesus said or did… you could certainly understand if this was it. The idea of having to pick up the cross. What a terrifying notion. What a cruel and torturous path. Judas must have thought: I don’t think so.
So, when we encounter the cross, is our reaction: please no? Please not me. Take this suffering away from me. I choose to say no. Well… perhaps if so, then is Judas any better than us? If that’s our reaction, are we too then betraying Christ?
Then how else can we encounter the cross?
We can consider the very fact that Jesus hung upon it for us. For you and for me. Though we were born thousands of years later, he did this act for us personally. Not merely collectively, but for us individually.
The late Fr. Al Lauer said that we could imagine that we were walking across an intersection one day and find ourself shoved out of the way of a passing car by a stranger. We survived it, but the stranger did not. The stranger sacrificed their life for us. The question is: what you would say to that person if you could? Perhaps you would say: thank you. Thank you for sacrificing for me. Thank you for giving up your life for mine.
To encounter the cross. We can come upon it with dread, being the stark, grim, dismal thing that it is. Or, we can approach with gratitude. We can offer to Jesus exactly what we have made of his sacrifice for us, what we have done with it. All we’re proud of. All we’re ashamed of. All we have built, all we still have yet to build. We can bring it forward to the cross.
Suffering does happen. We were not made to last forever. Some of us get 80 years, some 100. Some of us get much, much less.
Good Friday is the middle of the Triduum. Last night we considered the prayer and the promise of Christ. We were given the everlasting gift of the Eucharist. Tonight we encounter the cross. But if it ended here now, then we would be right to dread it. We could understand Judas’ actions completely. For this would be all there is. The cross.
But this is merely the middle. There is more. More to come. There is the light. So, the cross is difficult, but it is not final. It does not hold the victory. It does not possess the last laugh. We encounter it. But we pass by it. We go through it. It cannot stop us. It never will. Jesus made that so.
Tonight, as we venerate the cross, let us thank the one who sacrificed for us. Let us acknowledge what his mercy has meant to our lives. And then… and then…
We can move past it.
To the light.