This past Good Friday we learned about how Jesus took up the cross. The older I get, the more mysterious it has become. When I was young, soaked in fundamentalist preaching, I knew that if I was the only one who sinned, Jesus would have died for me. I cried about this often. But now, with new descriptions of how Jesus died, where his death was not so much his taking God’s wrath as it was his rescuing us from sin and death, it is even more a mystery to me. I can only lean in and trust that what Jesus says about no one being taken from His hand is a true promise.
When Jesus first said, “Take up your cross, and follow me,” it had to be terrifying to the people who heard those words because they saw, heard, smelled those terrible executions. “Follow me” for many who knew Him, meant violent, slow death. But they weren’t ready to face death until they saw Jesus risen. They weren’t ready until the Holy Spirit filled them full to the brim, and years practicing their faith, seeing God’s work, spooled by.
During Jesus’ trial, Peter feared a servant girl’s question, saying he didn’t know Jesus. The other disciples were no shows, except for John, who stood by Mary and the other women. Yet they followed Jesus. They loved Him. Loved him.
Nowadays the cross hangs around our neck. Protestants wear empty ones. Catholics and more liturgical types wear crucifixes to remind them of this suffering. Sometimes movies like Passion of the Christ bring it home. Though I for one, have averted my eyes to the violence.
When I hear of Christians being killed for following Jesus, I wonder if I would be so brave. I take comfort in Jesus’ sorrow and terror in the garden, (Did you know Gethsemane means Olive Press?) when he sprawled on the ground crying, “Father take this cup from me, not my will but yours be done.” So when my time comes I can cry out to God, my fears and sorrows and aversion to obedience–not my will but yours be done.
The confessions spoken in God’s voice, helped. Things I’ve been thinking about how easily we turn away from following God. And God’s heart cry, “O my people, O my church, what have I done to you or in what I have I offended you? Answer me. I led you forth from the land of Egypt and delivered you by the waters of baptism, but you have prepared a cross for your savior.”
And we could only reply: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, Have mercy on us.”
It’s easy to wonder how the children of Israel could have held an orgy at the foot of Sinai while God was giving Moses the law. It’s easy to think we are superior. But we are just as guilty of smelting our gold earrings and forming a golden calf.
My guilt is petty, but still. I’m hooked to Diet Coke, because I got tired of the craving it, and reaching for honey mustard pretzels to solve the craving. Everyone, even my neurologist, say it’s not good for you. It’s like drinking poison. I feel a low grade tired since starting back drinking it. Is it really worth that kind of chronic tired?
I have become a political junky. I can’t take my eyes off what’s going on in the country–how we seem to be careening towards self destruction. I wonder why, though Rabbi Sacks has quoted God warning the children of Israel not to forget Him when they come into the richness of the land flowing with milk and honey. These years of retirement have been a deep rest, but also a challenge to offer thanks for the blessings, to be willing to share the goodness.
I’m helpless against the sweetness in my brain that leads me to the easy scrolling through Facebook or watching reality shows on TV. We are so washed in our self indulgent culture, that taking up our cross, is even more foreign. If I can’t give up my Diet Coke or TV…then how could I stand in that day?
And then there’s the whole decluttering thing, the words Jesus said to the rich young ruler about selling everything he has and following Him. I think of the rich man who did nothing for the homeless man at his gate, except let his dogs lick his sores and let the man eat his garbage. The rich man ends up in hell, a place so dry a drop of water would be worth something. Really Jesus?
I look at my dress pants, clothes I was going to give away, and thought why? I can use them someday. It might be good to dress better than jeans for church to give God respect. Dennis Prager says in his commentary on Exodus that the children of Israel needed to clean up as God gave them the law. He said we have lost something in our informal dress, so my excuse to keep the pants. It’s all so much, this decluttering, when I have life to live now, when it clutters my brain and I am so overwhelmed nothing gets done.
My right leg has been nagged by nerve pain several years. At first I thought it was MS but the MS doc said nope, it was caused by fat. The nerve pain comes and goes and has been tolerable until this winter, when I woke crying out because my thigh felt like someone laid kindling against it. In order to see if there are any pinched nerves I was assigned an MRI. My spine doctor is compassionate because she scheduled a consult right afterwards.
It takes all I have as far as concentration to get into one of those things. The closed space terrifies me because I feel like I’m practicing for my grave. I found this about myself years ago when I shared space with Bruce in my Toyota Four Runner. I can’t even look at the MRI tube. My head was kept still by padding. My ears were plugged. My knees lifted up. And there was no music to focus on with this one. I’d have to go all the way in. My whole body buried in that thing. Alive.
The machine sat there humming, sounding like a tugboat making her way up Lake Champlain. The thing was mechanically alive.
The technician was very kind, saying he hated them too, saying I didn’t have to do it, but open MRI’s can be worse. I laid down on the table. “I’d have to go all the way in?” “Your head would nearly be outside on the other end. You could wear a washcloth. But you don’t have to do it. No you don’t. I won’t force you.” But Doc’s waiting. I laid down.
Then I remembered I’d brought an aromatherapy roll-on for calm. I asked to get it. I rolled it on my wrist and smelled the pine forest I sometimes ride Tessie through, when it’s hot, the needles long and brown under foot. The branches humming with wind.
“Okay let’s do it.” I had the scent to focus on. I laid back down. Put the wash cloth on my face and told him to work fast. I held the rubber bulb that could free me if I panicked. I breathed, my heart racing partly because I drank too much Diet Coke. I shut my eyes, the cloth between me and the tube. And listened to the magnets dance and chatter.
I felt like I was in deep space hearing the music of the spheres, the sound of cosmic rays wheeling through space that might not be the void we think it is, but something trembling with energy, with spirit. I breathed deep. The nerves in my leg popped and fizzed. The technician would speak between each dance saying how many minutes the next one would take. I’d take a deep breath and listen to the jack hammers, to the dance of men breaking concrete.
The very first time I did an MRI I saw Morgen in front, harnessed, driving out the road, at sunset. This was the farthest from what I imagined could happen. The vision simply welled up. And it came true. I didn’t ask it to come true, but it did, almost on its own.
But in this MRI I just imagined space and thought of C.S. Lewis’ character Ransom who traveled through space in a box, closed in, not unlike this machine. I wept under that washcloth over my failures as a friend. I wept for my fear my friend would not call me when her schedule freed up. It has happened before–my waiting for my friend to call me and she never dead and years scrolled by and grief over the loss. I am comfortable with weeping. I know who I am. Quiet life is not easy when you’ve cried as much as I have because my tears seemed to bring me to God. Our pastor preached that Luther called such thoughts a turning in on ourselves–what Jesus came to save us from. Perhaps giving thanks for this quiet life, when you are used to sorrows, is a kind of taking up my cross.
My doc put my pictures up on the computer. I tell you I looked like country ribs–the meat around my spine and fat, all in black and white. She showed me the splices along my vertebrae, how there was a little narrowing of the nerve root, but not enough to cause the tingling. It’s good news my back is in good shape but the nerve tingling seems to be getting worse. I woke up again like burning kindling was laid against my thigh. Sometimes it’s hard to sleep for the “running mice” in my leg. My leg aches–with soreness moving from my calf to my ankles to my shins to my thigh. It used to trouble me when I stood or was stretched out flat, now it feels like mice are running up and down it when I’m sitting. My doctor and I are beginning to suspect it’s what the MS doc said, that it’s from fat pushing against the nerve. It’s a condition pregnant ladies get as well. I just want to be sure there is no tumor inside pushing against the nerve.
The next step will be to test the nerves to see whether there is damage to them or not. Then there has been talk of a nerve block.
On Holy Saturday we read through the Biblical story of God’s interaction with us–the creation and flood and Ezekial’s valley of dry bones. When it came time for Jesus to rise, Pastor Heine and Pastor Jung took off their black robes and stoles and put on their white robes with gold. They placed the host on the table. And took the black and red streamers off the cross, replacing them with yellow and orange and white streamers. They did what we are told to do. They put off the clothes of death and sin and put on the white linen of the saints. They put on Christ. I wept. We sang the ancient words of Job, “I know my redeemer lives” as we walked forward to take Christ’s body and blood in our hands and mouths, and bodies. If you’d like to hear the messages from Holy Week, click here.
We are freed from death because Jesus went ahead of us through death. He harrowed hell. He brought God into the place where we were separated from him. He pulled Adam and Eve out of the pit. And when he died, when he cried, “It is finished” the veil in the temple was torn and godly people were raised and walked in the city.
On Facebook someone published a meme, “Eat, drink, and be merry because yesterday, we were dead.”
And the friends I wept for? They stepped forward, called me instead of me calling them, a quiet, kind reassurance that I belong to some people.