When I think of the cross and those last hours of Jesus life; it is impossible to think of anything other than pain. Physical pain from the flogging, the intense pain of skin and muscle being penetrated by large metal nails, the agony of a slow painful death. But the cross also tells us of emotional and spiritual pain. The pain of friends who’d rather save their own skin than stand up for what is right. The pain of humiliation to be stripped naked, insulted and spit on. The spiritual pain of feeling abandoned by God.
I have tried to imagine these last moments of Jesus life, and I simply can’t relate. I take Advil at the first sign of a headache. Our TV’s are bombarded with commercials that tell us if we use this drug we will never need to feel uncomfortable much less pain. We avoid seeing and experiencing emotional pain often at any cost. We don’t like to see people grieve- after a week sympathy often dries up; we think people should be “over it” already.
We live in a happily ever after society which tells us we should never have to sacrifice our own happiness and pleasure for someone else; especially those who have hurt us in some way. Yet, this is exactly what Jesus did. The world threw every possible evil pain at Jesus and he took it. And, not only did he accept it- he mercifully forgave those who embodied this evil.
Why? So that we, all humanity, could have life and hope.
Hope that life is more than accumulating money and things. Hope that life is more than just being a good person. Hope that life is more than retiring comfortably in a house that’s paid off. Even hope that true life is more than simply living without pain.
As a Christian I am, we are, challenged to commit this life we are given to the difficult task of following Jesus. That means we live into his call to take up our cross and follow him. This means not avoiding pain, but finding purpose in the pain and sometimes even purposefully entering the pain of another.
It is seeing a world full of the real pain of despair and hopelessness and willingly listening for how Jesus is calling us to offer the hope of Christ into their life and situation.
This ultimately requires sacrifice: time, money, comfort, judgement, resentment, blame and most of all our desire to live without pain.
It means no longer avoiding the TV news, so we don’t have to see the pain of others. It means no longer looking at children dying needlessly of hunger or serine gas and turning a blind eye. It means no longer giving lip service to the plight of refugees but not being willing to open our own homes.
It means no longer ignoring the pain and longing in the heart of a foster child. It means acknowledging the pain of hunger, homelessness, Mental Illness and addiction in our own community and being willing to make real changes to breathe hope into their lives.
It means being able to enter the pain of someone else with compassion and being willing to get personally and intimately involved in the life of others- not looking on with pity from a distance.
It also means offering forgiveness to those who have caused us pain.
This is what Jesus did on the cross. He willingly, unapologetically, sacrificed everything to enter our world, our pain, our brokenness and our imperfections. Not because we deserved to be helped or we could someday pay him back, or would eventually not need him anymore. These are the limitations we put on helping others not the limitations Jesus put on us. No, he entered our pain so that we would know we always have someone who understands, advocates for us and loves us even when we fail and forgives us at our worst.
This is the beauty, hope and challenge of the cross. Jesus knows that we will fail. Jesus knows we are just as broken as the people we are called to love. Jesus knows we are the ones in need- in need of mercy, grace and forgiveness. In need of perspective.
So, Jesus offers that to us in the cross. A challenge to love more fully, the beauty of being loved, even in our sinfulness and shame, and the hope that where we fail- Jesus will be, forgiveness will be and mercy will be.