Why I mourn the cross this year—and why Jesus doesn’t

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Lent, and especially this week between Palm Sunday and the cross, sometimes feels to me unbearably heavy. The one I love is walking to the cross—because of my sin. How can I bear to watch? How can I bear not to? I want to be with him. It hurts to be. I feel so helpless. So guilty. So ashamed.

But when I look from the cross to the face of the one on it, I see him looking back at me, something far different in his face than in my own. Love, not condemnation.

I look away, unable to bear the love that is breaking me open. I have to look back, to see if he is still looking at me. He is. Still looking, still loving me, his eyes teaching me what he wants my heart to know: I am worth it. 

The strong shadow of the cross stands behind what seem to me the most beautiful words in the Bible, calling me to speak them as my own: “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Songs 7:10) Jesus went to the cross as Saviour, as obedient Son of his Father. He also went as Lover. Groom. Soon-to-be husband.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27)

In this week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Jesus seems to have had a wedding on his mind. The two parables He told about the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding were both told in this week leading up to the cross. (Matt 22:1-14; 25:1-13)

Even the Sadducees frame their trick question concerning the resurrection in light of marriage. Jesus replies, “Don’t you get it, guys? After the resurrection, people don’t marry each other.” One wonders if he isn’t thinking, “. . . because you get to marry me,” when he follows their conversation with the declaration that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30)

I’ve not eaten a meal with friends knowing it was my last before leaving the world. But even final meals before moving across the world are, for me, difficult affairs. Full of aching and sadness. Certainly not something I “eagerly desire.” I think Jesus could only say “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” because He was looking past the cross to the consummation. “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

The last conversation Jesus had with his friends was framed by His desire for union. It started with words straight from the Jewish betrothal ceremony:

“. . . I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)

It finished with a prayed expression of this same deep longing,

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. . .” (John 17:24)

The cross is where Jesus proves his (un)dying love, His eternal commitment.

This is where he makes us His forever, strikes from our wedding vows “‘til death do us part.”

Here he removes our rags and clothes us in the fine white dress of his own making – of his own being – preparing us to be His bride.

We are so close, here, to his heart. So near to the wedding banquet and the intimacy that follows. Here at the cross, he does everything needed to make us his. Here he offers himself to us in that most vulnerable of conditions, utterly exposed, stripped not only of clothes but of all that we would consider beauty or basic human dignity. Stripped so that the naked glory of His blinding, sight-giving love could be visible. And he waits, the waiting itself the most vulnerable of postures. Waiting for us to look and, in the seeing, to learn to trust his love.

It is four years since I first saw Jesus thinking of a wedding as he headed to the cross. That year, I couldn’t mourn, because Jesus wasn’t mourning, and how do you mourn the greatest love in the universe? But this year? This year I hurt because I love him and I don’t want him to hurt. I don’t want to be the one to make him hurt. I mourn his pain. I mourn my sin that caused that pain. I grieve that I can’t help him in his pain—the pain he is suffering for love of me.

I look, and even as I hurt, I love him for every word, every action, every minute of his surrender to suffering that speaks such love. I love every detail about him that declares it done, me made perfect, made his. His eyes reach to me, telling me that he has never questioned whether all the pain was worth it. It was.

The long-spoken words echo through his silent surrender to the flogging: “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride.” Beneath his cry, “It is finished,” I hear his now true declaration, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” With the tearing of the curtain, the final destruction of all that divides, He cries for my response, “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my flawless one. . . Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (Song of Songs 4:9, 7; 5:2; 2:10)

Dust you are—(and dust He is too!)

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I finish my application. Before I send it, I pause, listening to the emotions warring inside of me. Excitement—“Jesus, I can hardly believe we’re here. I’ve wanted to do this for so long.” And fear—“Is it okay? Will they let me in?” It takes me about a minute to recognize that the question isn’t really about my application at all but about me. “Am I okay? Do you like the way you made me, like the way we’re writing this story together, or am I messing it up?”

They’re not new questions for me, but I’m learning to bring them to Jesus each time they surface instead of trying to push them away. Sometimes He reminds me of something He’s told me in the past, but often there’s some new, precious way He wants to love me in that same old place.

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. The words drift into my awareness, words that have echoed through my story since the wee hours of that dark Kabul morning as I awaited the little plane to carry me to my first glimpse of the village that would be my home. But this time instead of just letting them echo in my head I look them up. This time I see who is calling.

“Listen! My lover!

Look! Here he comes,

leaping across the mountains,

bounding over the hills. . . .” (Song of Solomon 2)

He’s leaping and bounding—toward me!

I’m not sensing much of a hesitation here, no wondering whether I really am right for him after all. He’s gazing through the windows, peering through the lattice as though he can’t wait to see my face.

He’s been calling me to come and love Him with body as well as heart, soul, and mind; now He’s showing me how. Leaping, bounding, nothing held back.

The scene shifts and I watch as He hears my cry for help and runs to me, splitting the heavens, shaking the earth, stooping and reaching and lifting me to Himself, to this wide-open place of delighting in each other. (Psalm 18)

And then. . .

He’s done with allegories now, done with images. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. (John 17)

He who is limitless Love takes flesh to have one more way to love me.

The Psalmist’s God stoops again, but this time into a womb.

And again, and I feel His touch as the water splashes over my feet and He dries them with the towel around His waist.

And once more as He kneels in the garden, sweating whole centuries of agony.

He kneels beneath the whip and the too-heavy cross and the judgment of His Father whose face, until now, has only ever looked on Him with pleasure.

One knee isn’t enough for Him; He’s down on both, again and again and again.

And when His feet are nailed so He can’t kneel, he spends the last of His strength lifting His body against the spikes to love his mother into the arms of another: Dear woman, here is your son.

To love the soldiers who had beaten raw his back, rubbing now against rough wood with each breath: Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

To love His Father: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.

And to love me, speaking the words which tell me that nothing now stands in the way of my being all His forever: It. Is. Finished!

 

Taking it deeper:

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9; c.f. John 17:23)

What might it mean for you to walk with Jesus this week to the cross and watch Him loving you with all His heart and soul and mind and strength—loving you with the same intensity of love that exists between the persons of the Trinity? How might you want to respond?

 ______________

This is the seventh in a series of Lenten posts exploring what it might look like to live fully alive to God with our bodies as well as our souls. Click on the links to read the first six:

Dust you are: an invitation

Dust you are: a call to pay attention

Dust you are: love in the desert

Dust you are: living the mystery together

Dust you are: a celebration

Dust you are: growing small

 

The good news of Good Friday for Easter Monday (and every other day)

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I wrote last week how this year I couldn’t mourn the cross. Then I found myself in the Maundy Thursday service, reaching for one Kleenex after another. I wasn’t mourning Jesus’ sufferings. Wasn’t even mourning my own sin. I was weeping tears of relief at the invitation to come broken.

I had walked my way there struggling against the frustration of living in this body where every attempt to improve the situation seems to make it worse. More, I was frustrated by my frustration. Here I was on my way to remember my Beloved’s sufferings, his forever vows to me, and I couldn’t get my thoughts off myself.

Between segments of Psalm 31, I half-sobbed the sung words which gave space for my brokenness:

“In my trials, Lord, walk with me;

In my trials, Lord, walk with me;

When my heart is almost breaking,

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me.”

I wept over the welcome offered, tears of relief over Love that makes space for all of me. Wept, too, at the whispered reassurance that sometimes when we feel like we’re missing the mystery, we’re living it most deeply.

There are days we see clearly and days we hold on through the fog. And the good news of Good Friday is that we’re held just as close on the days we struggle as on the days we celebrate. We live now in the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, the covenant that declares that we don’t have to get it all together in order to come – or stay – with God. For unlike the previous covenants which were all broken because people did not trust the Giver, “this covenant cannot be broken. All the other covenants were between God and human beings, but this covenant is between God and God.” (Darrell Johnson)

That’s how much God desired us: He became human so he could keep our part of the covenant as well as His own.

So go ahead. Stop trying to hold it together and let yourself weep. You are welcome in this space where you don’t have to have it together to be His. Weep when you need to; just don’t weep alone. Weep – and lean hard into this One who does for you what you cannot do for yourself. Weep – and through the tears give thanks. You are so loved!

Why I can’t mourn the cross this year. . . and what I do mourn

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I’ve mourned it in the past, stood at the foot of the cross and ached for Jesus’ suffering, agonized over my sin that crushed him.

I thought that the more deeply I loved Him, the more unbearable it would be to see Him suffer.

But this year I can’t mourn, because He’s not mourning now. And, holding His hand, looking into His laughing face, how can I mourn? He knows – and He’s teaching me – what lies beyond the cross. And you’ll never find Him wondering whether all the pain was worth it.

I still look long and hard at the cross and the beloved figure on it. But all I see there now is love, and how does one mourn the greatest love in the universe?

The strong shadow of the cross stands behind what seem to me the most beautiful words in the Bible, calling me to speak them as my own: “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Songs 7:10) Jesus went to the cross as Saviour, as obedient Son of his Father. He also went as Lover. Groom. Soon-to-be husband.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy. . . and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Eph 5:25-27)

In this week between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, Jesus seems to have had a wedding on his mind. The two parables He told about the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding were both told in this week leading up to the cross. (Matt 22:1-14; 25:1-13)

Even the Sadducees frame their trick question concerning the resurrection in light of marriage. Jesus replies, “Don’t you get it, guys? After the resurrection, people don’t marry each other.” One wonders if he isn’t thinking, “. . . because you get to marry me,” when he follows their conversation with the declaration that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30)

I’ve not eaten a meal with friends knowing it was my last before leaving the world. But even final meals before moving across the world are, for me, difficult affairs. Full of aching and sadness. Certainly not something I “eagerly desire.” I think Jesus could only say “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” because He was looking past the cross to the consummation. “For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 22:15-16)

The last conversation Jesus had with his friends was framed by His desire for union. It started with words straight from the Jewish betrothal ceremony:

“. . . I am going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3)

It finished with a prayed expression of this same deep longing,

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am. . .” (John 17:24)

This year, I can’t mourn the cross because this is where Jesus proves his (un)dying love, His eternal commitment.

This is where he makes us His forever, strikes from our wedding vows “‘til death do us part.”

Here he removes our rags and clothes us in the fine white dress of his own making – of his own being – preparing us to be His bride.

We are so close, here, to his heart. So near to the wedding banquet and the intimacy that follows. Here at the cross, he does it all, cries out “It is finished.” Here he offers himself to us in that most vulnerable of conditions, utterly exposed, stripped not only of clothes but of all that we would consider beauty or basic human dignity. Stripped so that the naked glory of His blinding, sight-giving love could be visible. And he waits, the waiting itself the most vulnerable of postures. Waiting for our choice. Our love.

This, then, is what I mourn. The murderer who mocks. The soldier who shoves and strikes and throws dice for the dying man’s simple clothes. The person passing by on the road, going about his every day business, turning her head away so she doesn’t have to look. I mourn each man and woman who fails to see through the bleeding body to the heart of God which aches to be one with them.

Won’t you look with me once more? Look, and love every word, every action, every minute of his surrender to suffering for love of you. Love every detail about him that declares it done, you made perfect. Made His.

The long-spoken words echo through his silent surrender to the flogging: “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride.” Beneath his cry, “It is finished,” I hear his now true declaration, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” With the tearing of the curtain, the final destruction of all that divides, He cries for our response, “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my flawless one. . . Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.” (Song of Songs 4:9, 7; 5:2; 2:10)