Second Station: Jesus Takes Up His Cross
+We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.
“Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it …”
The soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him. Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.” Matthew 16:24-25; 18:27-31
I read an article recently about how we can grow through suffering. One woman commented that she didn’t appreciate such articles because she felt the idea that we can grow through suffering somehow diminished the pain she felt. I found that curious, because it suggests that suffering is optional, that the suffering we endure is something we really shouldn’t have to endure. The fact that suffering comes our way is an aberration, an anomaly, and contrary to the human condition. We shouldn’t expect or hope to grow through suffering. Rather, we should avoid suffering, because it offers nothing of value. It’s all pain, and nothing more.
It’s true that suffering is pain. It’s not true, I think, that suffering is nothing more than pain, that it must only be pain. The simple fact is, for anyone much past the age of ten, and for too many who’ve not yet reached even ten, suffering is going to be a part of life. There’s no escaping it. Why is this? I suppose the answer has something to do with the presence of sin and brokenness in the world. We fail to conform our minds and hearts to God’s will, choosing instead to follow our own. As such, we suffer the consequences of our poor choices, our disordered wills. There is suffering, of course, over which we have no control: the death of a loved one, the natural disasters that come our way, the treachery of others. Suffering can’t be avoided. If it can’t be avoided, the only answer is to transform it.
There are some Christians who regard the pain of suffering as somehow contrary to the faith, that the depth of one’s pain is the measure of one’s faith. “If you have big problems, you have a small God. If you have a big God, you will have small problems.” I understand the reliance on God’s power. I don’t understand the condemnation of one’s human experience. Pain and faith are not mutually exclusive. Atheists, too, question why those who love God suffer. Shouldn’t God spare them?
No, the idea isn’t to avoid suffering, which is impossible, or to pretend that the pain of suffering is somehow un-Christian. The idea, I think, is to transform suffering into redemptive grace. Jesus prayed that the cup before Him would be removed. But, more than His desire not to suffer was His desire to do His Father’s will. He was determined to be obedient, even unto death. Rather than take away our suffering, Jesus enters into our suffering, becomes one of us, one with us, in every way except sin. That means that He suffered, because to be human in this broken world is to suffer. Jesus transformed His suffering into redemption, our redemption from sin and death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). The pain of death remains, but the victory of death, the sting of death, which is separation from God, is gone. Death is conquered, not by avoiding suffering, but by transforming it into redemptive grace. By taking up our cross and following Jesus, we do the same. We transform our suffering into redemptive grace. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).
Father, Jesus did not hesitate to take up His cross, knowing that the way of Calvary did not lead, ultimately, to darkness and death, but to victory and new life. Give us the courage and strength to take up our cross, whatever it may be, and to unite our sufferings with those of Christ so to transform our suffering into redemptive grace. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.