During the season of Lent, my husband, Pastor Patrick Sipes, will be our guest blogger with a series of tactile meditations exploring Sunday’s Gospel text. He is currently serving as the transitional minister at First Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Platte, Nebraska, and will be inviting congregation members into these meditations in worship. May God bless you as you explore Scripture through Prayer.
Items needed: a small cross, could be made of wood, ceramic, metal, or even paper. A cross you can trace and hold in your hand.
The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent has Jesus instructing us to pick up our cross and follow him. These are some frightening instructions if you delve into them. They ask us to pick something up that will cause us suffering and death, but at the same time as Christians, we believe the death that happens there is also the source of new life and resurrection. However, this is a tall order. We are hardwired as human beings to avoid things that cause us pain be it physical, mental, or emotional. From some painful events in my own life that I refused to watch at the time, I learned that overcoming this aversion to pain and having a basic willingness to actually look at the suffering of others is the starting point of compassion. As a place of beginning to look at suffering, I choose to look at Jesus on the cross. I do so because I believe we find in Jesus all the suffering of the world united. Further, if I can begin to look at his suffering there, I have the strength to look at suffering in other places and the wisdom to see it as Jesus’ suffering as well.
As we begin our reflection today, I invite you to pick up your cross, as Jesus asked you to do, and hold it in your hand. With you finger or your thumb, begin to trace the cross from top to bottom and side to side, top to bottom and side to side.
On this cross, if we dare to look, we will see Jesus suffering, but what’s more, as he promises us that we are in him and he is in us, his suffering is our suffering, and truly, in him is the suffering of the whole world. To look at a cross is to take the bold step of opening your eyes to seeing all those who suffer in the world.
If you are willing to look at this suffering, I invite you to take some time to look at your cross. As you do so, bring to mind the places where you know suffering to be in this world. It may be in your own body, or other places in your life. It may be in your neighborhood, or your place of work, it may be across town, across the state or across the world. Bring these places of suffering to mind, and then bring them to Jesus and to his cross. Take the time you need to bring to mind the places of suffering that you know of. As you do this, recognize how through the cross suffering is united. Notice that your suffering is the suffering of others, and their suffering is your own, and all of your suffering is united through Christ’s suffering. This can feel overwhelming at first but sit with it for a moment and what will begin to emerge is a deep knowing that what this really means is that through the cross you never suffer alone. Suffering wishes you to feel alone, suffering wishes you to feel disconnected from others and the world around you but through the cross we are never alone.
What’s more, for Christians, the cross is the way to new life, the death it brought Jesus was the way in which he defeated death. As you continue to hold your cross, as you continue to trace it, bring to mind where you are in need of new life. Bring to mind those places that might be feeling a little dead to you, those places that are looking like last year’s flowers dried out and dead through the winter. Take some time in your prayer to bring those things to Jesus. Tell him about them, place them in his hands, let go of them as you see fit, to one you trust such as him. And now the hard part…wait.
Wait and see what happens. But as you do, know that this is part of your prayer as well, that continuous sort of prayer that Paul talks about is embodied in your waiting, and coming full circle, in the suffering your waiting might cause you, know that Jesus is with you.
If you would like to explore this text as a family devotion, check out my post for Lent in a Dish 2021 on Family God Time: https://familygodtime.wordpress.com/2021/02/25/lent-in-a-dish-2021-week-2-following-jesus/