From The Way of the Cross
They have put his own garments on him again, and Jesus comes out from the judgment hall of Pilate to receive his cross.
He comes to it gladly! This is a strange thing, for the cross is a symbol of shame, and it is to be his deathbed. Already he sees the very shape of his death in the wide-spread arms. From this moment he will be inseparable from it, until he dies on it. He will labor and struggle under the weight of it until the end comes. Yet Christ welcomes the cross. He embraces it, he takes it into his arms, as a man takes that which he loves into his arms. He lays his beautiful hands on it tenderly, those strong hands of a carpenter that are so familiar with the touch of wood.
This is not the first time that Christ has welcomed the wood of the cross. It is only the first time that he has embraced it publicly before the crowds. It is a tremendous gesture showing men his love for them openly, because this cross which he is receiving is their cross, not his; he is making it his own for love of them, taking their cross and lifting the dead weight of it from the back of mankind. That is why Christ receives the cross with joy and lays it to his heart. “Bear one another’s burdens,” he told men. Now he takes the burden of the whole world upon himself.
Lying in the wooden manger in the stable of Bethlehem, Christ welcomed the cross for which he had come into the world. At the moment of his birth he accepted all the hardship, the pain and suffering of mankind – the cold, the darkness, hunger and thirst; the pain of mind and body, the needs and the dependence of all men. He accepted death – indeed he became man in order to die for men.
Christ need not have suffered at all. He could have redeemed the world by a single breath drawn for his Father’s glory, but he chose to take as his own the common suffering of all men. Unseen, unknown, Christ received his cross in Bethlehem.
Long before he took hold of this great cross in Jerusalem, he accepted it and rejoiced in it; in the labors and hardships of all working men. He received his cross as a boy in Nazareth. He welcomed and made his own the labors and necessities of all the workers who would come into the world. Like them he had to toil patiently, perseveringly, to acquire the skill for his craft, gradually to train his hands and his muscles and his mind. Day after day, year after year, he who had created the wood of the trees wrestled with human limitations like other craftsmen, in order to be able to wrest the beauty from the wood, to show its flowing grain, its rose and ivory, its walnut and gold; to polish it with the smooth bright steel of his finely sharpened chisels.
In Nazareth Christ received his cross. Working in the carpenter’s shop he laid his hands upon it day after day, the wood that he was to glorify. He sawed and planed it, he drove the nails into it, and the joyous refrain that would be repeated again and again in the generations to come was already the song in his heart:
Faithful Cross, O tree all beauteous,
Tree all peerless and divine:
Not a grove on Earth can show us
Such a leaf and flower as thine.
Sweet the nails and sweet the wood,
Laden with so sweet a load.
He accepted the cross in Nazareth, making the daily life of every worker his own; giving to the hardships, the monotony, and the labors of countless hidden lives the power to redeem; restoring manual labor to the dignity of creative work, transforming it from being a punishment for sin, and only that, to a contemplation of God in which the worker could know something of the joy of the Creator in making that which he had conceived within himself.
“If any man would come after me,” Christ said, “he must take up his cross daily.” In Nazareth he took up the cross of all working men daily.
Again when he went out from Nazareth into the wilderness to “begin to be tempted by the devil,” and from thence to the cities and villages to do his Father’s will, he took the common suffering of all men to himself – temptation, privation, weariness, hunger and thirst, separation from those dear to him, misunderstanding from friends, frustration.
Now, with his love gathering to its climax, he accepts the heaviest cross of all, which every man born must accept, the certainty of his death.
This is the shadow which falls across the light in the springtime of life, the shadow of the cross, which Christ welcomes now at the beginning of the Via Dolorosa. Taking it to his heart, he takes all those who fear death to his heart: all those who must face the knowledge of a painful illness which can have but one end; all those who wait, without hope of reprieve, for a death sentence to be carried out on them by other men; all those old people haunted by the certainty that their days are numbered.
Look at this cross, so much bigger than the man whose body will be stretched to fit it. So much higher than the height of the man who will be lifted up above the Earth on it and who, being lifted up, will draw all men to himself. Christ receives it with joy because he knows that this is the dead weight that must have crushed mankind had he not lifted it from their backs. This is the dead wood which at his touch is transformed to a living tree. At his touch the hewn tree takes root again and the roots thrust down into the Earth, and the tree breaks into flower.
Already in Bethlehem, when the new-born child lay in the manger, a secret bud shone on the tree of life. Now it is going to break into flower forever, and that flower will sow the seeds of life that will never die, for Christ is the flower and the seed.
Because Christ is to be stretched to the size of the cross, all those who love him will grow to the size of it, not only to the size of man’s suffering, which is bigger than man, but to the size of Christ’s love that is bigger than all suffering.
Because Christ is to be lifted up on the cross, all those who love him will be lifted up above the world by the world’s sorrow. Because he, being lifted up, will draw all men to himself, they will draw all men to him in themselves.
Because Christ has changed death to life, and suffering to redemption, the suffering of those who love him will be a communion between them. All that hidden daily suffering that seems insignificant will be redeeming the world, it will be healing the wounds of the world. The acceptance of pain, of old age, of the fear of death, and of death will be our gift of Christ’s love to one another; our gift of Christ’s life to one another.
No man’s cross is laid upon him for himself alone, but for the healing of the whole world, for the mutual comforting and sweetening of sorrow, for the giving of joy and supernatural life to one another. For Christ receives our cross that we may receive his. Receiving this cross, the cross of the whole world made his, we receive him. He gives us his hands to take hold of, his power to make it a redeeming thing, a blessed thing, his life to cause it to flower, his heart to enable us to rejoice in accepting our own and one another’s burdens. “If any man has a mind to come my way, let him renounce self, and take up his cross, and follow me. The man who tries to save his life shall lose it; it is the man who loses his life for my sake that will secure it,” (Matthew 16:24-26).
let me receive the cross gladly;
let me recognize your cross in mine,
and that of the whole world in yours.
Do not let me shut my eyes
to the magnitude of the world’s sorrow
or to the suffering of those nearest to me.
Do not let me shrink from accepting my share
In that which is too big for me,
and do not let me rail in sympathy
for that which seem trivial.
Let me realize
that because you have made my suffering yours
and given it the power of your love,
it can reach everyone, everywhere –
those in my own home,
those who seem to be out of my reach.
You can reach them all
with your healing and your love.
Let me always remember
that those sufferings
known only to myself,
which seem to be without purpose
and without meaning,
are part of your plan
to redeem the world.
Make me patient to bear the burdens
of those nearest at hand,
to welcome inconvenience for them,
frustration because of them.
Let me accept their temperaments as they are,
nurse them in sickness,
share with them in poverty,
enter into their sorrows with them.
Teach me to accept myself –
my own temperament,
the humiliation of being myself, as I am.
Allow me, Lord,
all my life long
to accept both small suffering
and great suffering,
certain that both,
through your love,
are redeeming the world.
And in communion with all men,
and above all with you,
let me accept joyfully,
death and the fear of death –
and the death of those whom I love –
not with my will
but with yours,
knowing that you
have changed sorrow to joy,
and that you have changed
death to life.