When I look back at before, Spring Break 2020 stands out as the last time that life felt normal. We cheered on our Bulldogs in Starkville and visited with old friends and spent time with family and basically traipsed all over the Southeast without a care in the world. We were days away from the world falling apart, and we had no idea. I'm grateful for that now.
When we got home and things started escalating, I assumed it would be over soon. Just a couple of weeks of staying put, and then life would get back to normal. Except it didn't. And it still hasn't.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, my mind always turns toward the cross, but this time, with the hardships of the past year fresh in my mind, as I reread the gospel accounts of Jesus' life and death, I'm especially stricken by the way he handled the suffering before him. It's nothing short of remarkable.
The Way of the Cross
Given the choice between a life of ease and a life of suffering, I'll take the the easy road every time. Yes please to the good life. Hard pass on the hardship. But Jesus isn't like me. He knew what was to come (unlike that oblivious girl on spring break last year), and he walked toward it with eyes and arms wide open.
"If anyone would come after me," Jesus said, "let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)
The problem, of course, is that suffering is something that I tend to avoid at all costs, but Jesus' words are clear. If we want to be with him, we have to follow him all the way to Calvary.
We can't skip it or go around it or push it away. Suffering is simply part of living in a broken world. Sooner or later, we must pick up the cross in our path, shoulder its weight, and carry on.
David Goetz puts it this way: "There's no entrance into the thicker reality of Christ's presence without the cross. No one has to go looking for one; the cross finds you."
The Way of Jesus
For many of us, 2020 will forever be the year that the cross found us. My cross isn't the same as yours, and yours is different from mine—but regardless of the size and weight of the particular cross given to each of us, this much is true: We now know brokenness and suffering in a way that we didn't before. We feel it deep down in our bones.
For years, every time I've heard Luke 9:23, I've focused on the first two directives. Deny yourself and take up your cross. But maybe the third instruction, the one that I've overlooked all these years, is the most important. Follow me. It's not about the self-denial and the suffering. Not really. It's about following Jesus through the brokenness of this world and on into the abundant life that follows.
Which brings me back to what I said before about the way that Jesus faces the suffering before him. In his suffering, he shows us the right way to bear it: with grace, selflessness, patience, prayers for endurance, and a steely faith that there is indeed abundant life and radiant hope and boundless joy on the other side.
And so, this is my prayer for us today. That we would be people who follow Jesus, even in suffering, that we might enter in to the abundant life he promised. That God would grant us the courage and grit to take up our cross and endure it with hope and patience, grace and faith. That we would keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus as we follow him through the hardships of this life and the boundless joy of the next one.
Amen and amen.
🙌🏻 Leslie Ann