The Cross, Friday 19 April 2019

The things he carried (Stephen Cotterell – Edited extract)

He carried a large wooden beam – one half of a cross.

They handed it to him like it was nothing. Like it could be thrown away; like they were going to throw him away, this thing of terrible beauty.

He held the rough wood in his hands; gripped it, felt its shape, tested its weight, imagined the plane upon it, the axe striking the base of the trunk, the weight of the leaves upon the branches fluttering in the air of a spring day, breathing their last, gasping, falling, crashing down. He saw it dragged away, cut open, dissected, used.


. . . And no one would look him in the eye: not at this point; not as this broad beam was handed out. This was the time to look away, to scan the horizon and search for a new sail. This was the time to think of home and hearth, of logs being thrown on the fire.


He shouldered the weight. It could carry him and it could crush him. He felt its roughness against his rawness. The splinters that pushed into his flesh anticipated the nails that were to follow. It was fruit of the earth and the work of human hands, this wood he carried.


It was half a cross. He didn’t carry the whole thing, though that was how it would usually be remembered. But nobody ever got him right. And he always evaded those who clung too tightly. Just the crosspiece which his hands would be nailed to: he carried it. And he knew that when he reached the place of execution a stake would be ready, and the beam attached to it; and his hands nailed to it – actually his wrists, in-between the bones, so that the flesh wouldn’t tear, and he could hang there longer. He would be hoisted up. It would make a cross; and then his feet would be nailed in place.


But first there was a journey to make: about half a mile. And he half carried, half-dragged this great girder, this joist from which he would hang.


I wonder what else Jesus carried with him as he walked to his death….what other pain he suffered…

-         The pain of the betrayal of Judas

-         The pain of the desertion of his closest friends, the disciples

-         The denial of Peter

-         The weakness of Pilate

-         The fickleness of the crowds, who only a few days before had celebrated his arrival in Jerusalem, but today had called for his death

And then, on the cross, not only the physical pain, but also the pain of seeing his mother and those who loved him standing helplessly by, the pain of feeling disconnected from God.

Did he carry the pain of all the world that day? The pain of all evil? Did he enter into the emptiness, isolation and void of sin and death?

And for what? For who?.....For us?


In the midst of all this pain, in the midst of this terrible event….we still come back to love.

We are loved so much, that Jesus was willing to die for us, but what does this mean?...Richard Rohr writes:

“Jesus became what we fear: nakedness, exposure, vulnerability, and failure. He became sin to free us from sin. He became what we do to one another in order to free us from the lie of punishing and scapegoating each other. He became the crucified, so we would stop crucifying. He refused to transmit his pain onto others.”

Maybe the cross is Jesus saying to each of us:

You are my beloved, and I am your self… your beauty… your goodness, which you are destroying. I am what you do to what you should love. I am what you are afraid of: your deepest and best self—your soul.

You are afraid of the good; you are afraid of me. You kill what you should love; you hate what could transform you. I am Jesus crucified. I am yourself, and I am all of humanity. (Richard Rohr)

This symbol of pain and death, becomes a sign of God’s love for us, and we are shown the path of love.

Reflecting upon the cross which Jesus carried… I wonder what you are carrying today? What worries you have, what pain you are feeling, what burdens you are carrying…..

This is where to bring them…to the foot of the cross…..we bring them to Jesus who carries our burdens….and we lay them down.

Because God’s love for us is stronger than pain and stronger than death….and as we sit here today, thinking about the cross…..we are given permission to confess, to grieve, and to lay it all at Jesus feet.

We do not have the answers, we live in a world where pain is a dominant force, where love and suffering go hand in hand….this is the cross – where love and pain are nailed together – where we come to share our pain….and to remember how much God loves us.

Crucifixion: Jesus is nailed to the cross (Malcolm Guite)

See, as they strip the robe from off his back
And spread his arms and nail them to the cross,
The dark nails pierce him and the sky turns black,
And love is firmly fastened onto loss.

But here a pure change happens. On this tree
Loss becomes gain, death opens into birth.
Here wounding heals and fastening makes free
Earth breathes in heaven, heaven roots in earth.

And here we see the length, the breadth, the height
Where love and hatred meet and love stays true
Where sin meets grace and darkness turns to light
We see what love can bear and be and do,

And here our saviour calls us to his side
His love is free, his arms are open wide.

Clare Heard