Gospel Story of the Week
Jesus’ Passion and Death (Matthew 26:14-27:66)
“Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice and breathed his last.” (Matthew 27:50)
On this Good Friday, our eyes encounter Jesus hanging from the cross. His anguish reveals an outpouring of love that never fails. As our awareness of that image deepens, we learn to experience the cross as a call to give ourselves in love.
It’s mid-morning, and I’m leading a strategy formulation retreat for a corporate client. Surrounded by a group of 15 executives, I get a sudden glimpse of Jesus hanging on the cross. The air is thick with fear as they talk about the company’s poor performance. Egos are threatened, and the blame game is raging out of control. Those with the most power are wielding it while those with less are divided into two camps – one camp is silent and the other is making excuses. I realize that Jesus isn’t the only one hanging from the cross.
One guy launches into an attempt to hijack the meeting, and I feel toxic bile churning in my stomach. As a few willing accomplices join him, a voice in my head screams, “Get the worms back into the can!” That image – Jesus hanging from the cross – stays with me. What is redemptive love asking of me?
In my anger and frustration, I fight two competing instincts. Part of me wants to place my fist in someone’s face, and another part of me wants to run screaming from the room. Jesus’ love holds me fast. Somehow that image – that connection with Jesus on the cross – helps me find my way. I take one breath at a time, and I resist the instinct to take control. Someone begins an attack on me for letting the group flounder, and I swallow hard. I fight the urge to launch a counter attack, and I struggle to empty myself. The image of Jesus deepens into a silent prayer, but I’m not sure it will be enough.
Time seems to stand still, much like it must have for Jesus on that fateful afternoon. Ever so slowly, I sense a subtle shift as the comments contain less venom. The attacks subside, and the tide begins to turn. A woman who has been silent for most of the morning finds her voice. She does what no one else has: she risks speaking openly about her own feelings and names the fear in the room. Her emptying has a redemptive effect, and I breathe a grateful sigh. Several others find their voices, and they begin to speak in the first person. Their vulnerability lets the emptying continue. Slowly, it clears a space in which something new can begin to happen.
The executives confront the reality that their company may be dying. As they find the courage to name that reality, the right discussion begins. Fear starts to give way to determination. The group launches – tentatively – the painful task of working together to find another path. The company’s future – and their own – is far from assured, but the odds are starting to improve.
The image of Jesus hanging on the cross helps me confront the ways that I am dying. As I see the life drain out of him, it helps me connect with the ways that I am called to love deeply enough to embrace death so that others may live. I am called to die by letting go of my agenda – my definitive plan for how life should work – and opening myself to the ideas and suggestions of others. I am called to die by listening deeply to others rather than asserting my position or planning my rebuttal. I am called to die by keeping my ego in check when I want to lash out at others in order to win at all costs. I’m called to die by giving up my preoccupation with appearances and what people think so that I can do the right thing when it’s neither cool nor popular. I am called to die by surrendering in prayer when I’d rather maintain control and call my own shots.
On Good Friday, our Lenten journey brings us to the cross – the place where invitations to love and the cost that they embody come in all shapes and sizes. We experience little ways that invite us to connect with Jesus’ passion every day. It’s the small cross of taking the time to seriously consider a contrary point of view when our minds are already made up. It’s the emptying required to abandon our list of things to do when a child or a friend needs time with us. It’s taking the risk of naming the elephant in the room or raising an ethical question when these could be career-limiting moves. It’s making room in our lives when we unexpectedly cross paths with someone in need. It’s struggling to stay patient and open to someone who needs our time and attention even though we’re fed up with life and running on empty.
The more deeply we reflect on the image of Jesus on the cross, the more we recognize these invitations to pour out our lives in love. By choosing to die in little ways each day, we create the habit of love that shapes our lives. We go to emptying school and learn to surrender. Developing this discipline prepares us for the moment in our lives when we will be called to love enough to risk it all. Someday, the doctor may look at us with a solemn face, deliver the bad news and force us to choose how we will approach death. On that day, we will be called to embrace the cross in love and stay faithful until death. In that moment, which is both our ultimate challenge and our finest hour, we will be called to let go of our lives and fall into the welcoming arms of a God whose love is stronger than death. That will be our ultimate Good Friday, the moment in which death calls us to a new, deeper and more profound life.
Questions to Ponder
- As you gaze at Jesus hanging on the cross, what thoughts and feelings come to mind?
- What are the experiences in your life that invite you to embrace the cross – either in little ways or by paying the ultimate price?
- How does reflecting on the image of Jesus on the cross help you choose to embrace the cross when you are called to do so?
Invitation to Prayer
Jesus, help me to trust you enough to embrace the cross.
Jesus, you know the ways in which my fear causes me to run from the cross – just as your disciples did on the night of your arrest. Give me the courage to stand with you when I am tempted – even in little ways – to flee from the cross in order to protect myself. Help me trust you enough to embrace the cross.
Jesus, you know how I struggle to let go of control, empty myself and surrender in prayer. Give me the strength to embrace the cross even when I am reluctant to do so and the cost seems too great. Help me trust you enough to embrace the cross.
Jesus, on the day that I am faced with paying the ultimate price, give me the courage and the strength to surrender into the loving arms of God. Help me trust you enough to embrace the cross.
Jesus, help me trust you enough to embrace the cross.