The Sharp Edges of the Cross
By Elisa Morgan
When we were finally seated at our corner table for two, we scanned the menu and struggled with pronunciations. Our lunch arrived and we picked up forks and speared into our helpings - hers "quenelles" (fish dumplings), mine a "safer" salad. The French café set in a Denver strip mall was charming and popular. As a result, we'd already covered our "catch up" topics before even being seated and now it was on to the deeper.
She wanted to know about what I was studying, reading, learning. And so, I told her. About pain and grief, death and dying and the transformation made possible through aging. I'm not on the verge of a serious illness - I'm just processing the experience of aging as I like to be "prepared." Regardless, the topics weren't really French café lunch stuff.
But she'd asked.
As I shared my handholds for hope in my layers of living, I mentioned Jesus' death on the cross and all that he must have suffered. His crucifixion brought my life meaning so it naturally flowed out for me. I hadn't thought about how the topic might sound over lunch. My friend's face screwed up in concern. Her auburn hair outlined a vague pain. "Oh, that's so sad," she murmured. She looked stricken, bereft.
Sad? Is that the word I'd use? I've come to view Jesus' act on the cross as the most beautiful gesture of poured-out solace I've ever taken in. What did she mean exactly - so sad?
I backed away in my mind and looked again at her response.
Then it hit me. My friend was still considering Jesus. She knew bits and pieces about him and self-admittedly, that was it. This death-on-the-cross-stuff was foreign to her. Even horrific. As strange to her as her lunch of "quenelles" was to me.
Without thinking, I had dropped the crucifixion into our conversation and its sharp edges sliced into her heart. My friend had experienced the moment as if suddenly seeing a bloodied murder weapon plunked down between our plates on our bright lunch table. The offense of the cross was never more evident to me. My soul twisted as I realized I had been unnecessarily abrupt in the connection to the cross. The familiarity of the cross in my life had left me immune to its painful strangeness in the life of my friend.
In an effort to ease her pain at seeing such raw suffering, I gently placed soft words of covering over the exposed body of my crucified Savior. Deftly, I guided our conversation away from the bloody mess of his sacrifice back onto the jacquard tablecloth of our lunch. And we moved on.
Why didn't I say more that day? Why didn't I explain that while Jesus' death on the cross seems sad, it really is beautiful? I've been studying this question in my heart. And I've come to the conclusion that by carelessly dragging the scalpel of the crucifixion into our conversation that day, it cut my friend. Not her desperate humanity, the same of us all. But rather it cut into her personal woundings and losses and vulnerable neediness. The ones she held in her heart and had yet to reveal to me. Such surgery wasn't mine to perform.
I realized that my familiarity (complacency?) with the symbol of hope may have made me immune to its dramatic power to slice through defense, penetrate need and release despair in others. When exercised by the hand of the Great Resurrected. Not by me.
I think back to her words and sit with them this Holy Week. Yes, Jesus' death on the cross seems sad. So sad. His abandonment by friends and followers. His painful endurance of torture and beatings. His absorption of wrongful accusations. His separation from the Father. The ultimate nailing of his very being to a crossbar - to die while the sun was extinguished into indigo inkiness. Unimaginable awfulness. So sad.
Especially if you cannot see the even sadder sadness of the "why" behind the cross. The messiness of our wayward world. The evil licking at our days. The great hole of need in our souls. But so much sadder still to have no hope. No way out. To be left alone in our sad predicament of today with no door to tomorrow.
Jesus' "so sad" death on the cross becomes a beautiful gift of life when we receive the hope he died to give. Let us use care - great care - as we unsheathe the crucifixion. We need not apologize for the discomfort it creates. But oh to wisely wield its sharp edges, relinquishing the execution of any necessary surgery only to the Healer of our beings, trusting the Spirit to communicate when we stumble over our words. And let us live in such a way that we lift that very cross high - so that others can see its hope even as they take in its impossible suffering.
Elisa Morgan is an author and speaker and the cohost of Discover the Word and contributor to Our Daily Bread. Her latest book, The Prayer Coin, was recently released. Her other books include The Beauty of Broken, Hello, Beauty Full, and She Did What She Could. Connect with Elisa @elisa_morgan on Twitter, and @elisamorganauthor on Facebook and Instagram.