Crosses and crowns

My cross is just too heavy to bear,” wept a young widow whose husband drowned, whose teenaged son was alcoholic and whose daughter had failed her SSC exams. I sat with her for a while, in silent solidarity. Yet, since she’d mentioned “my cross”, after she stopped sobbing and sought advice, I whispered: “Reflect upon Christ’s cross.”
Good Friday, Christians will gaze at Christ’s cross with gratitude. However, from Alexander the Great down to the 4th century when Emperor Constantine banned crucifixion, the cross was the cruellest and most ignominious instrument of torture and death. Yet, Apostle Paul dared declare: “We proclaim Christ crucified: an obstacle to Jews and foolishness to Greeks.”
In Greek philosophy, talking about a deity who suffers is foolishness because God is all-powerful and all-good. For the Greeks, God resides “up there”, so to say, unmoved and unconcerned about suffering. But Christians believe that God dwells “down here”, giving meaning to suffering the way Jesus did.
Although often used synonymously, we must distinguish between pain and suffering. Pain is physical, the sensation of hurting; while suffering is mental, the consciousness of pain. While animals feel pain, they don’t suffer because they cannot reflect upon themselves and draw meaning from their experiences. But we feel pain (physically) and suffer (mentally) because our actions carry worlds of meaning.
On the Friday of his death, Jesus bore immense pain and suffering. He experienced the pain of being brutally beaten, crowned with thorns, stripped naked, and forced to carry the cross whereupon he was nailed hands and feet. Jesus also suffered injustice, falsehood, betrayal, denial, humiliation; and, even the feeling of being abandoned by God.
During his lifetime Jesus advised his disciples, “Take up your cross” (Mark 8:34), adding, “For, those who seek to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life will save it.” Woven into these words is deep wisdom, — if one wants to gain something, one must pay a price. Jesus explains that grains of wheat die to produce golden harvests and that true love entails the readiness to suffer and sacrifice oneself; yes, even die for the beloved.
Everyone suffers. We cannot have pain-free lives. But we can purposefully take stands against pain by joining pro-life movements that fight the forces of destruction and death. In so doing, we’ll face opposition, may even face death, from evil forces. Jesus’ passionate love for life inevitably led to his passion. He bravely carried the cross, before God conferred on him the “golden crown of life” (Revelation 14:14).
Good Friday is incomplete without Easter Sunday. In the crowning of Jesus’ resurrection his cross reduces our pain and swallows our sufferings. May we courageously carry our crosses as precondition of being crowned like Christ.

Francis Gonsalves is the principal of the Vidyajyoti College of Theology, Delhi. He can be contacted at fragons@gmail.com

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