Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Week Reflection

Drinking Our Cup With Jesus

By Alan B. Ward


Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:2


One morning recently I had my arms outstretched asking for God's presence to fall upon me as I began a time of prayer and meditation. After a few moments, I realized my arms were getting tired, and I dropped them to my side.  As I did so I caught my reflection in a nearby mirror. It struck me that the posture I was in with my arms outstretched resembled how Jesus is often depicted hanging on the cross. 


Of course, any resemblance between Jesus and me in that moment was probably purely coincidental. Unlike me, alone with God in my warm comfortable living room that morning, Jesus was hanging naked and humiliated on a Roman Cross for all the world to see.  He had been nailed there after having been tortured and beaten by the soldiers. He couldn't drop his arms the second he got tired as I did.  He had to "hold that posture" until his entire body collapsed beneath him in agonizing pain.  


We Christians believe Jesus was God incarnate.  If that's true then Jesus could have "dropped his arms" the moment things got uncomfortable like I did.  Scripture even says he could have done just that.  He could have climbed down off the cross at any time, and walked away, and that would have been the end of it—but he chose not to.  Jesus had a calling (or God-given purpose) to fulfill, and he realized that he couldn't fulfill that calling unless he first endured the pain of the cross.  As Paul says to the Philippians:  he became obedient to death, even death on a cross… and because he did, the world as we know it was forever changed.


In the face of the realization of how much pain Jesus endured, I am humbled.  I realize that, in general, I am rather soft when it comes to doing things that make me uncomfortable.  The moment I become uncomfortable I start to back off, disengage, play it safe.   And of course I am not so much talking about my workout at the gym here. No, I'm more specifically thinking about emotional or spiritual discomfort.  I tend to avoid the difficult conversation with my spouse or my friend for fear of it being awkward and uncomfortable for us—and by us, I mostly mean me.  I refuse to go with God into the dark places within my heart for fear of the pain and discomfort that might be unearthed—even though I might find healing and wholeness if I do.


My prayer time continued and I found myself on my knees.  Once again my posture evoked memories of Jesus.  This time I think of him praying in the Garden of Gethsemane just moments before his arrest.  The Synoptic Gospels (especially Mark 14:32-42) paint a picture of a very human Jesus who seemed uncomfortable accepting his calling, saying: "Lord if it is possible let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours be done."  Luke even goes so far to say these Jesus cried tears of blood as he prayed and came to terms with his fate.  (Whether the tears of blood were literal or not can be debated, but the point I believe Luke makes is that even though it was what Jesus was called to do, submitting to death on the cross was still a very hard choice for him to make.) 


Somehow as I read about how Jesus struggled to accept his fate at Gethsemane, I feel encouraged and lifted in my own journey.  If Jesus, who was fully God but also fully human, struggled to drink the cup that was his to drink, then we shouldn't be surprised when we struggle to drink whatever cups are ours to drink.  


I also take comfort in knowing that it's okay to be uncomfortable with accepting God's calling on your life.  You don't have to do it all at once; you can live into it over time the way Jesus did.  However, if we wish to fulfill our calling the way Christ fulfilled his through his death and resurrection, then we must ultimately be willing to follow Jesus' footsteps and pass through death to resurrection ourselves.  We may not have to literally die as Jesus did, but we each have a unique cup to drink on our journey.  Along the way, we may have to come face-to-face with some very deep and longstanding pain in our lives or we might have to confront an addiction or idol that prevents us from giving our full attention to God.  Indeed cups come in many shapes and sizes.


As I continued on my knees I heard God ask: What cups are you avoiding drinking right now, Alan?  Now, when God asks us a more personal question like this, our natural tendency will be to push it aside until "later" hoping it will go away and leave us alone.  Resist this temptation! Enter into this question now, and be wiling to stay with it until you get some answers.


I suspect the cup that I wish to avoid drinking has something to do with the loss of my daughter two years ago.  On one level I feel I have experienced quite a bit of healing from the event itself, but on another level, the loss of Hope unearthed deeper wounds I received as a child that profoundly shaped the individual I became.  Entering these deeper wounds is not easy; I avoid "going there".  And yet I sense that the healing and wholeness I long for can only be found by "going there" with Jesus. 


Whatever cup God may be calling you do drink before you can take the next step toward living out your calling, the example of Christ shows us that you can in fact drink it.  It probably won't be easy or pain-free and it will likely taste bitter going down but Jesus' example shows that God goes with us to help us drink it.  And as we drink our cup with Jesus there is a promise we can cling to: the bitter and sour wine of Good Friday will be transformed to the sweetest nectar we have ever tasted come Easter morning—while weeping may last for a night [or two], joy comes in the morning.

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