“Here sighs and cries and wails coiled and recoiled on the starless air, spilling my soul to tears.” – Dante
Look at this sea of faces: anger, accusation, judgment, grief, deception, misunderstanding, selfishness, abuse, faithlessness, powerlessness. There is suffering and darkness, endlessly shaping itself across the ages through disfigured family and social structures, through blighted politics, business, nationalities and religion. Corruption and malignancy and suffering abound – and all of it is directed straight at you.
Take that in for a moment. Experience the weight of it.
This is the View From the Cross of Christ.
Mary says “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” -Luke 1:46
Sounds beautiful, right? Yet, as we know, Mary’s story of motherhood wasn’t the happiest. She was most likely scorned for becoming pregnant before marriage. She gave birth outcast in a barn because there was no one willing to give her quarter in her hour of need. Years later, she endured the heartbreak of every mother’s unimaginable fear as she watched her child unjustly murdered on a cross. It isn’t really a happy story. Yet, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord. Hmmm.
I have prayed for some time now that my soul would do the same. “Lord, make me a vessel of your truth and presence. Make me one who magnifies who you are, make me Christ visible to a hurting and dying world. Help me to glorify you, God. Teach me your ways.”
Sounds beautiful, right? Yet, the more I pray that prayer, the longer I walk with Jesus, the more I realize that to be looked on with the kind of ‘favor’ bequeathed to Mary, the kind that truly ushers in Christ, means something far away from what most would imagine ‘favor’ to be.
To magnify the Lord, who is Christ, means one must become willing to suffer. In fact, I’m no longer convinced one can magnify the Lord in any real way and not suffer. This is because the path of Christ leads to only one destination. The cross. If we are truly ‘followers’ of Jesus, it is only to the cross that we go.
“If any want to become followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
– Luke 9:23
The cross is an invitation to take into our selves that which is dark (the view) and transform it into Love. As part of his Theologia Crucis, Martin Luther contends that God creates that which is lovable. In other words, God Love does not require some proof of worthiness from us before the extension of the God Embrace. God creates us as lovable. We do not make ourselves so.
The cross and Christ on it, then, is a catalyst. It is the location upon which Jesus created us lovable even though there was nothing and no one in his view who would have warranted the extremity of his pain or sacrifice. As Christ followers, we are invited to do the same. We are invited to partner with God within us and create those around us as lovable. It can be rotten work and feel more difficult than we can bear many days.
The difficulty of creating others as lovable is a part of the reason we must become willing to suffer. The more closely we follow Christ, the more we begin to see the world from the view on the cross. There is a refrain from a popular Christian song that says, “Break my heart for what breaks yours.” It is a prayer asking to be delivered from our selfish, self-centered, self-seeking ways and have our hearts opened to experience the world as Christ does. What does it feel like to have the heart of Christ beating within us?
“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
– Ezekiel 36:26
To say ‘Love in Mercy is what is True’, as Christ does, even as the pain of this world overruns us means meeting others in the places of ‘not love’, ‘mercilessness’ and ‘lies’. Hatred, fear, misunderstanding, judgment, and injustice are routinely expressed, both toward ourselves and others. The work of Christ requires our vulnerability in that dark.
Following Christ means engaging with the misery and angst through compassion and the absence of our defenses. It means becoming aware of the tragedy in the experience of others in an ever widening scope. It means experiencing the heart break of seeing our own selves and others as we are. To say ‘Love in Mercy is what is True’ and mean it is the most challenging undertaking any of us might ever choose.
God does give us a new heart when we earnestly choose to walk this path. The new heart, the Christ heart, takes in all of the pain and ‘sturm und drang’ we encounter and transforms it: Hate into Love, Confusion into Clarity, Dark into Light, and so on. This is the power of the cross. It is the ability to take in the view and transform it.
The transformation requires much. It requires our willingness to experience suffering and our own weakness. The transformation itself never comes through power. The cross is so powerful precisely because of its weakness. To seek transformation through the acquisition of power is never the path of Christ.
I think about the absolute trust that Jesus must have had in His Father to endure what he did. Being fully human, Jesus didn’t have any more of an outcome guarantee than his faith would allow, same as the rest of us. What trust. What deep and astounding trust. To be able to hang up on that cross and look at that view and say this. . .
“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”
– Luke 23:34
His heart must have been filled with despair. He must have felt overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the darkness and injustice he saw. Jesus suffered. His heart broke. And yet, he created us lovable. It’s astonishing really, when you think about it.
What could have motivated him to say such a thing? I know a large part of it was the insuperable trust and faith he had in his Father.
Now, as we follow Christ, we are invited into that sacred work. We are invited to create others as lovable with Jesus. For us, too, it requires a deep trust. It is through the same trust Christ has in his Father that we can trust the Christ in us for the task. We give the burden of the suffering we feel to him, for it is too large to carry alone. We can trust him to bear the weight with us as we seek to transform the dark views set before our own crosses. When we choose to do this transformative work, we enter the suffering of Christ with him and he with us.
Through that trust, and through that transforming work, we declare the Truth of God and God’s Goodness. In the declaring and sharing of that Truth through our lives we receive great joy. There is an invitation to great joy for us hidden within the view from the cross.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the JOY that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
– Hebrews 12:1-2
If we meditate on this invitation to joy in the midst of great suffering, God reveals more and more to us each day. We begin to feel the suffering of many and seek to carry that weight with Jesus. We begin the work of sharing that burden with Christ and come to understand the sharing happens through a trust in one who is worthy of it, even in the face of great calamity.
The trust Jesus has in his Father can seem unobtainable as one begins to comprehend just how deep it really runs. All of us have a ways to go to get there. Personally, I take heart that I am even beginning to make out the picture. I think this trust, once developed through these means, is something we can share with others who suffer, and that is where the joy is.
To bring hope, to bring peace, to bring grace, to bring renewal, even in the face of angst and suffering is the true work. To create the other as lovable is the true joy and satisfaction our hearts seek. To enter this sacred work with Christ, to allow our souls to magnify him through suffering the pain of seeing the world with the Christ heart, to trust and to share that trust with others in the face of darkness…This is what it means to be made holy.
Obeying the law does not make us holy. We are made holy when we become willing to share with Christ in the transformative work he does with The View From the Cross.