At the morning parade in Dachau on July 22, 1943, six prisoners were found to have escaped. Retribution was swift and brutal. Randomly selected, 12 people were hanged. As the other prisoners watched their twelve fellow inmates gasp for breath, someone in the crowd cried out, “Where is God?” Silence descended on the yard. The twelve bodies were now in spasm, jerking and struggling for breath. As everyone watched, the voice came again, this time more urgently, “Where is God now?” “My God,” another voice yelled back, “my God is hanging there.”
This sort of thing is what today’s gospel is all about. Christianity holds that God took our flesh, suffered, died, and was raised to life.
It is certainly true that we have domesticated the scandal of the cross, even to the point that, these days, it dangles from various parts of people’s anatomies. I often wonder, had Jesus been electrocuted, whether we would have little golden chairs around our necks? But while we have tried to tame the reality of Jesus’ torturous hours in Jerusalem, the reality of the cross in each of our lives cannot be so commercially soothed.
My friends, Christians are not meant to be smiling masochists. We are not meant to be lovers of pain–just bearers of it.
We are invited, by Jesus, to see the burden of suffering in our lives as an opportunity to be faithful to his example. It also gives us an opportunity to be in solidarity with all those who suffer in our world. This is easier said than done. My brothers and sisters, when we suffer in our daily lives, thoughts of others rarely come to mind easily, but it can be consoling to keep our suffering in context and know that we are not facing it alone.
The good news of Christ paradoxically encourages us to see that suffering can be an opportunity to grow in love. If we understand our crosses as our particular schools of love, then we learn more about ourselves and God and are able to help others carry their crosses as well.
Carrying our cross, however, is not just about bearing physical, personal, spiritual, or emotional pain; it can also be about the sharing of our gifts and talents, our love and compassion. In every gift, there is a burden. Following Christ’s example, we are called to share our gifts heroically, with anyone in need, even to the end.
This past week we had innumerable examples of this kind of heroic and empathetic love, as we witnessed the rescues of so many from the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Often, without regard for their own safety, first responders as well as ordinary folks, risked their own lives to rescue their neighbors from the ravages of the rising flood waters. The cross of Christ was not just a symbol, often worn around the neck, but exemplified in the very life-saving actions of these self-less men and women who understood, in their heart of hearts, that they were indeed their brother’s and sister’s keeper!
Some people complain these days that God is often presented as a big marshmallow, all sweet and soft. Today’s Gospel shows the edge involved in being a follower of Christ. I don’t know of a more demanding vocation in our world than that of taking up the cross of being faithful, loving and selfless.
And while we are invited to take up our cross and follow Jesus, we never do it alone. If we have the eyes to see it and the humility to accept it, Christ, literally hangs in there with us every step of the way.
So, my friends, let’s recall the first cross from which we take comfort as we bear our own crosses and those of others - “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”