In the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius the third week of the exercises are focused on the transformative experience of the cross. We reflect directly on the experience of the cross in our lives and often meditate imaginatively on Calvary.
A friend of mine once felt like he was stuck in the third week on his long retreat (the 30 day version–not for wusses). He said to me “He’s got to come off the cross sometime.”
And perhaps therein lies the deep challenge. Can we face our own cross knowing that the resurrection is surely to follow? Do we have hope that God will make all things new even when disastrous things happen?
I didn’t say this to him back when he mentioned that but I was reflecting on this today in my own personal prayer time and I thought to myself that Jesus didn’t come off the cross–though he very well could’ve. It must have been excruciating for His mother and the other Marys, Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas, along with the beloved disciple to watch.
And when it was all over…he was taken down at the request of Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple and Nicodemus came to help anoint the body. Could any of us have had the guts to stay with Jesus then? Could we have removed the nails and let his dead body slink over our back and then place that body into the arms of his sorrowful mother. Could we have taken Mary’s place and become the pieta? Could we have dared to have that kind of faith.
Could we stay with Him and faced that kind of horror–the horror of seeing God’s death and yet keeping the paradoxical faith that God is somehow still alive as well?
In my imagination I imagine being one of those who carries Jesus down from the cross. I sit with him in a momentary lifelessness, wondering if after this experience I can have the faith to believe that He will rise on the 3rd day as He said?
In my own life, do I also have a similar question of faith? When all seems darkest, do I believe that Jesus will make a way out of no way?
We must stay with Him in this “third week experience” and in doing so, might we find the strength to believe? Can we see beyond the blood of the cross to find the wounded one alive again? Can we too rise from our wounds and believe that this experience is just a foreshadow of what God will also do for each one of us?
Can we hold a dead God in our arms and still believe that all will be well?
Facing the cross of Calvary enables each of us to see Jesus in a new way that ultimately provides us with the faith to get past our own crosses in our lives. It’s scary to look straight ahead at the cross and sometimes we might choose to look left and right in fear–but it is there we see Mary, who held Jesus lifeless, and believed anyway.
Do we have people in our lives who restore our faith? Who believe despite the odds mounting against them? Do we know those who have faced the death of loved ones but who can still rejoice in the resurrection despite their very real sadness–or even anger?
Staying with Him keeps things real. We cannot ignore the cross, for to do so also denies the resurrection. Our God understands our suffering and that is a beautiful thing for us to behold.
Nobody likes to suffer. If we don’t we never taste the rewards of growth. of learning, of being renewed. We might certainly be worse off if it were not for the cross.
We need the courage to stay with him, hold Him in our arms and believe.