I’ve been participating in the Community Cross Walk since we first began holding it 21 years ago. The particular old wooden cross we use was originally the property of the St. Gregory’s congregation – I suppose technically it still is — but since the walk ends at our church, it’s always been stored out-of-the-way in the little-used front entrance of our church.
Every Good Friday for the past 20 years I’ve come over to the church in the morning and loaded the cross into my car. It’s too big for my car, so it would stick out the window, and I’d drive it the 2/3 of mile up the road to St. Gregory’s, where I’d drop it off, then head back home to occupy myself until the 1 p.m. service.
This morning, though was a little different. Knowing that I needed to plan out where we’d pause for the “stations of the cross” along Beverwyck Road, and realizing what a nice day it was weather-wise, I decided today that I’d walk the cross to St. Gregory’s.
Now here I must admit that part of the reason I have never done this before is that I was afraid that I might appear to the passersby like some kind of nut-cake – a wild-eyed religious fanatic. It’s one thing to process in a cross walk as a part of a well-behaved group under the supportive shelter of an accompanying police officer – that sort of thing is pretty obviously an organized religious ritual. But to walk alone carrying a cross at the side of road – well, who knows what people will think?
I find myself needing to justify myself here, which, in itself is part of the problem. Look, there are a lot of people in this world who call themselves “Christian” that in my way of seeing things don’t live very Christ-like lives; people, for instance, who seem to associate hate with Jesus, and put themselves forward in a very public way as representatives of Christianity.
If people see me walking along the road carrying a cross – what if they think I’m one of those kinds of Christians?!!!
The truth of the matter, though is that we don’t have much control over how people will view us in this world, for better or for worse. One of the first years we did this a photographer from the Daily Record was on hand to snap a picture of me carrying the cross, and it appeared the next day on the front page, enormously blown up. I got a message on my answering machine shortly afterwards from a woman gushing over the picture, as though what I had done was the most wonderful thing in the world, when in fact, I knew it was absolutely nothing. I’d carried a couple of pounds of lumber a few paces, that’s all. I happened to be there when the photographer snapped his picture. But she thought my toting the cross down the road made me Christ-like.
Part of what it means to follow Jesus is to try to stop worrying so much about how people will view us – which can be pretty tough for some of us, given our nature and our upbringing. As I read over the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ passion, I notice that from the time of his arrest to his dying breath on the cross Jesus has very little to say. When he is questioned and mocked by the high priests, Herod, Pilate, the passersby, the thief on the cross, he makes no attempt to argue his case. It is as if he knows that it is useless at this point to worry about how he is perceived. He lets it all go — part of Christ’s great self-“emptying” that Paul refers to in Philippians 2:7.
Having refused to defend himself, it’s striking at the end when, having watched Jesus’ die, the Roman centurion declares, “Certainly this man was innocent/righteous.” (Luke 23:47b) It doesn’t seem to have been so much the words Jesus spoke, which were few, as it was his simple bearing and grace in dying.
In the end, who we are eventually comes through, over and beyond our attempts to manage our image and justify our actions.
And so I walked down Beverwyck Road by myself carrying the cross. Curiously, the very first car that drove by carried friends of mine who have moved here recently from Ghana. They waved and smiled at me. It was as if God had led them to pass by at that moment as a kind of blessing. Esse and Joseph don’t know that much about the traditions of Americans, so seeing me carrying the cross, they probably assumed that this was just something American pastors routinely do on Good Friday – go out for strolls with an old rugged cross.
In the half hour it took to make the walk, plenty of other cars passed by as well. It is remarkable the diversity in those cars. People seemed curious, but otherwise I didn’t get much of a reaction. Maybe seeing me led their thoughts in some positive direction. But then, who knows? Only God, of course.
It’s not something I can control, and it would be good for me to worry less about the things I can’t control; in particular, how people view me.
At the end of the Gospel account there is this quiet little hero that shows up who doesn’t get much attention, appearing as he does after the most intense drama of Good Friday has concluded. Joseph of Arimathea is described by Luke as being a “good and righteous man”. He was a member of the council before whom Jesus had appeared when he was first arrested, and before whom Jesus had refused to put up much of a defense. Luke tells us that Joseph resisted pressure to fall in line with his colleagues, casting a dissenting vote to their plan to execute Jesus.
And now, with Jesus dead and in need of a decent burial, Joseph does what he figures is simply the decent thing to do. He goes to Pilate and asks for permission to take Jesus’ body down from the cross, which Pilate grants. The women who had loved Jesus follow along supportively at a distance, but from what Luke tells us, Joseph seems to have done the heavy lifting pretty much all by himself. There must have been countless others who watched from afar as Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body in a linen cloth and then carried it some distance to the rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.
Perhaps he looked like a nutcake – a wild-eyed crazy religious fanatic, but Joseph didn’t care. The man deserved a decent burial, and it was the least that he could do.
Loving God, as we would follow Jesus, help us to empty ourselves of the anxious concern to manage how others will perceive us. Allow us to be like Joseph of Arimethea, doing what needs to be done without thought to what others may think. In Jesus’ name. Amen.