Thursday, September 15, 2011

Remember The Cross on Good Friday

photo by Pip Rolls

     I heard the door open and stood as my husband entered the room. "How was the elder meeting?" I asked.
     "I'm getting off the elder board," he said, shaking his head. "I just can't do it anymore."
     "Are you sure?"
     "Yes," he said firmly.
     Our problem with the leadership at church had been slowly escalating; now the dam was breaking. With a heavy heart, I sat down to type the resignation letter he dictated. I felt he had been unfairly discredited and ostracized, but had hoped he could stand fast and make a difference. True faith and character shine during adversity, but he seemed to be surrounded by those who wanted to snuff out his flame. Quitting the board meant he could do nothing more.
     We had helped found the church six years earlier in a shared dream that the Lord brought to life. How could those we worked alongside with turn against us? As he signed and sealed his formal letter of resignation, 
I trusted that the Lord had a bigger plan that I simply couldn't see. "Well, at least we still have each other," I said, mustering a smile. His arms enveloped me as we encouraged ourselves to act with kindness in the days ahead.
     Church was never the same to us afterward. Rumors flew and the insecure leadership became defensive, yet we tried to remain quiet. "Lord, please help," I prayed. I needed His grace to help me exhibit the fruits of the spirit, especially self-control and patience, when I was tempted to give in to hurt, anger and disappointment.
     After three months, our situation had so deteriorated we spent a day fasting and praying to receive some direction from the Lord. By that evening, we felt His affirmation to leave the fellowship we had loved so deeply. However, I could not as easily leave my pain as I made my way to the door of a new church. Because it was large, I hoped to heal in anonymity. I couldn't give much, but I needed plenty. Listening to the good-hearted pastor, I felt soothing words like salve on an open sore.

Good Friday Sermon

     Soon Good Friday arrived, and I went to the special service needing to be uplifted again. As I waited for it to start, music filled the air. At the front of the church, a large wooden cross held together by ropes was leaning against the wall. 
     After some singing and a sermon, the pastor said, "We will close our service tonight with our annual tradition. Each one of us will come and hammer a nail into our wooden cross as a remembrance of what the Lord Jesus Christ did on Calvary. We would like for this auditorium to be quiet during this and when you have finished, you may leave." Two men solemnly laid the cross down on the altar next to some hammers and a couple of bowls filled with carpenter nails, each tied with a red ribbon.
     My hands began to sweat and my eyes watered. The imagery was too vivid for me. How could I hammer a nail into that cross? I was sitting in a comfortable culture two thousand years away from that dreadful night when the Savior was sacrificed. If I had been there, I would have stopped anyone from crucifying my Lord! Or would I?

     It dawned on me that those who put Jesus to death were not the only ones responsible for the act. Each sinful human being was responsible because it was for their sins Christ had died. I was just as guilty as those who actually did the deed. And yet, He had to die! If He hadn't, I wouldn't have eternal life in heaven! His temporary pain bought salvation for me and all mankind! He knew He had to die, and He willingly did so.
     I stood to take my turn with the hammer. The line ahead of me was long, and I heard only the consistent pounding in the otherwise silent room. Finally, it was my turn. Someone handed me a hammer and I took a red-ribboned nail from a bowl. The large cross was now covered with nails, but there was still room for mine. I raised the hammer and it landed on the nailhead with a thud. I thought of the pain Jesus must have experienced as each blow had pierced Him. Tears streamed from my eyes as I forced myself to hit the nail, hit the nail, hit the nail.
     Then a new thought occurred to me. Not only was my sin nailed to the cross, but also the sins of those who had hurt my husband and me. Jesus had taken the judgment, ostracism and jealous anger others had directed at us, and nailed them to the cross, too. He died for all humankind, including those who had mistreated us. If He could love so forgivingly, would He expect anything less from me? He was flawlessly perfect and completely undeserving of His fate. How could I complain about the sin against us when I was not so flawless?
     I looked at the cross, now covered with nails that represented each person's sin, and suddenly felt lighter. My sin was gone, the sins against me were gone, and I was free. I was finally surfacing from my self-pity to see the reality of God's truth. When compared to the cross, my overwhelming sense of betrayal paled into insignificance. Truly, my bitterness had to be replaced with forgiveness. For my own spiritual health, I needed to let go of the past and move on.

     I handed the hammer to the next person and averted my red-rimmed eyes. The experience had been intensely personal. Jesus Christ had touched my soul.

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