April 4, 2021
A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? I am SO THANKFUL to have photos of Joe, but getting those pictures of him was sometimes a chore. More than once I’ve run across a picture I wanted to use in this blog, but could not because Joe’s sneaky self had crossed his eyes or was surreptitiously giving me the one finger salute. When he was being mischievous like that, he said his “ankles were itching”. Let me tell you…his ankles itched A LOT.
Exhibit A (and proof that his ankles started itching early on):
Never a dull moment….but I digress. 🙂
The picture below represents happiness to me:
Disney is one of my happy places, and I was there with some of my most favorite people. There we stood, in front of The Tree of Life, happy as clams. This trip was great at this point, and just got better and better. However, both the Price and Roberts families had to endure some hardships before we could stand and smile in front of that tree. Poor Joe was diagnosed with the worst case of gout I’ve ever seen just before we left. He was in such pain and hobbled around for the first day or so. As most of you know, Joe loved a cigarette
almost as much as he loved me. Apparently, Disney frowns upon the use of tobacco products, therefore smoking areas were few and far between. So we had ourselves a man (who did not exactly share my enthusiasm for Mickey Mouse) with a really sore foot and nowhere to light one up. Couple that with a horrific train ride to Florida for the Roberts, who arrived late due to train delays, mechanical failures, etc. There was also an incident on the train ride home, but that is a story for another day. Bottom Line: It. Was. A. Time.
This week, Joe’s lesson is about a symbol of Christianity and how its meaning evolved from the time of Jesus until now.
The Necessity of the Cross
What does the cross mean to you? Throughout the world, the cross is a symbol of Christianity. But what did the cross represent when Christ was alive? I certainly wouldn’t think that in Christ’s day anyone wore a cross as a piece of jewelry or displayed one in a place of worship.
The cross was used as a way to torture or execute criminals. I would think that in Christ’s day, the thought or image of a cross caused folks to be uncomfortable or afraid.
But Christians have chosen the cross as a symbol of our faith. If not for the cross, there would be no Christianity.
Colossians 2: 13-15 says, “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.”
The thought of death, torture and sacrifice has become unpopular in many Christian churches because people don’t like to hear about or even think about unpleasant things. People would rather hear about mercy, grace and love—but without the suffering of Christ, we could not be saved. There would be no mercy, grace and love as we know it today.
Can anyone here this morning tell me how we could be saved without Christ being crucified? As terrible as it was, Jesus paid the price for our sins so that all we have to do to be saved is to ask for it.
Hebrews 9:22 states, “ In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.”
Christ paid our debt with His own blood—with His own life.
When you look at the cross, remember that it hasn’t always been a proud symbol of Christianity. It was once a symbol of torment and death. Through His suffering, Christ made the cross a symbol of triumph over death and eternal life for all who know Him as their Savior.
Have you ever heard of Six Word Memoirs? I use this activity with my students each year. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged by a fellow writer to compose a story using only six words. This writer told Hemingway that it simply could not be done. Hemingway accepted the challenge and wrote: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn”.
I guess he showed him, didn’t he?
I use this example as a jumping off point to prove to my students that you can say much in few words.
There are six words often associated with the cross. I guess you could say they tell the story. Those words are:
It is finished. He is risen.
Truthfully, I usually tend to block out of my mind the graphic horror of what Jesus actually endured. When Joe said that “people would rather hear about mercy, grace and love“, he was talking about me. I’d much rather park my thoughts on the “He is risen” feelings than the “It is finished” ones. But, this year, I’ve paid more attention to the story. This year, I can’t look away from the suffering part, or from the darkness that followed it.
Jesus was a man. A son. Mary was a mama. The night before his crucifixion, he prayed with such anguish that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44), and even asked God if it were possible to “take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). He had another very human moment when He called out from the cross, “My God, why hath thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). He knew what had to be, but it is difficult to imagine the physical pain he endured to get there. And his mama…his sweet mama…had to witness it. As a fellow human being who feels pain, feels anxiety and fear, and as a mama–well, it is just about more than I can stand to think about it.
But, we couldn’t have the “He is Risen” part without “It is finished”.
This year, however, it’s the part in the middle that captures my attention.
Those hours between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning. You see, that’s the part I truly understand. Those dark hours of shock and grief are still fresh in my mind. Those hours are like a foggy mist, except they are comprised of tiny shards of glass. I think I’ve come out of the fog, but the glass is so embedded in my skin that it surfaces to the top intermittently. I know I’ve got to let each tiny fragment make its way out, but I dread the pain as each one breaks through the skin. I would imagine that Mary, the disciples, the followers of Jesus all walked through a similar fog that weekend.
The story of Cleopas on the road to Emmaus on that Sunday morning provides the three words that might make up “the rest of the story”. Jesus had left the tomb and walked the road beside of Cleopas and another traveler, but they did not know it was Him. Cleopas is sad, disappointed and frustrated as he cries “…we had hoped“(Luke 24:21). I’m sure he felt that the death he had just witnessed was the undoing of so many bright dreams for the future. Me too, Cleopas. Me too.
I could make a list a mile long of all the things “I had hoped” for that simply faded away on December 5, 2020. Honestly, I’ve camped in and around the “I had hope” list for many hours since that day. I’ve questioned. Oh, how I’ve questioned. At times, I have even asked “Where is God in all of this?”.
Here’s the answer:
While my head is down, while I am like Cleopas, lost in the “we had hoped”, Jesus is walking right beside me. And I am so caught up in my despair that I don’t even see Him. When Cleopas traveled that dusty road, lost in grief and disappointment, Jesus had already risen.
Because of that, it’s not really “we had hoped”…It’s “we have hope”. And we have that hope simply because Jesus endured unimaginable suffering on that cross long before it was a symbol.
Joe said, “without the suffering of Christ, we could not be saved. There would be no mercy, grace and love as we know it today.” We are all working our way toward our Happy Place, longing to take our spot in front of The Tree of Life. We are all going to have to endure hardship and suffering to get there. But that place of suffering is a place well known to Jesus. Perhaps it is in that moment of suffering that He is closest to us, because He suffered, too.
Are you walking through a fog? It’s ok. Sometimes, so am I. But look…there’s a hand extended at the edge of it,stretched out for you and for me to hold tightly. Can you see it? Look closely….do you see His palm? Do you see the scar? That scar means that is is NOT finished, after all. That scar means we HAVE hope. That scar means that we WILL trade our earthly sorrows for life everlasting. That scar means our story is not over, and that one sweet day I won’t have to look at pictures of my sweet Joe anymore, because I will be by his side again.
IT’S NOT FINISHED! HE IS RISEN!
And one day we will all live HAPPILY EVER AFTER.
-Words of Wisdom from The Book of Joe