Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cross My Heart and Hope to Die

Since Christ embrac’d the Crosse it selfe, dare I
His image, th’image of his Crosse deny?

—John Donne

John  Donne was thinking of the Puritans of his day and their refusal to “sign” the cross. But, he argues, we can not avoid the sign of the Cross; we see it everywhere:

    Swim, and at every stroke, thou art a Cross;
    The Mast and yard make one, where seas do toss;
    Look down, thou spiest out Crosses in small things;
    Look up thou seest birds rais’d on crossed wings;
    All the Globes frame, and spheres, is nothing else
    But the Meridians crossing Parallels…

All these “crucifixes” remind us of the Cross, but more notably,

    When that Crosse ungrudg’d, unto you sticks,
    Then are you to your self, a Crucifix.

In other words, we ourselves may become a “sign” of our Lord’s Cross that others will see!

Paul  says much the same: “(We are) always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.  So then death is working in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10-12).

Daily, we’re “delivered over to death.”  I think of the parameters of old age: forgetfulness, failing eyesight, flaccid muscles, aching joints, impaired hearing, an unsteady gait and other strictures. These are the “little deaths” that accumulate until death is done with us. Despite the plethora of pills and potions we use to stave off the process as long as possible our “mortal flesh” is dying  and there’s nothing we can do about it!

But we can do  something about our attitude. We can embrace our dying—accept it “ungrudg’d” as Donne put it. This is what Paul means when he says, we “are always carrying in the body the dying of Jesus,” i.e., we have adopted the attitude that characterized Jesus. Our Lord accepted each diminishment in his life as His Father’s will and died to His own inclinations. That’s what it meant to him to take up his cross daily. The Cross on which he eventually died was merely the culmination of that  attitude.

Put simply, “carrying in the body the dying  of Jesus,” is offering up each “little death” to God as Jesus did and praying with Him, “Not my will but yours be done.” In that spirit we ourselves become a Crucifix.

Bitterness and resentment  over the aging process produce an unpleasantness that characterizes some folks in their final years. But a cheerful acceptance of each “little death” as it overtakes us releases the life of God within us and  a surfeit of goodness—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity,  faithfulness, gentleness, and self-restraint. This is the life of Jesus  “made visible in our mortal flesh,” a life so irresistible that others are fascinated and drawn toward the One who is life indeed. Thus Paul’s ironic equation: “As death works in us, life works in you.”

May we then,

    Be covetous of Crosses, let none fall.
    Crosse no man else, but crosse thy selfe in all.”


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