Embracing the Cross

Embracing the Cross

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Luke 22:42-46 

Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

Pain comes in all shapes and sizes and there are very, very few people who have never experienced it. In fact, those who are incapable of feeling pain are usually a danger both to themselves and those around them. Sensitivity, or the capacity to feel pain, is one of the seven defining criteria that science uses to determine life itself, and its role, to a large extent, is protective. Pain indicates that there is something wrong and it's a sign that we need to take care of ourselves. Despite this vital, God-given role, it's pretty safe to say that pain is just as unwelcome as an occasional visitor as it is when it comes and takes up permanent residence.

My grandmother had her first ever headache at the age of ninety-nine. Not that she had never experienced pain in her very long life: she had born four children in the days before epidurals were on offer; she'd seen all four of them go away to war, two of her sons spending long years in captivity. She was widowed just as she began to suffer from a crippling arthritis that would eventually confine her to a wheelchair, but she'd never before had a headache.

What was perhaps even more extraordinary was her reaction. Once she had recovered, she didn't complain, instead she wheeled herself out of her room and apologised to my mother and to me and, I guess, to her long dead husband. She apologised for all the years that she had secretly condemned the three of us as malingerers, for the “fuss” we made about our migraines.

I was, and still am, impressed at her honesty and her humility, the fruit of a deep and life long Christian faith.

Another important thing her example taught me is that pain can itself be a teacher, and one of the most important lessons it teaches us is to be sensitive to the pain suffered by others.

Reading up on slipped discs at a time when I was suffering from a pinched lumbar disc myself, I came across one medical article that stood out from all the rest and it turned out that the professor who authored the article had himself suffered from a herniated disc. He clearly wanted to explain fully to his fellow sufferers both the pathology of the condition and the intensity of the pain it caused. His careful, thorough and insightful comments were more helpful and encouraging than all the other articles put together.

We don't even have to suffer the same pain to empathise with another's suffering. During the years I worked as a podiatrist my patients often commented that I seemed to have an unusual understanding of their pain. I had never suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic leg ulceration, but still, I knew about pain, I'd suffered from severe migraines from the age of ten, and fifty years on, I still suffer from them.

The Bible is very upfront about the pain of the human condition resulting from the fall. We read in Genesis 3 that this was the origin of women's pain in childbearing and of men's painful toil, “
By the sweat of your brow
 you will eat your food
until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;
 for dust you are
 and to dust you will return.” The books of Job and Ecclesiastes deal graphically with the harsh reality of pain, illness, loss, sin, suffering and the anguish of the soul. The Bible is also clear that being a Christian will not automatically protect us from such unpleasantness. We too “may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” 1 Peter 1:6, because we still inhabit a fallen world in fragile, corruptible and finite bodies.

I want to state here that I am not saying that God does not heal. He does, he heals, comforts and renews us and I have experienced his healing, but I have also experienced how it feels not to be healed.

When we find ourselves in this place we should not feel condemned, nor should we accept the condemnation of others for our supposed “lack of faith”. Rather, we need to remember that we are not alone. We are accompanied by someone who has already gone before us, already walked with our pain, and carried it for us. No wonder we are exhorted daily to;

“Consider him who, being found in appearance as a man,
 humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:8

Reflect again on all that Jesus suffered for you and for me. He truly knows about pain. He knows about humiliation, mockery and torture. A crown of thorns was forced on his head, tearing his skin and piercing his scalp. He was spat at and struck, again and again. He was forced to drag his own cross to the site of his execution. Then, brutally, nails were hammered through his feet and his hands and, as the cross lurched upright, almost wrenching his arms out of their sockets, the air was forced from his lungs by the weight of his own body. Worse still, he knew the appalling weight of all humanity's sin falling upon him, with its terrible, inevitable consequence: separation from his heavenly Father. There isn't a physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain that Jesus doesn't know about at first hand.

I am sitting writing this at 2.25 am, unable to sleep yet again, driven from my bed by the pain, and hoping that I'll still be in a fit state tomorrow (whoops, today) to have the scheduled MRI scan. Maybe what I have written as a result can help you face some of your own pain. I hope and pray so, though I know that won't necessarily be the case. Just know that there is someone else out there who is thinking of you as you read this.

Perhaps a song I wrote almost nearly twenty years ago now, will strike a chord...

Sun follows rain

A while ago I seemed to know

Exactly where I was to go,

And when I’d pray, well then the way

Was clear as day.


But just as night blots out the light,

Pain came to me and brought its blight,

And when the pain came yet again,

I did complain.


I heard your voice, you gave no choice,

“Embrace the cross and then rejoice,

Embrace it now”, but tell me how?

“As earth the plough”.


As soil is turned and stubble burned,

So are these deeper lessons learned.

Then so must I without a cry,

 At least I’ll try, at least I’ll try.


Sometimes I tried, sometimes I cried,

And sometimes too, I tried to hide,

But then your hand helped me to stand,

And understand.


And now I find peace of a kind,

I’ve gained a clearer state of mind

For through the pain we rise again,

Sun follows rain,

Sun follows rain.

Sometimes, for some reason that only God knows, he simply asks us to embrace the cross with him. So, let us not be afraid to do that, to fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2