Originally posted April 2, 2012, at A Front View Pew. Republished with permission of the author.
Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want (Mark 14:36).
Have you ever had to do something you really didn’t want to do? In Jesus’ case, you could argue that he knew what was coming and what the outcome would be, so that made it somehow easier for him to be obedient to God. But even with the benefit of that divine perspective, Jesus in his humanity seems to feel some hesitation. Can you blame him? Suffering and dying on a cross certainly tops anything I’ve had to endure in my life so far.
Certainly we’ve all had to go through some extremely difficult circumstances; sometimes we see them coming but many times they are unexpected. Sometimes we have a choice and sometimes we don’t. Have you noticed, though, that it is often the most challenging situations that teach you the most?
Several years ago, just about the time our new pastor was arriving, our church secretary was offered a new job that was too good to turn down. I volunteered to fill in until a replacement could be found. Had I ever anticipated that I would be working in a church office? Not in a million years. Was I prepared for the job? No. I had no secretarial training and no office experience of any kind. I had never even used a copy machine.
As it turned out, people weren’t exactly beating at the door to get that job, so eventually it was suggested that maybe I could just stay on. A dear friend of mine had been a church secretary, so I asked for her advice. She told me to “run away as fast as you can.” But I didn’t run. Something told me I should stay (and it wasn’t just the pastor), so I did. Was it difficult? Yes, but I learned more through that experience than I ever could have anywhere else outside of a seminary. And I learned some valuable lessons they don’t teach there, too.
Maybe it’s blasphemous to even consider, but what if Jesus had said that he’d given the matter careful and prayerful consideration but decided this just wasn’t something he was equipped to do? Thanks, but no thanks. Without getting into too much of the various atonement theories, I think we can safely say that without the crucifixion, there is no resurrection, no Easter without Good Friday. By passing on the cup that is before us, we may be able to avoid some pain, but what might we miss out on in the process?
Sometimes we don’t have any choice but to face the challenges put before us. Cancer, depression or other illness, death of a loved one, loss of a job, divorce, tornados and floods are all “cups” we would rather pass on if we could. Yet, I have found that it is when I have been confronted with the worst, I have learned the most about faith.
Things must have seemed awfully dark for the disciples, too. Their beloved Jesus was dead; hung on a cross right along with the other criminals. It wasn’t at all what they expected. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. Jesus didn’t deserve that. What happened to all the good times they thought the Messiah would bring them? Their plans, their hopes, were ruined.
In a crazy way, the cross, a symbol of suffering, pain and death, becomes for us a symbol of hope. Hang on to it, because the story isn’t over yet. It wasn’t for Jesus and it isn’t for us.
This is part of a hymn that provided great comfort to me at one of those dark times. It speaks of God’s presence throughout all of our struggles and a hope we can find only in the cross.
I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless; ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if thou abide with me!
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, shine through the gloom and point me to the skies; heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
— from “Abide With Me,” lyrics by Henry F. Lyte
Find a link to Anita Nuetzman’s blog A Front Pew View at Lutheran Blogs.