A heavy cross is thrust into Jesus’ arms and he is ordered to carry it. Jesus accepts it. We are burdened by so many crosses in life. Crosses of fear, loneliness, hunger, poverty, persecution, relationships. We scarcely notice people who are also carrying crosses: students struggling in school, a grandmother who is nearing the end of life, people who are afraid or lonely, someone in a relationship of unrequited love, the loss of job, homelessness, hunger, a diagnosis of cancer. Sometimes we feel like we’re not appreciated. Sometimes we feel as if we accept more responsibility than we need to. We can feel sorry for ourselves, even though the crosses others carry are much larger than our own. In our self-pity, we may not reach out to help.
While serving my country in the army during World War Two, my platoon was ambushed by enemy fire. A shell went off nearby and shrapnel flew everywhere. Several pieces hit me and I was overcome with pain as the searing metal fragments sliced into the bone and muscle of my foot and ankle. As enemy fire flashed around us, I knew that we had to retreat to a more safe location. Despite the pain, I rose to my knees and noticed that the other men were severely injured. Just as Jesus took up his cross, I too had to do what was required of me. Practically paralyzed with pain, one by one, on my backside I dragged my brothers to safety, lifting each of them over a stone wall, away from enemy fire, to life.
As the macabre crucifixion scene plays out, Jesus labors to be upright and impervious to the jeers of some in the crowd. Yet, there is an oasis within, a place where psalms still flourish. Just as Jesus lumbered forward, I too did what was the right thing to do, choosing life with each labored pull and step.
Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption: Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
*Nat received a Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his heroism on that day.