One of my favorite things to do on Good Friday, and something I have been blessed to do often as a seminarian, is to watch people venerate the Cross. On this particular Good Friday I assisted at my home parish near Seattle, where most people in attendance were either Anglos or Vietnamese, two communities not particularly known for hugging, kissing, or other acts of physical warmth. And their veneration of the Cross was no exception.
Most people did not know what to do when faced with the procession to the Cross, a fact having as much to do with the uniqueness of the liturgy as with the cultures present. Most would genuflect, usually at an awkward distance. Between a third to a half would find it in themselves to offer a light kiss. The vast majority relied on their fingertips to carry the weight of interacting with the Cross. And almost no one offered an embrace.
The idiosyncrasies of my parish community aside, what an amazing analogy for the spiritual life!
God decided that the instrument of our salvation, the very symbol of his infinite love for us, would be an instrument of extreme and barbaric torture. None of us really know what to do with this paradox when it is thrust before us. We have some vague idea that it is important and mysterious, so we genuflect, awkwardly, at a distance. We struggle even to pay lip service to such a strange and powerful reality. Instead, we keep it at a distance, reaching out to touch it, but hesitatingly, tentatively, not knowing what it will feel like, not wanting to let it get too close.
And rightly so! No one wants the Cross. It is a symbol of death, of brutal, raw, cold power. To touch it is to touch pain. To accept it is to accept the reality of sin and death and suffering. We touch it because we have to, but we never let it get too close.
And yet… and yet… the Cross is our salvation. Somehow, the greatest symbol of the depravity of man has been transformed into the tree of life and the standard of love. Christian, behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the salvation of the world! This is your salvation. This is your proof that in God, and in him alone, even suffering can serve a purpose, and even pain will bear fruit. Embrace it. Please. Please embrace it. Please kiss it lavishly. Hold it near you for even a brief instant. Bring your children and let them touch it. Your fingertips will never do. You must give your whole body to the Cross, because that is exactly what your Lord has done for you.