There’s a collect, a prayer, that comes up in the Morning Prayer rotation on Fridays that, on most occasions, I make my way through with little trouble. It is called, simply, A Collect For Fridays.
It goes like this:
Almighty God, whose most dear
Son went not up to joy but first he
suffered pain, and entered not into
glory before he was crucified:
Mercifully grant that we, walking in
the way of the cross, may find it
none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ your
Son our Lord. Amen.
Now, if I had my Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer, I might be able to share some historical information about this collect. I could tell you about its author, the era in which it was written and, maybe even, offer a bon mot or two about the choice of this collect for our prayer book. But, I can’t. Alas, my books are still in storage, in a trailer in Camp Hill, waiting for us to buy a house. So, never mind.
And really, what I want to reflect on is not anything that can be answered with scholarly research or quaint facts, because it’s much more visceral than that. What I want to reflect on is that phrase that called me up short this morning and that has taken me down the rabbit hole of wonder:
“Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”
I have spent time on other occasions praying with the phrase “the way of the cross,” but today it has caught me up. Stopped me. And, my experience tells me that usually, God has something to say to me when I am stopped in my tracks.
What has struck me this morning is that the Christian call to service – “walking in the way of the cross”- includes intentionally putting ourselves into places that are not particularly comfortable. The progression of the collect lays out for us a model in Christ’s suffering and assumes that, we, too, will embrace a similar stance in our own walk with Jesus.
I used to read this prayer with a different slant: I used to think that this prayer asked us to find hope and peace in the “normal,” “everyday” occasions of suffering that we encountered- illness, grief, loss, shame- and that by aligning ourselves with the One who suffered, first, we might find solace and hope… (and that’s a fine thing)… but now I read it differently. Now, I understand this prayer as outlining a willingly uncomfortable walk for us as Christians.
Carrying the cross, “walking in the way of the cross” is not easy.
“Suffering” to me suggests the painful result of something that we have not elected for ourselves. But “intentional discomfort, or “being uncomfortable” feels like a more attainable goal for the modern Christian- and not too difficult in our culture of relative wealth and comfort.
Imagine the things that make you feel uncomfortable. Here are some of mine:
· Being in a strange place, disoriented.
· Not having sufficient base material goods (food, water, shelter)
· Situations of protracted engagement with no defined end (the endless meeting, with no agenda… the bike ride up hill with no sign of the horizon)
As I think about it, when I have been in situations like the ones described above, I have had my holiest of moments… my most sacred encounters.
There’s a reason, it seems, that Fridays are noted in our faith tradition as to be observed by “special acts of discipline and self-denial.” (BCP p. 17) On the day in which we commemorate, again, Jesus’ crucifixion, we, too, are asked to focus on walking in the way of the cross and joining Jesus in the place of desolation and discomfort.
Today, we do not wear hairshirts. (Well, according to my research, some belonging to the monastic orders of Carthusians and Carmelites still hold to this tradition, but generally, in this modern age hairshirts are ancient relics.) I wonder, though, what we might do to put ourselves into a place that is personally challenging- for the sake of holiness, in the name of Christian service, and with the desire to grow closer to God.
What might you do, on this day, to pick up the cross and carry it with you for a while?
Play around with creating your own list of modern methods for walking in the way of the cross. And then if you try one – see if, maybe, you won’t meet Jesus along the way.