There came a moment at one of my high school spiritual retreats when the leader encouraged us to write on a sheet of paper some of our besetting sins.
Then we all walked up to a wooden cross and thumbtacked our folded sins someplace into the sticks.
It was moving. Really. We sat back down and the girls all cried and the boys all looked somber and the leader (I am guessing) offered a silent prayer that we would understand the message he was trying to illustrate.
‘Bring your burdens to the cross and leave them there.’ ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
I thought I understood, as far as is possible for a dense, fallible, forgetful mortal.
At various times over the years, when besetting sins would beset with a vengeance
I have pictured that cross and all it represents (or, again, as much as my limited mind can grasp). Folded sheets of paper thumbtacked to some twigs bound together with twine. It didn’t matter that the twigs weren’t as bone-breakingly heavy as the real cross, or that thumbtacks weren’t as deadly as spikes.
It was just important to understand what these symbols represented.
What they represented?
It took me decades to finally see, in part, what the symbols represent.
It does no good to tack sins onto a piece of wood.
Wood can’t save me.
Those tacks–those spikes–had to be driven through the layers of skin and blood-filled veins. Every sin, EVERY SIN, including the myriad I don’t even recognize, were pounded into flesh screaming with mangled nerve endings.
For my sins to be nailed to the cross they first have to be beaten into a vulnerable, fully human, pain-wracked body.
It is more pleasant to picture my selfishness, pride, gluttony, impatience, sloth and greed nailed to a couple of sticks of wood.
Wood feels no pain.
But wood offers me no hope.
‘My hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.’
May the memory of evil and outrages pounded into the body of my Best Friend, my older Brother, my Lord, cause me
such grief that I have no desire to sin with impunity.
And when I picture the empty cross may I rejoice that it is truly empty. My sins aren’t there, and neither is my Savior.