Monday, December 30, 2013

Carrying the Cross: Lessons I Learned

It was not something I was prepared for, but when the pastor called the afternoon of Christmas Eve and asked if I would be crucifer at the evening service, I said yes. Since joining the small Presbyterian church last April, I had seen the crucifer carrying the large golden cross and leading the procession each Sunday. The procession had not been part of my experience during my years attending a Baptist church, but having been raised as a Catholic, I found myself liking the rituals. So, knowing that I would be front and center for the very important Christmas Eve service, not only as crucifer but as a reader, I dressed carefully, even unearthing a pair of seldom worn high heels. Big mistake.

Memorial Presbyterian Church in Boothwyn is miniscule by any means. Our total congregation does not equal 50, yet Ron and I felt drawn to this church a year ago, when a friend invited us to the Christmas Eve service and I was hastily pulled up to the lectern to read a passage from the Old Testament. The minister was so grateful for my "super power" of reading and I realized how much I was needed here. It has been part of  my Sunday worship ever since. But carrying the cross? Well, we would see.

Pastor Kauffman's directions to me were skimpy. There had been, apparently, many last minute changes in the service and when I arrived at 7:15, no one seemed to really know what was going on except that we were not using what had already been printed in the bulletin. I'm a teacher and a mother, so I am used to chaos and change. No big deal. I was told I would be carrying the taller and heavier of the two ceremonial crosses and to "duck at the doorways." That was about it.

Okay, a little background here for those of you not familiar with the Anglican churches and the tradition of the crucifer. The word is made up of the Latin words "crux" meaning "cross" and "ferre" meaning "bear." So, literally, the crucifer is the cross-bearer. The crucifer plays an important role in guiding the worship of the congregation towards Christ and the cross, reminding them of His procession on Palm Sunday and His return to Heaven. No pressure, then.

After I had put on the black and white robes I've worn for the last year, I hefted the cross a few times. It was heavier and longer than I expected it to be. As the head of the procession, I would also have to open the door into the sanctuary while managing the cross, and carry it around the church during the candlelight ceremony. But the acolytes were already lining up behind me--ready to follow me whence I would lead--so there was no turning back. And as I carried the cross, reminiscent of Christ and His sacrifice for us, up and down the aisles of the small church and lifted it into its resting spot on the altar, I learned foru valuable lessons about being both a crucifer and a Christian.

1. KEEP YOUR BALANCE. Wearing high heels while carrying a large and heavy cross required a balancing act. The cross was top-heavy and would easily have toppled both me and it onto the floor. I needed to find the center of the weight, which was near the top of the cross, and focus my attention there. If I managed to keep the top perpendicular to the floor, the long staff would follow and cause me no problems.

Life, too, is a balancing act, often top-heavy with so many concerns and duties. Finding the center of the weights, prioritizing the importance of our many tasks, can keep us from becoming overly concerned about mundane details. Do the most important things and, like the staff, the rest will follow.

2. FIND YOUR OWN HOLD. A friend had told me to keep my hold on the staff low, around the region of my hips, but I found that I needed to shift my hands up just a bit in order to compensate for the weight of the top. Liturgically, it might not have been exactly correct, but it was what I needed to do to bear the weight. By the time I reached the turn up to the altar, I felt comfortable with my hold. This cross was not going anywhere without me!

I can apply this lesson to my own life and my own crosses as well. I may not always attack those things that need my attention in the way others think that I should. But that's okay. I have found my own hold on taking care of an ill husband, working two jobs, helping adult children, and trying to be a writer.

3. WALK SLOWLY. I tend to rush through things in an often vain attempt to save time, but there was no rushing the procession. The weight of the cross demanded that I slow my pace--particularly in high heels--and let the cross dictate the speed. At first, walking so slowly felt odd, but I realized that the symbolism of what I carried required dignity and reverence. Any task God entrusts to us should be handled in the same way. My long desire to make a living as a writer cannot be rushed, but must be slowly experienced. I am a better writer for the journey.

4. ALLOW JOY. For the first few moments of my time as crucifer, I felt overwhelmed, thinking of all the things that could go wrong, not the least of which was falling flat on my face. The fear kept me from enjoying the experience. Once I let go of my fear, though, I found myself marveling at the gift of Christ to me personally. I allowed the joy of my salvation to overtake my fears. I counted it a privilege to be the crucifer.

How often do I let fear interfere with my joy? How often am I afraid to embrace a new opportunity, or take a new step, because I fear failure? Allowing the joy to precede the fear can help me become a better servant for my God.

Each of us has been given crosses to carry. The one I carried Christmas Eve was designed to focus the worship onto Christ. It was important that I carried it with respect, reverence, and joy. And it is important that, in our daily lives, we carry our own crosses in such a way as to lead others to God.

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