Journey to the Cross
March 25 - Good Friday
Ashley Bridges Benecchi, member of RPC since 2014
I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. - Philippians 4:12
Our Christ is celebrated for his healing, his fearlessness, and his wisdom. Yet, one of his virtues which I hungered the most to understand this past year is one I cannot find discussion of: Christ's ability to view all things selflessly in perspective. Compared to those more lauded virtues, perspective may seem insignificant, but at times when we or our loved ones are not healed, at times when we are filled with fear, and at times when we feel empty of answers, perspective, as embodied by Jesus, can be one of God's greatest gifts.
When Jesus prayed in the Garden at Gethsemane, he did not ask for Peter to pray directly for him to be saved - instead, he reminded Peter to pray that he, Peter, not enter into temptation. He focused on Peter's sake, not his own. When Christ was on the cross, he did not pray for his own salvation from his persecutors, instead, he prayed for them and their forgiveness. As he hung there in inexorable pain, he did not cry out to be saved himself, and instead focused on comforting the criminal by his side that he would be with him in his Father's paradise. With his dying breaths, our Christ did not focus on his physical pain or the seeming injustice of his plight; he focused on the place for his spirit ahead. Jesus maintained perspective. And our Lord gives his disciples that gift too.
2015 was the most painful year I have experienced to date: in the matter of one month, my brother Bruce was transformed from an active, exuberant, young educator - and loyal servant of God - into a home-bound, pain-ridden patient diagnosed with Stage IV cancer... who, above all, still remained a faithful servant of God. I, however, was angry. I felt shorted, cheated, and misled, that after only 46 short years of faithfully giving back to God's kingdom, my brother was being taken from me. I felt unable to be grateful for what God had given the world in Bruce, because I was so hurt by what was being taken away; yet, Bruce could not stop praising God for his blessings.
I remember one day when he had fallen down, Bruce being on the floor, in pain, bleeding, and unable to rise, yet smiling through his tears and belting Ricky Nelson's "Thank You, Lord" at the top of his lungs. His Facebook feed last year filled with messages that began "Today, Lord, I am thankful for..." everything from flowers, to animals, to R.E.M., to his first grade teacher, and all of God's other children he encountered.
When my brother's medical oncologist told us that his cancer wasn't responsive to last line chemotherapy, I fled to the bathroom, crying and vomiting to the point that I experienced pre-term contractions. Upon reentering Bruce's exam room, I found my brother inexplicably smiling, telling his doctor what he was thankful for, and waiting with a hug for me. He told me that he was okay, thankful for what he had had, and that he was only worried for the rest of us. Bruce opened my eyes by fully embodying one of Christ's virtues I had never recognized.
At his funeral, Bruce asked that a passage full of perspective be preached: Philippians 4:10-13. And that, I believe, was a gift from Bruce, and a gift from our God.
Dear Lord, please allow me to gain perspective, to be thankful for you and your abundant blessings. Please allow me to not focus at my worst times on what I feel I am losing, but on the riches and love that any loss implicitly means you blessed me with to begin with. Please heighten my perspective during pain on the joys, love, and life which you gift me daily. Amen