It happens every time. No matter how hard I try to stop it. When the music begins, when we turn toward the cross dominating the center of our sanctuary during Lent, my throat tightens, my eyes well up, and no matter how hard I try not to cry, tears roll down my cheeks.
During the “Prayers of God’s People” in our Lenten Sunday services, church members are invited to physically move toward the 15 foot tall cross placed in the middle pews. Most step out of their pews and walk, others turn to face it, and some even place a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them in order to form a congregational connection to the cross.
I think the movement is what gets me. Standing, walking, reaching, touching. It is Lent in a microcosmic moment. Giving up the safety of your seat, the protection of the pew, and “taking up the cross.” And at the foot of the cross, someone leads in prayer.
Why tears fill my eyes is a mystery to me. It could be the realization of what I’ve done the past day, week, month, and year, and how unworthy I am of the sacrifice whose reminder looms before me. Maybe that’s why everything blurs.
Or maybe they are tears of joy. Maybe it is the unbelievable, incomprehensible act of love this represents. The wood and nails—created by some ordinary carpenter for this extraordinary carpenter—are THE act of love that blurs and refocuses all of human history.
We capture this truth perfectly when we sing:
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
Are the tears from great burdens or great joy? Both. They have to be because they are dependent upon one another. Without our messy lives, the cross does not need to exist. But unless this messy cross exists, we cannot live.
I stare through eyes blurred with tears, but those tears seem to bring everything else into focus. Blinking, I concentrate on the cross again. And for at least a moment, life becomes crystal clear.