The fourth station on the inward way of the cross is affirmation. Affirmation means embrace. More than resignation, more than acceptance, affirmation is to come to that point where you can affirm, embrace the cross.
Some people call personal pain their cross. They may have cancer or some other illness, or be estranged from a family member or friend, and resignedly say, "Oh, I just have to bear my cross." Even within this context, it helps to come to the point where the cross is not only accepted, but embraced. To embrace one's cancer, to embrace an estrangement, is to affirm it and handle it rather than let it handle you. To embrace one's cancer is to put it in its place, and not let the cancer intimidate, control, or destroy you.
But, Jesus means something more than the pain of cancer or estrangement when he speaks of the cross. I like Palmer J. Palmer's definition of the cross in his article in Weavings magazine which we are using as the basis of these meditations today. "The cross represents the way in which God contradicts the world...God is always moving among and within us contradicting the trend of antilife."
The cross may be thrust upon you, as it was thrust upon Jesus, but the cross is something you choose to bear. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow me." The cross is something you "take up," something you voluntarily choose, some way you choose to contradict antilife. Older terminology would use the word devil or Satan. Whenever and wherever you choose to fight Satan, affirm life and fight antilife, oppose those forces which destroy life, that is your cross. At personal risk and sacrifice, you take up your cross and follow Jesus.
There is also the age-old controversy between being and doing. Does God call you to be or to do? Of course, it is both, but which is primary? Which is the chicken and which is the egg? Some people stop with being. They want to be a good person. Some people try only to do without getting their being in order. They soon run out of steam.
In other words, what is the purpose of spiritual growth? Why do you pray, meditate, practice spiritual disciplines? To be a better person? To come closer to God? To find peace and contentment? Yes, those are valid reasons, but they don't go far enough. There is one more step. The reason we get in tune with God, deepen our relationship with Jesus, and experience peace and contentment in the Holy Spirit is so you can take up your cross, embrace your cross, be Jesus' disciple, and do what God calls you to do.
We are about the business of saving this world. God loves this world, so much so Jesus died on the cross. We are about the business of opposing antilife. We are about the business of overthrowing all institutions, systems, organizations, and powers that destroy life, hurt, oppress, and victimize people. We are about the business of changing systems that allow one out of eight children in the United States of America to go to bed hungry. We are about the business of eliminating racism, sexism, warism, hunger, poverty, crime, violence, everything that opposes God's way.
To save this world, Jesus has a cross for you. Jesus has a task, a mission, a purpose for you that may well involve risk, sacrifice, and perhaps crucifixion. Affirmation means embrace. Embrace that mission, for you then understand why you are here on this earth.
Then, you have a sense of purpose. Then you have confidence, courage, and joy. Yes, there is joy in serving the Lord. Yes, there is joy in embracing, in affirming one's cross. It is difficult for those who have never risked anything to understand the joy that comes from taking up the cross. Have you ever been struck by Hebrews 12:2. Has this verse seemed contradictory? "Looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame."
Jesus knew the joy in completely doing the will of God. Jesus knew the joy of being in the right place at the right time, even when it meant his death. I think of the artists' portrayal of martyrs, going to their deaths with bright, shining faces, and halos around their heads. For the joy that was set before them, they endured their crosses.
The fourth station on the inward way of the cross is affirmation. Affirmation means embrace. In the embracing, in the doing, there is joy.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris