Waiting to be lifted up again
by Rebecca Lister
The last nor’easter (yes, there was more than one, and another on the way, sigh) that hit our area here in south central Pennsylvania buffeted us with incredibly strong winds. It blew down power lines, ripped shingles off roofs and tossed trash cans down the street. We were pummeled by a myriad of precipitation — first rain, then snow, then sleet. The old March analogy of “coming in like a lion” certainly is holding to be strong and true this year.
We thought we’d seen it all until we looked up to see our church steeple, first shaking, then lifting off the roof, eventually hanging on precariously by its brackets. Falling over like a sleepy child, it hung there until it was removed after winds died down. Seeing that steeple, seemingly limp and ineffectual, was sobering. It was a relief that no one was hurt, of course, but it was strange to see such a focal part of our building lying down sideways instead of stretching upward and pointing to heaven. A few days later, I was amazed to see the sturdy metal cross that had been on top of the steeple lying on a table in our church’s gathering room.
When it was on top of the steeple, the cross always looked so tiny, so far away. Now, seeing it up close, I realized it measured about a foot wide and well over a foot long (after measuring it, I discovered it is 16 inches wide and 26 inches long). I picked it up, astonished at how heavy it was. The color of the metal was a soft gray, so I expected it to be made of a light-weight aluminum. Instead, I needed both hands to lift it up. I turned it from side to side, marveling at the nicks and scratches in it. It was well-worn and seemed to exude a personal pride.
I’ll be up there again, don’t you worry it seemed to whisper. It’ll take more than a little wind to keep me down.
Lent is the time to stop and look closely at the cross. It seems so little, so delicate in the distance. It is not until we start walking toward it that we realize its heft and its horror. As we read the Passion narrative, our most vivid imaginations could never fully capture the grisly nature of it all. We do not see our neighbors flogged and tortured as many first century Christians did. Jesus’ followers saw him nailed to a cross and watched him die a slow, excruciating death; with him died their dreams of the Messiah and their relief from Roman oppression.
The Kingdom of God that Jesus said was so near was now very, very far away. Their “steeple”—Jesus—had fallen, leaving a devastating emptiness in their souls. We in the 21st know the ending to the story. We can harbor hope deep in the earth of our hearts. We can read the Gospel of John and appreciate the irony of comprehending the double meaning of Jesus being lifted up:
So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up[a] the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
We know that Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross and lifted up from death into life before he could be lifted up (exalted) into heaven to be with God. Until then, however, we wait. We wait, knowing the pain of hammered nails and insistent denial are creeping ever closer. We wait, anticipating the tearing of the thorns and the crack of the whip. We wait for a man, our beloved teacher, to suffocate and die. We wait in darkness and silence. We wait…for our steeple to return.
Rebecca Lister is an associate professor of music at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. Her passion is music and worship in churches. She has had several writings published in the academic field of music.