Knowing what they are going through would only be a pretense on my part. John and I will be married thirty-eight years this June. Cleaning up after each other is second-nature. He straightens out my checkbook (which no man nor beast but he can fathom); I wipe the walls when he pours the spaghetti sauce too quickly into the bowl and it splashes everywhere. We’ve both had medical needs requiring the other to be the other’s nurse, and, if need be, orderly. It goes with the territory called marriage.
Generally speaking, though, these are things that are worked into gradually—over years of knowing each other intimately and after having had years of “the better” before “the worse” is thrust upon the marriage. There is simply a “not fair-edness” when a marriage is barely months old and it is plunged into the burdens of bearing the worst of what life has to dish out.
To add to this husband’s burden, two congregations decided they would not bear his wife’s illness with him. He was unceremoniously and without cause sent packing from both congregations, in part because they tired of a pastor with an ill wife.
Maundy Thursday brought welcome respite to their lives. Pastor Husband was invited to officiate at Mass for the first time in several months. His bride was well enough even after a recent hospital stay to attend. When I spoke to him afterward he talked of nothing but the joy he had being in the pulpit once more, and even more of serving his wife the precious Body and Blood of our Lord. “This may be her last Easter this side of heaven.”
Simon of Cyrene was not a volunteer, but a draftee. He was just a visitor to
Christians are brought to Baptism by the Holy Spirit working through the word, often in others who carry little infants to the font. It is then the cross of Christ is placed on the Christian, even little babies. Paul says all those who have been baptized were baptized into Christ’s death, and then raised from that death just as Christ was by the glory of the Father (Ro 6:3-4). Baptism is not for volunteers, but draftees.
The cruelty of sin strikes us in its unfairness. Baptism levels the playing field once more. In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no division by enmity (Ge 3:16) between male and female—nor even any illness of body or soul—because all are redeemed in Christ (Gal 3:28-29). The redeemed in Christ are those baptized in Christ. Christ makes all things new again (Rv 21:5). Christ takes the baptized into himself, yet his cross still rest upon them. Just as Simon was drafted to carry Jesus’ cross when he could not, the baptized have also been drafted in Baptism to bear the cross for others when they are unable. It’s vocation: faith in Christ becomes love for neighbor.
It is by dying we live. In baptism we died on Christ’s cross. We are brought to death in baptism so that we might live by the glory of the Father, just as Christ did before us. For the Christian, life begins in water. In his work De Baptismo, Tertullian writes, “But we, little fishes, after the example of our Icqus (Icthus, fish) Jesus Christ, are born in water, nor have we safety in any other way than by permanently abiding in water.” What Christ has wrapped in himself by water we dare not unwrap—nor let dry out by neglect. This includes dumping the cross placed upon us because we think it’s just too bothersome to carry any longer.
We tire too easily of our crosses. We craftily manipulate the Law to suit our desires, and then we employ the Gospel to justify our sins. We flip and flop, exerting much energy trying to breathe, not really noticing that the font in which we are supposed to be flourishing is actually drying out. Woe to the one who actually leaps from the font, imagining from the desires of his heart that his life will be better outside it (2Pe 2:21).
Absolution—ever notice how wonderfully wet a word that is?—is tied to baptism. It plunges us once more into the depths of cleansing baptismal waters, wrapping the penitent once again in Christ. Absolution is a return to the cross for the sake of freedom from sin, but there is no escaping the cross that is to be borne for the sake of others. That is the life of the baptized: We are freed from the cross in order to bear the cross for others.
In Christ the playing field is leveled—even when it comes to the devotion of spouses bearing crosses for each other in their marriage. It is only sin that “unlevels” the field, makes it all unfair. In baptism—in Christ—what is done for one is done for Christ himself.