“…and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
We celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross at Mass last Sunday, and I was assigned to read from Chapter 21 of the Book of Numbers. During the days leading up to Mass, I prayed with the reading, preparing to be the lector, and I was reminded of a retreat I had attended about thirty years ago.
At the time, I was working at a Lutheran Church in Philadelphia. One of the parishioners had visited the Taize community in France and when he returned to the States, he had connected with the Taize brothers living in New York City. He arranged for the brothers to lead a Palm Sunday weekend retreat at a retreat center in rural Maryland.
I had been to Taize prayer services in Philadelphia—one hour, once a week—and looked forward to spending an extended time in prayer with the brothers. It was a unique opportunity to spend three days with these prayerful men, and I was deeply grateful.
On Palm Sunday, we listened to the Passion of Jesus and then spent some time in prayer at the foot of a large, wooden cross. Each of us was then invited to approach and lay our burdens at the foot of the cross. We each had a symbol which represented our hurts, sins, regrets—whatever it was that kept us from responding to the love Jesus showed by dying on the cross—and we were to place that token at the foot of the cross.
We had no time constraints and were free to approach the cross when we were ready and in whatever way was comfortable for us. Some hugged the cross, some sat and cried. It was a compelling sight—these people I knew humbling themselves at the foot of the cross.
I, too, approached the cross and imagined myself leaving my burdens with Jesus, wanting to believe that he would pick them up and carry them for me.
The very act of laying down what had held power over me and then turning my back on it reminded me that I have a choice—I can continue to hold onto something, let it control me, or I can just drop it at Jesus’ feet and walk away.
The idea was freeing, and the action helped me experience that freedom.
That image has stayed with me, and at different times over the years, I have visualized myself leaving my burdens at the foot of the cross. Each time, I grow in trust that Jesus accepts them and accepts me.