The Word Among Us

February 2011 Issue

Power, Life, and Promise

A new Bible study explores the life-giving power of the cross.

By: Carol Magill

Power, Life, and Promise: A new Bible study explores the life-giving power of the cross. by Carol Magill

He careened out the garage door and down the steps—a little guy with a Marine hair-cut that belied his vulnerability. He was en route to one of those endless carpools he endured as our family’s youngest child.

I heard something like a “splat” followed by a shriek: “You dumb step! Why do you always hurt me!”

I raced out the door to see my son frantically kicking the cement step. The lime-green cast on his forearm was clearly visible, as his arms flailed wildly. Hoping to prevent a matching cast on his foot, I scooped him up, lamenting his tyke-sized cross— a “visual motor deficit,” coupled with a propensity to move at just one speed: fast. Too much “splatting” in his short life.

I began: “Honey, you can learn from this. . . .”

He interrupted, shrieking again: “I don’t want to learn from hard things! I only want to learn from good things!”

I must admit, I echoed my son’s sentiments—we all shrink from our crosses. Something in human nature cannot fathom the purpose in the pain, sorrow, and suffering we all face. Equally unfathomable is God’s chosen remedy: Jesus on the cross. As Jeanne Kun puts it in The Life-Giving Power of the Cross, the latest Bible study from The Word Among Us Press: “Jesus’ cross is the greatest of paradoxes: Through his death we have received life.”

Into the Depths. The cross is indeed the “stumbling block” that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 1:23—even Jesus’ trusted disciples ran away from it. And yet, for the criminal who hung on his own cross next to Jesus, it opened the way to accepting the grace of redemption.

The Life-Giving Power of the Cross examines both aspects of this mystery of faith: the challenge of denying ourselves to do God’s will, and the great victory that Jesus won for us. In this way, the book lends itself to Lenten meditations that lead into Easter rejoicing.

The first of its six sessions draws us into John’s account of the Passion (John 19:17-37). I was struck by its “In the Spotlight” section about St. Paul Daneo, founder of the Passionists. Daneo said that the passion of Jesus is “a sea of sorrows but . . . also an ocean of love,” and he advised: “Ask the Lord to teach you to fish in this ocean. Dive into its depths. No matter how deep you go, you will never reach the bottom.”

As this book helped me to “fish in this ocean,” I often thought of how helpful a guide it would have been for an informal women’s group I belong to. It originated years ago, with the carpool of the “splatting” toddler. Since then, my friends and I have watched our children mature, find their way in the world, marry, and have their own children. But we’ve also prayed each other through major challenges: caring for aging parents, marriage dissolution, financial stress, chronic physical and mental illness, addicted and wayward children, children born with disabilities—the litany of the human condition played out among us and our families over the years.

God was with us through it all; we learned prayerful trust and saw him work in our lives. Still, we could have used the encouragement in Kun’s book—the encouragement to meet the risen Jesus, take hold of his life-giving power, and examine how we could live every day in the power of his cross!

This Bible study has a format that is perfect for group study, and each session’s interactive portions (Understand! Grow! Reflect! Act! ) offer thoughtful questions that are ideal springboards for discussion. Sessions four and five, which address how to deal with weaknesses that blindside even committed Christians, would have been especially useful in helping us yield to the grace that Jesus won for us. And how we would have savored questions like: “How do you envision Jesus’ glorified body?” (The book references Scripture passages to consult.) And “how do you imagine your own resurrected existence in heaven?”

Help for the Weary. The Life-Giving Power of the Cross came into my hands unexpectedly and fortuitously, at a time when I was feeling particularly battle-scarred and weary. My husband and I volunteer with a group of Christians in the administration of a nonprofit organization that provides living situations for individuals with developmental disabilities. When we began, we experienced something like the release of the Israelites from Egypt—God making a way for us through the wilderness of bad economic times and government red tape.

The people we serve are thriving, but lately we’ve faced unexpected challenges and hardships on many fronts. I’ve found myself wondering cynically, “Will this all end with the parting of the Red Sea—or with biting the dust within the pit, like the prophet Jeremiah?” A miracle . . . or a “splat” . . . or a call to the cross? I found myself dreading the effort of taking up the cross daily.

But in the book’s last chapter, on discipleship, I found fresh inspiration to pray continually for the grace to live as a disciple of Jesus and to take whatever next step he asks—and to refrain from kicking it. Above all, I found the grace to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus:

the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)

Carol Magill lives in Dexter, Michigan.