Friday was my twenty-fifth birthday. Shocking, I know. Some days I feel as if I have sixty years behind me and others, I simply feel as if I am still kind of pubescent and pimply teenager, awkwardly learning his way through the world — somehow making it by sheer force of charm and the goodwill of strangers. Which reminds me of one day in College, while walking to the Refectory, which is what my Alma Mater would have called the Cafeteria if they were all good Anglicans, like God intended . . . Anyway, while walking to the Refectory with several friends, it began to rain. I was dressed nice (because I’m an Anglican, like God intended) and was the only one that had an umbrella. So, I’m walking to the Refectory in my khaki’s, nice shirt and umbrella. A friend points out, “Andy, your shoes are untied.” “Oh well,” I say, “I’ll tie them when I get to the Cafeteria.” They had a good and hearty laugh and said, “Andy, you’re a sixty-year-old with six-year-old tendencies.” I suppose this is true.
Friday was odd, because I received a text in the afternoon from someone asking me if I could lead the Stations of the Cross that evening because they weren’t feeling well. Because I am a good Anglican (as God intended), I resisted the urge to respond with the Baptist-Guilt-Of-My-Raising, “Well, good thing Jesus didn’t get off the His Cross because he ‘wasn’t feeling well'” and agreed to do it without fuss. I wasn’t getting together with friends until a little later in the evening, so the schedule would work fine.
Leading the Stations of the Cross an hour before your birthday party is something only someone raised in the corn and bean fields of the Midwest would do. So influenced by agrarian culture, Hoosiers (in particular) have developed a firm sense of balance when it comes to joy. “Sure your crops did well this year,” I can hear the old men at the barbershop say, “But don’t get too happy or there will be a drought next year.” We are expected to be proud of our work, but not too proud, lest we jinx ourselves, causing our handiwork to crumble before our very eyes under the wrathful indignation of God. Even though I’ve never lived on a farm, I know this instinctively and perhaps it is in my very blood: it’s completely okay to celebrate, but you can’t celebrate too much, because you have to wake up a 4:30 the next morning and milk the cows. Midwesterners don’t like to make waves; we like understatement — even with liquor.
So, on my birthday and went ’round the Nave, following in the footsteps of Our Lord. It was surreal wearing my dinner dress-clothes underneath my cassock and reading things like:
A heavy cross is laid upon the bruised shoulders of Jesus. He receives it with meekness, nay with a secret joy, for it is the instrument with which he is to redeem the world. What efforts do we make, on the other hand, to escape all suffering as far as we can?
Arrived at last at the place of sacrifice they prepare to crucify him. His garments are torn from his bleeding Body, and he, the Holy of holies, stands exposed to the vulgar gaze of the rude and scoffing multitude.
Now, I know already that some of you are trying to psycho-analyze this, bless your hearts (as the Southerners say). But I felt like Friday was the perfect example of life: it is a celebration of all that is good and it is also a slow procession towards death, even death on a cross. You can’t have one without the other. At dinner, I gave a little speech and thanked each friend for something specific they had done for me in my life and how much they meant to me, because the Stations helped me to remember that frivolity is good, but fellowship is better. The lightness and easy fun is good, but it is the deep weight of love that anchors us together. That, even though we are in the midst of life we are also in death; to cherish what we have and be ready to give it back to God at any moment. Life is shouting “hosanna!” and “crucify him!” in the same breath and living with the deep joy and the deep shame that comes from both.
Life is like leading the Stations of the Cross on your Birthday, like a good little Anglican (as God intended).
Does any of this have a point? Maybe I am twenty-five; maybe I am sixty; maybe I’m six. Who cares? Let us follow our Lord to the weddings, the parties and the good times; let us follow Our Lord in the reviling, the wagging of heads and even to death. And, perhaps, in the midst of our life, we might be granted the privilege of carrying his cross with him for even a few feet with our shoes tied.