“Every sailor knows you set the anchor before the storm hits.” Those words spoken to me by my spiritual guide (a long time Navy Chaplain) in Tuesday morning’s prayer time brought me back to a profound truth. It is a truth I know well but find easy to forget.
There can be little doubt that the United Methodist Church is storm-tossed. Coming out of a deeply contentious General Conference 2019, our differences (both doctrinal and in practice) are far from revolved. As I struggle with our 30-day period of prayer and reflection before taking any further action/steps, I am mindful that virtually everyone – progressives, traditionalists and all those in-between – perceive themselves to have been harmed and/or wounded at General Conference. In my quiet dialogue across the vast spectrum of positions and opinions, almost everyone thinks they somehow “lost” at General Conference.
The season of Lent, in its deepest sense, is a journey to the cross and beyond. Liturgically, we are currently in this season of the church year. In the providential guidance of God, it seems to me that this is also symbolically the season we are in as a church. I am mindful that one of the key lectionary texts for the beginning of Lent is Luke 9:51. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (NRSV) The Common English Bible translation renders the verse, “he determined to go to Jerusalem.” As faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ we are asked to walk with him to the cross.
I suggest simply that in these storm-tossed seas (both within the church and in our larger world) the cross of Christ is our anchor. (If you prefer to be more technically correct Christ himself on the cross is our anchor.) Significantly, the ancient symbol for the church is a ship on the rough seas. Quite early in the life of the church the “anchor cross” came into being.
The anchor cross was known as the “mariner’s cross.” Sometimes it was referred to as St. Clements’s cross in reference to his martyrdom in a.d. 99. [Clement, the first of the great “apostolic fathers,” was executed for the Christian faith by being tied to an anchor and thrown into the sea.] The earliest Christ-followers used the symbol as a reminder of our anchor being Christ on the cross in reference to Hebrews 6. “He did this so that we, who have taken refuge in him, can be encouraged to grasp the hope that is lying in front of us. 19 This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being, enters the sanctuary behind the curtain. 20 That’s where Jesus went in advance and entered for us, since he became a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:18b-20)
The cross, as one of the central symbols of the Christian faith, is not accidental. It bespeaks of a determination to be with Jesus as he mounts Calvary’s Hill in sacrifice and suffering on our behalf. Jesus gave up his life that we might have life at its fullest! (Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”)
May we together, even in our passionate disagreements, walk with the Lord on the way to the cross. Perhaps Isaac Watts great hymn guides us to a devotional reality and helps anchor us at the cross of Christ.
“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
1.When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
3. See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.