It was strange that my friend invited me to his new home today out of all days. Especially after what happened three years ago. That was not a moment I want to remember. A dark and ugly scene of desperation and sadness. I quickly put those thoughts aside as I knocked on the door. I hoped that things were looking up for him.

He opened the door; we shook hands, and he led me into a small living room. Near the kitchen entrance was a small table with four chairs. On the kitchen counter was a picture of his wife and two children. I thought that perhaps that was one thing that he should not have brought: a relic from his previous life.

We sat down and caught up with each other’s lives while having corned beef sandwiches and coffee. A favourite of both of us. I was pleased to hear that things were going well for him. His smile and hopeful demeanour were a pleasant contrast to the person I found last time broken and nearly dead on a garbage strewn floor.

I told him how happy I was to see that he was on the mend. He thanked me and said, “I want to show you something. It’s a gift I bought for myself when I moved here.” He led me to his bedroom. I expected to see something pleasant and encouraging like exercise equipment or a big TV. What I saw made me stand still with some unease.

Depictions of the crucifixion that I favour are usually for the lack of a better word ‘artistic’. Jesus’ body is athletic, beautiful with some trace of the wounds He experienced. His face an expression of divine acceptance with thin streams of blood running down from the crown of thorns. These representations are just unpleasant enough to remind us of why we revere Him, to meditate as we adore Him. But that was not what I saw.

The cross was a strange shade of metallic grey and His body of carved wood.

Jesus looked all twisted and abused. His flesh marked from every lash and bruise. His torso strangely stuck out. His face looking upwards, with rivulets of tears, sweat and blood. His mouth open in agony. Even the cross that held him looked mangled and tortuous. This was not some romanticised, aesthetic rendition of the divine suffering of Our Lord. This was definitely something else. Something that seemed to me, obscene.

I wanted to look away like I did that night when I rushed to his former place with my friends. We saw him huddled on the floor slowly rocking back and forth. We tripped over empty bottles and garbage to get to him. The odour of his despair hit us as we gently picked him up and took him outside. I wanted to look away as we waited for the ambulance, but I couldn’t. To see someone fall so far was a stark reminder of what can happen to any of us. The only words that came to mind as I stared at that crucifix were misery, desolation, and pain.

“You don’t like it,” he said, his voice shaking me out of that memory.

“It looks…interesting,” I said trying not to sound disapproving.

“I bought it,” he said, “because it reminds me of His torment. How horrible it must have been taking on the misery of the whole world. When I look and think about it, mine pales in comparison. If he endured this for all our sakes and His Father rewarded Him, then that means there is hope for me.” Then he smiled.

“I think I understand,” I said to him, but the words were mainly to convince myself.

We went back to the living room, and he picked up a gift bag and handed it to me. “This is my way of thanking you for saving me and happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” I said. He had been through so much and now he looked so content. He went through misery and found peace. Maybe that gift for himself was what he needed. I asked him if he wanted to come with me to my party, but he declined saying that he was not yet ready for those kinds of celebrations.

We shook hands and I left. When I got into the car, I opened the gift bag. There was a small box and inside it there was a little version of the cross he had in his bedroom.

I held it in my hand for a few moments as though it was the most precious thing in the world. This time instead of unease I felt a strange sense of calm. I have crucifixes in my home, a sign of my faith, but I will keep this one on my desk. A reminder that we must learn to shoulder our burdens and offer them as He did for all mankind. And if possible, teach others to lift their burdens as well so that we will all inch towards heaven and not careen towards disaster. I closed my hands around it and wished for my friend to always have peace. I started the car and went home to celebrate.

Author: Greg