The film "The Passion of the Christ" has evoked a more than usual amount of public discussion of Jesus' life this Easter season. But for me it was a recent trip to Rome that provided new insights into some old ideas.
In the arcade between St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and the Sistine Chapel, five mosaics illustrate scenes from Peter's life. In one, Jesus calls Peter to be his student. In another, Jesus washes Peter's feet.
My favorite one pictures Peter sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus, anticipating the humiliation and agony of crucifixion, prays to God, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42, New International Version).
One portion of the mosaic shows an angel offering Jesus a golden cup, which he reaches out to accept. Mary Baker Eddy, the 19th-century theologian who founded this newspaper, once wrote that Jesus' cup was his bitter experience, including the bitterest of all his experiences, the crucifixion.
The Gospels say that later that night, when Jewish officials and Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter woke up and, terribly afraid, struck out with a sword and cut off an official's ear. Jesus restored the man's ear, rebuked Peter, and asked him, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" (John 18:11).
After Jesus was crucified and buried, he resurrected his own body from the grave and then continued to teach his astonished students, until he ascended into heaven. After his students saw their teacher's theology triumph over evil, even the grave, they were able to teach others and continue his healing mission, even raising the dead themselves.
In her main work on the Scriptures, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy wrote: "Through all the disciples experienced, they became more spiritual and understood better what the Master had taught. His resurrection was also their resurrection" (page 34).
Our experience makes us understand better what Jesus taught and enables us to follow his teachings better in our own lives. Mrs. Eddy explained that, like Jesus, we "all have the cup of sorrowful effort to drink," till we are all redeemed, ransomed, rescued, "resurrected" if you will, by God our Father, divine Love (page 26). And though the harsh experiences of our lives pale in comparison to the crucifixion, they may still seem more than we can bear.
I know I've felt that way. After one failed marriage, I tried again, convinced that my second husband and I would be very happy together. But I was wrong. After the wedding things deteriorated quickly. At one point, my mother-in-law dryly observed that I really should have noticed that her son "was not marriage material." He became secretive and withdrawn and eventually stopped working.
But it wasn't until his thoughtlessness put me in physical danger that I stopped complaining, stopped feeling sorry for myself, stopped nagging, stopped trying to convince him to be the sort of husband I wanted, and turned to God. I opened my heart to Jesus' example and Mrs. Eddy's advice: "The cup our Father hath given, shall we not drink it and learn the lessons He teaches?" (page 67).
Although it sometimes seemed impossibly hard, I finally accepted this particular cup of bitter experience and learned everything I could from it. I flung myself into God's arms and forced myself to reexamine my notions about love and marriage. I dropped the childish fancy - born of watching too many Hollywood romances - that a matrimonially minded hero, rather than God, was what I needed in my life.
My second husband and I divorced, but the lessons continued. I learned to think less about what Hollywood says love is and more about Jesus' commandment, "Love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). How did Jesus love his students, family, passersby, and adversaries? The Gospels reveal a love that was radically unselfish, humble, patient, persistent, and unconcerned about whether it was returned, appreciated, or acknowledged. They show a love so confident of its triumph that it was willing to submit to crucifixion and be resurrected to prove to those Jesus loved - to prove to us - that nothing could kill it.
That was the love I wanted in my heart, and day after day I struggled to live a bit more of it. Now, many years later, I celebrate the 10th anniversary of marrying my best friend.
I am humbly grateful for every bitter drop in that cup because without its lessons, I wouldn't know what love is.