Six Hours One Friday: Living the Power of the Cross
by Max Lucado
Six Hours One Friday
Labor Day weekend, 1979. Throughout the nation people were enjoying their last waltz with summertime. Weekend reunions, camping trips, picnics.
Except in Miami.
While the rest of the nation played, the Gold Coast of south Florida watched. Hurricane David was whirling through the Caribbean, leaving a trail of flooded islands and homeless people.
Floridians don't have to be told to duck when a hurricane is on the warpath. Windows were taped up, canned goods were bought, flashlights were tested. David was about to pounce.
On the Miami River a group of single guys was trying to figure out the best way to protect their houseboat. Not that it was much of a vessel. It was, at best, a rustic cabin on a leaky barge. But it was home. And if they didn't do something, their home was going to be at the bottom of the river.
None of the fellows had ever lived on a boat before, much less weathered a hurricane. Any sailor worth his salt would have had a good laugh watching those landlubbers.
It was like aMacHale's Navy rerun. They bought enough rope to tie up the Queen Mary. They had their boat tied to trees, tied to moorings, tied to herself. When they were through, the little craft looked as if she'd been caught in a spider's web. They were so busytying her to everything, it's a wonder one of the guys didn't get tied up.
How was I privy to such a fiasco? You guessed it. The houseboat was mine.
Don't ask what I was doing with a houseboat. Part adventure and part bargain, I guess. But that Labor Day weekend was more adventure than I'd bargained for. I had owned the boat for three monthly payments, and now I was about to have to sacrifice her to the hurricane! I was desperate. Tie her down! was all I could think.
I was reaching the end of my rope, in more ways than one, when Phil showed up. Now Phil knew boats. He even looked boatwise.
He was born wearing a suntan and dock-siders. He spoke the lingo and knew the knots. He also knew hurricanes. Word on the river had it that he had ridden one out for three days in a ten-foot sailboat. They made him a living legend.
He felt sorry for us, so he came to give some advice ... and it was sailor-sound. "Tie her to land and you'll regret it. Those trees are gonna get eaten by the 'cane. Your only hope is to anchor deep," he said. "Place four anchors in four different locations, leave the rope slack, and pray for the best."
Anchor deep. Good advice. We took it and ... well, before I tell you whether or not we handled the hurricane, let's talk about anchor points.
Chances are someone reading these words is about to get caught in a storm. The weather is brewing and the water is rising and you can see the trees beginning to bend.
You've done everything possible, but your marriage still won't stand. It's just a matter of time.
You bit off more than you could chew. You never should have agreed to take on an assignment like that. There is no way you can meet the deadline. And when that due date comes and you don't produce ...
You've been dreading this meeting all week. They've already laid off several men. Why else would the personnel director need to talk to you? And with a newborn at home.
Perhaps the winds have already reached gale force and you're holding on for your life.
"Why our son?" are the only words you can muster. The funeral is over and the words of comfort have been politely said. Now it is just you, your memories, and your question, "Why me?"
"The tests were positive. The tumor is malignant." Just when you thought the biggest struggle was over. More surgery.
"They took the other bid." That sale was your last hope. To be outbid could mean you'll have to shut down the shop. That client would have been just enough to keep the business afloat for another quarter. But now?
Waves that suck our joy out to sea. Winds that rip out our hopes by their roots. Rising tides that seep under the doors of our lives and cover the floors of our hearts.
I got caught in a hurricane as this chapter was being completed. The warning came in a telephone call during a meeting. The forecaster with the grim news was my wife. "Max, your sister just called. Your mother is going to have quadruple bypass surgery at eight o'clock tomorrow morning." A few quick calls to the airlines. Clothes thrown in a bag. A race to the airport in time to grab the last seat on the last flight.
No time to develop a personal philosophy on pain and suffering. No time to analyze the mystery of death. No time to set anchors. Time only to sit tight and trust the anchor points.
Anchor points. Firm rocks sunk deeply in a solid foundation. Not casual opinions or negotiable hypotheses, but ironclad undeniables that will keep you afloat. How strong are yours? How sturdy is your life when faced with one of these three storms?
Futility. You're riding high and getting higher. You should be content. You should be pleased. You are doing what you set out to do. You have a house. You have a job. You have security. You have two cars in the garage and a CD in the bank. By everyone's estimations you should be pleased.
Then why are you so unhappy? Is it because you know that every tide that rises also falls? Is it because your degree and promotion don't answer the questions that keep you awake at night? "What's it for, anyway?" "Who will know what I did?" "Who cares who I am?" "What is the purpose of it all?"
Failure. You can't hide it anymore. You blew it. You were wrong. You let everyone down. Instead of standing tall, you fell short. Instead of stepping out, you stepped back. The very thing you swore you'd never do is exactly what you did.
Your anchors drag through sand, finding no rocks. Unless a solid point is found soon, the hull of your heart will be splintered.
Finality. The scene repeats itself thousands of times each day in America. Folding chairs on manicured grass. Nicely dressed people under a canvas canopy. Kleenexes. Tears. Words. Metal casket. Flowers. Dirt. Open grave.
It's the wave of finality.
Though it has slapped the beach countless times, you never considered it would hit you, but it did. Uninvited and unexpected, it hit with tidal force, washing away your youth, your innocence, your mate, your friend. And now you're soaked and shivering, wondering if you will be next.
Futility, failure, finality.
You don't have to face these monsters alone. Listen to Phil's advice. It's sailor-sound both in and out of the water: Anchor deep.
Got any hurricanes coming your way?
This book examines three anchor points. Three boulders which can stand against any storm. Three rocks that repel the tallest of waves. Three petrified ledges to which you can hook your anchors. Each anchor point was planted firmly in bedrock two thousand years ago by a carpenter who claimed to be the Christ. And it was all done in the course of a single day. A single Friday. All done during six hours, one Friday.
To the casual observer there was nothing unusual about these six hours. To the casual observer this Friday was a normal Friday. Six hours of routine. Six hours of the expected.
Six hours. One Friday.
Enough time for a shepherd to examine his flocks, a housewife to clean and organize her house, a physician to receive a baby from a mother's womb and cool the fever of one near death. Six hours. From 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Six hours. One Friday. Six hours filled with, as are all hours, the mystery of life.
The bright noonday sun casts a common shadow for the Judean countryside. It's the black silhouette of a shepherd standing near his fat-tailed flock. He stares at the clear sky, searching for clouds. There are none.
He looks back at his sheep. They graze lazily on the rocky hillside. An occasional sycamore provides shade. He sits on the slope and places a blade of grass in his mouth. He looks beyond the flock at the road below.
For the first time in days the traffic is thin. For over a week a river of pilgrims has streamed through this valley, bustling down the road with animals and loaded carts. For days he has watched them from his perch. Though he couldn't hear them, he knew they were speaking a dozen different dialects. And though he didn't talk to them, he knew where they were going and why.
They were going to Jerusalem. And they were going to sacrifice lambs in the temple.
The celebration strikes him as ironic. Streets jammed with people. Marketplaces full of the sounds of the bleating of goats and the selling of birds.
The people relish the festivities. They awaken early and retire late. They find strange fulfillment in the pageantry.
What kind of God would be appeased by the death of an animal?
Oh, the shepherd's doubts are never voiced anywhere except on the hillside. But on this day, they shout.
It isn't the slaughter of the animals that disturbs him. It is the endlessness of it all. How many years has he seen the people come and go? How many caravans? How many sacrifices? How many bloody carcasses?
Memories stalk him. Memories of uncontrolled anger ... uncontrolled desire ... uncontrolled anxiety. So many mistakes. So many stumbles. So much guilt. God seems so far away. Lamb after lamb, Passover after Passover. Yet I still feel the same.
He turns his head and looks again at the sky. Will the blood of yet another lamb really matter?
The wife sits in her house. It's Friday. She's alone. Her husband, a priest, is at the temple. It's time for lunch, but she has no appetite. Besides, it's hardly worth the trouble to prepare a meal for one. So, she sits and looks out the window.
The narrow street in front of her house is thick with people. Were she younger, she would be out there. Even if she had no reason to go on the streets, she would go. There was a time when she was energized by such activity. Not now. Now her hair is gray. Her face is wrinkled, and she is tired.
For years she has observed the holidays. For years she has watched the people. Many summers have passed, taking with them her youth and leaving only the perplexities that hound her.
As a young woman she was too busy to ponder. She had children to raise. Meals to prepare. Schedules to keep. She brushed away the riddles like she brushed back her hair. But now her home is empty. Those who needed her have others who need them. Now, the questions are relentless. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why is it all happening?
The house is alive with excitement. In one room a man paces. In another a woman pushes. Sweat beads glisten on her forehead. Her eyes close, then open. She laughs, then groans. The young doctor encourages her. "Not much more. Don't give up." With a deep breath she leans forward and exerts her last ounce of energy. Then she leans back, pale and spent.
"You have a son." She raises her head just enough to see the red infant cradled in the broad palms of the physician.
Delighted with his task, the doctor cleans the eyes and smiles as he watches them fight to open. The child, freshly welcomed from the womb, is returned to his mother.
The next house he visits is quiet. Outside the bedroom a white-haired wife sits. Inside is the frail frame of her husband, hot with fever. Nothing can be done. The doctor is helpless as the man takes his last breath. It's deep-his bony, bare chest rises. His mouth opens wide, so wide that his lips whiten. Then he dies.
The same hands that cleansed the eyes of the infant now close the eyes of the dead. All during a period of six hours on one Friday.
He fights off the questions. He hasn't time to hear them today. But they are stubborn and demand to be heard.
Why heal the sick only to postpone death?
Why give strength only to see it ebb away?
Why be born and then begin to die?
Who points the crooked finger at death's next victim?
Who is this one that with such regular randomness separates soul from body?
He shrugs and places the sheet over the ashening face.
Six hours, one Friday.
To the casual observer the six hours are mundane. A shepherd with his sheep, a housewife with her thoughts, a doctor with his patients. But to the handful of awestruck witnesses, the most maddening of miracles is occurring.
God is on a cross. The creator of the universe is being executed.
Spit and blood are caked to his cheeks, and his lips are cracked and swollen. Thorns rip his scalp. His lungs scream with pain. His legs knot with cramps. Taut nerves threaten to snap as pain twangs her morbid melody. Yet, death is not ready. And there is no one to save him, for he is sacrificing himself.
It is no normal six hours.... it is no normal Friday.
Far worse than the breaking of his body is the shredding of his heart.
His own countrymen clamored for his death.
His own disciple planted the kiss of betrayal.
His own friends ran for cover.
And now his own father is beginning to turn his back on him, leaving him alone.
A witness could not help but ask: Jesus, do you give no thought to saving yourself? What keeps you there? What holds you to the cross? Nails don't hold gods to trees. What makes you stay?
The shepherd stands staring at the now blackened sky. Only seconds before he had stared at the sun. Now there is no sun.
The air is cool. The sky is black. No thunder. No lightning. No clouds. The sheep are restless. The feeling is eerie. The shepherd stands alone, wondering and listening.
What is this hellish darkness? What is this mysterious eclipse? What has happened to the light?
There is a scream in the distance. The shepherd turns toward Jerusalem.
A soldier, unaware that his impulse is part of a divine plan, plunges the spear into the side. The blood of the Lamb of God comes forth and cleanses.
The woman has scarcely lit the lamp when her husband rushes in the door. The reflection of the lamp's flame dances wildly in his wide eyes. "The temple curtain ...," he begins breathlessly, "torn! Ripped in two from top to bottom!"
The black angel hovers over the one on the center cross.
No delegation for this death, no demon for this duty. Satan has reserved this task for himself. Gleefully he passes his hand of death over these eyes of life.
But just when the last breath escapes, the war begins. The pit of the earth rumbles. The young physician nearly loses his balance.
It is an earthquake-a rock-splitting rumble. A stampedelike vibration, as if prison doors have been opened and the captives are thundering to freedom. The doctor fights to keep his balance as he hurries back to the room of the one who has just died.
The body is gone