I stood in front of a rack of 4x4s. Some 8 feet long and some 12. Picking out wood is something special for any carpenter. I remember, growing up, watching my father as he turned wood over and over in his hand looking for bends, knots and curves. There is always "the right" piece of wood for every job.
But this was a different sort of job.
As long as I can remember there has been a Jesus Walk at Kenbrook Bible Camp. A moving play around the grounds that depicts the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. Its a time for our summer staff to find themselves in the role of a Bible character we've all read about. Its a time for the campers to find themselves walking the annals of history as they watch, follow and listen to Jesus words.
At least as long as there has been a Jesus Walk there has been a wooden cross. The center of camp has shifted several times over its long history but the cross found its permanent home in the Upper Playing Field, in front of the youth lodge. There it became a staple of Kenbrook. It bore the brunt of thunderstorms, tornado's, snow, rain and wind. The wood grayed with age but it still stood strong; strong enough to be used in the Jesus Walk eight times each year. It's the sort of expected sight that when past camper and counselor Brian Mitten came up in the Spring it was his one request, "Can we get the cross back?"
Somewhere along the way it was lost. Moved? Forgotten? I'm not particularly sure. But it was no longer there. And now I stood at Home Depot with a rack from floor to ceiling of different 4x4s to choose from. Choose carefully, a little voice told me, because it's going to get a work out.
I had a picture of the old Kenbrook cross on my phone from 2007. I figured 10 feet looked about right. I brought home my selection and began to sand a shape. Cut the harsh edges down so that Jesus could carry it just a little easier. Carrying the cross was already going to bite into his shoulders.
I knew it would be important for the platform that Jesus stood on to be strong. When the cross goes up and is dropped into the hole it resides in, the whole thing comes down with a jolt. The old cross had metal cylinder through it to give it strength. I remember this detail because one Jesus Walk the cross came down so hard that the platform broke around it. My friend, Dan Rinard, and I fixed it for the next week.
I can remember as a teen camper watching my counselor play the part of Jesus. I remember watching his journey across the upper playing field as he was harassed by summer staff playing the part of guards and repeatedly knocked down by them. I remember one moment when it looked as though the cross fell on him and hit him in the back of the head. After the Jesus Walk was over we gathered as a cabin to talk and as he sat rubbing his head, in confirmation of what I had seen, all I could think to ask was, "Doesn't it hurt? Why do it?" His response was perfectly timed and well thought out, "It does hurt, sometimes. But it's exactly that and so much more that Jesus actually did for you and for me."
That cross was the center of the Jesus Walk, our teaching, the Upper Playing Field, Kenbrook property, camp experiences and many incredible conversations. It's this realization that makes it imperative to see the cross back on the field. Yes, to honor the past and continue important tradition. But also to move into future ministry grounded in the blessing of our roots and experience of coming to know Christ.
A joist hanger and a small section of 4x4 with lag bolts would give the base strength. The vertical member was notched and the base added. How tall am I? Where does the cross beam go? About 5 or so feet from the base? Oh man, pull out my phone and look at a tiny picture of the old cross. Yes, that seems about right...18 inches or so down from the top. Slowly but surely the cross began to take shape. As I cut, fastened, joined and sanded I prayed. I invite all who read this to pray with me. That this cross would be a reminder of the sacrifice and gift of Christ. That it would literally and figuratively be the place where vertical and horizontal meet. That children, like me, would come to know God through this wood.
It was complete. I hoisted it on my shoulder to take out of my little workshop. As the wood bit into my shoulder, I reflected on never having played Jesus in eight Jesus Walks. There was always a draw to Peter for me. I related to his foot-in-mouth-disease and his leap without looking way of living. But, now, as I carried this cross I realized what an honor it must have been to have the opportunity to portray our King. In that same moment I realized the irony of having shaped this cross with my hands as well as my own sin having called for the death of Christ.
Carissa and I drove the cross to the Upper Playing Field and by headlight slowly placed it in the ground. It sank in with a quiet thud as though there was no doubt that this is where it belonged. As we drove away we looked back and even in the middle of the night you can see the cross. It's as though it glows.
My friends, Jesus Walks in this place.