Taking up your cross?

DSC_0002

If any want to become my followers (disciples), let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

The symbol of the cross is all around us – one can’t escape it. Even if one avoids religious buildings, it appears on flags, relief health agencies (Red Cross) and medical insurance (Blue Cross). In the New Testament, both Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels narrate Jesus as saying, “If any want to become my followers (disciples), let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) He’s not just speaking about a symbol of allegiance like publicly wearing an armband of a particular colour. He continues by teaching that those who try to selfishly save (guard) their life will lose it; but those who “lose their life for my sake will find it.”

While there is a well-known cliché about having to put up with difficult situations or people as being “my cross to bear” (like difficult in-laws or an unlikeable boss) – somehow I don’t think that’s what Matthew, or Jesus, had in mind. And while some Christian witnesses are indeed called to become martyrs (Greek word meaning witness), we’re obviously not all called to literally sacrifice our physical lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel – though, tragically, millions have in the past century.

So what does Jesus mean? Probably the best place to begin is to consider what the cross meant for Jesus.

So what does Jesus mean? Probably the best place to begin is to consider what the cross meant for Jesus. The cross was an instrument of execution – a particularly painful and degrading tool – reserved for those judged to be at the “bottom” of society. It seems strange that it might become a treasured religious symbol. Can you imagine us putting an image of a noose, guillotine or electric chair at the front of our worship space, or hanging little replicas around our necks? For Jesus, submitting to, or “taking up” the cross meant two things. It meant yielding his life in obedience to God and it meant putting the love of God for humanity and all of creation ahead of anything else – even to the point of accepting the most humiliating and painful outcome possible.

For Jesus, it meant yielding his life in obedience to God and it meant putting the love of God for humanity and all of creation ahead of anything else – even to the point of accepting the most humiliating and painful outcome possible.

Obedience and love. This was the meaning of Jesus’ cross for him. He then tells us who would follow him to “take up our cross.” First, then, we need to explore what putting obedience to God first in our lives looks like. Clearly, we need to be in relationship and constant communication with God to even begin to know how our lives need to be ordered so that they reflect the merciful, just and loving will of God. This orientation can only happen by first receiving, deeply and fully, the unconditional love of God for us. There can be no holding back, no hoarding of particular “corners, “shadows”, or “skeletons in closets.” The only way we will be able to follow in obedience is to be absolutely convinced of the redeeming love of God for us – first!

The only way we will be able to follow in obedience is to be absolutely convinced of the redeeming love of God for us – first!

Then, and only then, can we allow the challenging call of the indwelling Spirit to take us where we would otherwise be afraid to go – in reconciling relationships, in conversion of unhealthy attitudes and habits, in risking new ways to live our lives.

Obedience manifests itself in the call to love – unconditionally, fully, courageously – against all odds.

Secondly, as we allow ourselves to be reoriented by obedience to God, we discover that obedience manifests itself in the call to love – unconditionally, fully, courageously – against all odds. This will not be a love that is always warmly reciprocated by those who are to receive it. The extreme example is Jesus himself, whose unconditional, full and courageous love took him to the cross of execution. Yet, we have this promise. Ultimately, the life of obedience and love took him, literally, through death, to eternal life. God’s promise to us is no less.

Then think of “your cross”. Where does the one member challenge you to greater obedience, to a closer discipline to God’s leading in your daily life? Then think about where the other member challenges you to more open, more all-encompassing, more courageous love – putting yourself “out there” and trusting that God is “big enough” and “strong enough” to sustain you – even to the point of death.

Think of your cross. Where does it challenge you to greater obedience, to a closer discipline to God’s leading in your daily life? …to more open, more all-encompassing, more courageous love?

When one looks at and reflects upon the cross one see two members – a vertical and a horizontal beam. Think of them as “obedience” and “love.” Think first of God’s love in Christ for you – complete, all-encompassing, redeeming love which is forever. Then think of “your cross”. Where does the one member challenge you to greater obedience, to a closer discipline to God’s leading in your daily life? Then think about where the other member challenges you to more open, more all-encompassing, more courageous love – putting yourself “out there” and trusting that God is “big enough” and “strong enough” to sustain you – even to the point of death. Finally, “pick up” your cross and walk with it everyday – for that is the way of life – eternal life – always!