Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, 2 Samuel 9:1-13, Acts 19:1-10, Mark 8:34-9:1
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
These words highlight a turning point in Christ’s ministry. All the miraculous healings and signs are revealed to be part of a bigger picture in which anyone who wanted to follow him needed to be willing to share in the sacrifice.
This talk of the cross wouldn’t have had any of the redemptive connotations we associate with it today thanks to our clear hindsight about the resurrection. It would be more like being asked to accompany him to the electric chair or the gallows. The crosses we wear today as jewelry or hang as decorations would have been horrifyingly morbid.
Have time and the marketing of Christianity diminished our sense of the cross in the western world? “Having a cross to bear” usually refers to some personal ailment or struggle, unconnected to any greater salvific purpose. In a predominantly Christian society (about seventy-five percent according to a December 2015 Gallup poll), our faith is hardly risky despite our efforts to spin holiday greetings into a crisis. In a culture where it’s possible to legislatively force others to observe our own values, we are rather more likely to be builders of the cross than its bearers; the dictators rather than the risk-takers.
Picking up the cross represents willingness to sacrifice everything to follow Christ and love God. For most of us it’s not lifted overhead in a single clean-and-jerk motion, but through a lifetime of spiritual exercise. These words marked the end of disciple boot camp, the end of being toy Christian soldiers, and the beginning of putting that training to use. We train not to be the kind of soldiers who kill for a cause, but who will die for it. When we surrender to the weight of the cross, the demanding yoke is made easy, the difficult burden made light.
Comfort: Giving up your life sounds scary, but it’s liberating.
Challenge: Pay attention for crosses. When you see them, reflect on what they represent.
Prayer: Gracious God, give me the strength to let go of all that might stand between me and you.
Discussion: Other than the cross, what Christian symbols are meaningful to you and why?
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