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Feb 25, 2018

Take Up Your Cross

Take Up Your Cross

Passage: Mark 8:31-38

Speaker: Father Will Lowry

Series: All

Category: All

Keywords: lent

Almost every Christian sanctuary has as its focal point a Cross. But what about our own crosses? What are they? Where are they displayed?

Almost every Christian sanctuary has one. They come in many shapes and sizes and materials. They are made of burnished mahogany and of rough-hewn timbers. They are forged of polished brass and twisted wrought-iron.

They are given shape by stained glass and sometimes crudely backlit. They can bear images of the broken body of Jesus, or be as bare and unadorned as the simple timbers or hard metal they are made of.

Almost every Christian sanctuary has, as its focal point, the symbol of the Cross of Christ. And every congregation - using its own criteria of architectural style, tradition, and theology - chooses the way in which its cross is depicted.

Take a look at our most prominent cross. What does it say about our congregation? Its location, its size, how it is lit - what does it say about this place and the people who worship here?

Now, we of course, have other symbols - the pulpit and lectern, the candles, the altar rail, the altar - but the most prominent symbol, perhaps beside the stained-glass windows, is the cross. It is the most reliable symbol present in Christian sanctuaries no matter the denominational divide.

It really is fitting too, isn’t it? The majority of the New Testament books point to the cross as well, especially the Gospels. They all point out that the cross is the center of Jesus’ redeeming work in this world. However, theology defines the redemption: Jesus’ death on the cross connects forever the chasm between humanity and divinity. The cross is the symbol that bonds the grace of God and our sin and death in this life.

Without the brutal crucifixion on the hardwood of the cross God would not be visible through resurrection.

It is through this lens that we must choose to view the journey we are on to Jerusalem. This journey though is not some conceptualized path from long ago. It isn’t an historical memory of the past. It is real, and it is now.

To participate in the cross, to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus isn’t just some neat little saying. It is a command. It is an invitation. It is real.

Mark is a masterful storyteller, able to bring us into the pages of his book. And, in our story from Mark this morning he is able to show us Jesus’ foreshadowing His own death on the cross. In this context we must also remember that Peter has, in the few verses before, proclaimed Jesus to indeed be THE Messiah - and Jesus has hushed Peter and the others for now. First, he must teach them about betrayal, denial, suffering and death - and yes, that mysterious resurrection too. (There always has to be death for resurrection to occur doesn’t there?)

There is suddenly more to being a disciple than to simply watch Jesus heal and to listen to him teach. “Stuff” just got real, so to speak.

Jesus tells both those closest to him, the disciples, and the crowds, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But what really does that even mean?

As I mentioned before, almost every Christian sanctuary has as its focal point a Cross. But what about our own crosses? What are they? Where are they displayed?

I also mentioned earlier that in its own way every NT witness regards the cross as the visible symbol of the salvific act of the journey of Jesus and his death. And it is right for us to celebrate to honor this act and use the symbol - it is what the Good News is about - it is a symbol of hope, of forgiveness, redemption, grace and love.

And this symbolism was worked out well before “Mark” ever penned his first words. You may remember the story of the first Christians, before they were really even called Christians, when they would meet in the streets. One would often make the sign of a cross in the dirt with her foot so that the other would know he was in the presence of another follower of The Way.

This is Mark’s way of calling our attention to the central focus of his Gospel. It is a teaching moment - much like Jesus’ teaching the disciples. Those who desire to follow Jesus must know about the cross.

In doing so, Mark reminds us that Jesus’ first call was not to be apostles or to be ordained, or to be members of a church, but to be disciples - followers (literally) - of Jesus. And to do that we must be willing to go on our own journeys of faith with the living God, to be willing to deny ourselves, just as Jesus was.

One of my favorite hymns is “Lift High the Cross” and it certainly is a fitting hymn for this great Episcopal Church of ours, but perhaps by using it we gloss over the teaching that Jesus gives here. Discipleship involves giving up our own lives, not just being thankful that Jesus gave up His. Discipleship requires sacrificial love and leads to the ultimate reality that in giving of ourselves we have indeed received much more.

Of course this is much more easily preached than lived - both from the pulpit and the pew.

At our dismissal, on many if not most Sundays, I implore you to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” and that is a reminder of this selfless, sacrificial life we are called to as Christians. We even use the “A” word to rejoice about it.

But, perhaps this exhortation - this urging - should be more of an incitement or indictment - whichever works best.

In all of it, maybe, I (we) have forgotten to make permanent the call of Jesus for us to “take up our own crosses,” to take responsibility for going on this sacrificial journey ourselves, content to let Jesus do it for us.

And, I think, that maybe, perhaps, probably, it has led us to the the Church catholic, universal, and yes here at St. Theodore’s, to become preoccupied with membership numbers and financial tallies - rather than discipleship.

Maybe, perhaps, probably, what we need is a multitude of Crosses - one for each of us - to be taken up as we leave this place and go back to our homes, our work, our schools - to remind us of that call to discipleship and to renew our commitment to not allow Jesus to go on this journey alone - to follow the path to Jerusalem and all that it means.

The opportunities are endless - to give sacrificially, to create acts of love and mercy, to have compassion, mercy, and to give the gift of the peace of God, to take up our crosses and follow the way.

Amen.

[As you leave today, there will be a basket in the back of the nave. In it there is a cross for each of you to take up. Through the remainder of Lent you may bring this cross back each Sunday and place it back in the basket. Then as you leave again take it with you. We will all, presumably, have different crosses each week and that too will symbolize our sharing of journeys. On Easter Sunday we will all get to take a cross home as a reminder of this journey we have been on.]