Jesus said: 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
These words, the message they convey, was repeated several times by Jesus: early in his Ministry, before the Transfiguration, before Good Friday and before his death. Why? What was in this message that Jesus wanted so desperately to get across to his disciples? ... taking up the cross ... losing your life, in order to save it? Crosses: Jesus carried one, literally. It was an instrument of torture, in Roman times, of excruciating pain. A slow, agonizing death, of suffocation by hanging. It symbolized: - oppression - shame - powerlessness To take up your cross was to become its inescapable victim.
Yet Jesus chose to set himself against the Roman empire and the Temple's authorities. He chose to pick up and carry his cross and go to his death. To Peter and other disciples, Jesus symbolized: strength, might, and power. He was their leader, the Messiah, who was going to protect them from all evil, deliver them from the Roman authorities …indestructible, unrelenting… So why would Jesus... who had committed no crime… take up the cross – and for what reason? But the disciples weren't listening. Jesus tried to explain, several times…. …but they were focused on their own needs - on earthly things, not divine things ..and Suddenly, it was over; Finished. Their Messiah: Crucified. Hope was gone. …or so they thought… ..until 3 days later, God – the ultimate power - raised him up!
Slowly, over time, the disciples pieced together the magnitude of these events: - his death on the cross, - his personal sacrifice - his unconditional love for all mankind …and they started to follow in Jesus' footsteps: Began to understand & live-out Jesus' teachings; Began to See the impact it had on people's lives; Bringing hope of a new & everlasting Kingdom. Their actions created a new movement for which the cross, and the power behind it has since become a world-wide symbol of ultimate transformation.
Time marches on - people, and their perceptions on Christianity, evolve. But the cross – still so powerful in Christian identify - endures. I now fast-forward us into the 20th century (the early 1970’s…) It’s me, sitting in the kitchen with my Mom - having just confessed to her a situation which I was feeling quite guilty about, having made a decision that I very much regretted. My Mom, with an ('I've been there’) look in her eyes , let out a big, long sigh, shook her head and said softly say to me: “Well, Nita, that is just something you are going to have to live with, a cross that you will have just have to bare”. …there was dead silence; I swallowed hard and I thought. Oh, my God!..What does this mean, for me? Will I really have to suffer?? Power behind the cross???? … Like the disciple Peter, I hadn't the foggiest idea what Mom was talking about or, in reality, expected of me. I wasn't open to possibilities. I didn't want to put myself ‘out there’, or take on anything controversial, that might take me off the straight and narrow. It would be many years before I chose to become enlightened as to what ‘carrying the cross’ was all about, let alone sincerely taking steps towards. ...But clearly my Mother knew what carried the cross was all about. As I grew into an adult, and her life unfolded before me, I would come to realize what a wonderful Christian role model & inspiration she was for me. How blessed I had been, to have her as my Mother. To me, through her love & appreciation of so many things in life, she followed Jesus's teachings in countless ways. She always put others before herself.
Self-sacrifice was just a part of her make-up. She tried to understand another's problems, offered Compassion, hospitality, treating neighbours and friends as family. All were welcome; all were treated with respect. Hers wasn't always an easy path, in fact she would endure many setbacks and heart-breaks along the way, but there still was a lot of joy mixed in with the laughter, tears (and a wicked sense of humour)! So how do we, in 2015, follow Jesus and carry the cross? Millions of people have put their faith in the power of the cross. Today its a place where we go - metaphorically, to hang our: - disappointments; anger; prejudices - to get a handle on our greed or Ego - a place to lean on, when we need a shoulder to support ….to down-load our troubles; - or ask in prayer, for comfort or healing. Why do folks do this? Because there are some things in our life that need to die, to allow space for something new – that is more gracious and good, to rise up.
We take up the cross to face our limitations; to acknowledge our powerlessness…and not allow our greed or our ego to be control. In doing so, we are given rebirth. This transformative ‘power of the cross’ gives us the opportunity to allow God’s Kingdom to manifest within us. I believe this transformation can only happen when the cross is the focus of our lives. The power of the cross has inspired many, like: Jean Vanier, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa - to seek social change, and fight for political justice. There is no 'one size' fits all approach to tapping into the power of the cross, but I believe it all starts with a sincere and willing heart, open to God, in prayer – supported by a caring and loving faith community...and you can see LOTS of evidence of the power of the cross, right here, in this Community. - its folks who volunteer countless hours to spend time with the lonely, the aged, the vulnerable; - its parents who sacrifice their needs and put their children first, to give them a better future - its care-givers, companions who hold, day after day, vigils with those in long-term or palliative care. - its those who offer prayers and comfort to the bereaved. - its those who teach, nurture and inspire, asking nothing in return. - its those acting as advocates for the poor, the homeless, the mentally ill Why? …because they are living out the teachings of Jesus.
Nurturing new relationships, building bridges and reaching out to extended communities Through the 'power' behind the cross, we are given access to a holiness that reside in us, which has the potential of bringing joy and meaning to our lives, far greater than money or materiel things. It’s the gateway to our redemption, healing, peace-ing together our brokenness, and in doing so, finding new life. I do NOT believe that Jesus wanted his followers to face a cruel and tragic death, as he did – or to adopt martyr like behaviour. Instead, I believe he wants us to follow him by loving and caring for those God leaves at our doorstop. Suffering, imposed on us against our will, is NOT redemptive. Jesus intentionally, willingly suffered on the cross, to redeem us all.
I also do not believe that 'the power of the cross' is an excuse to allow yourself to be used as a doormat.......such as: - enduring an abusive relationship or - feeling one must tolerate a personal injustice). I believe it IS about moving forward as a WHOLE and self-respecting person, willingly to be open, at times vulnerable, but mostly giving of themselves in LOVE. For when we love, we give our very best. This love, inevitably, leads to self-sacrifice in order to meet the needs of another, because we love what we are doing that much. St. Francis of Assisi said: “It is in giving that we receive. It is in dying that we are born to a new and living hope”. Make sense? …but don't get me wrong, tapping into power behind the cross is un-likely to lead you down an easy path.
It's unlikely that your life will get easier, but likely more complicated. …Caution - there may be risks! …you will have to deny yourself at times - and you may feel compelled to part with some of your materiel things! ..it will likely move you out of your comfort zone - and not everyone may take a fancy to what you are up to… But you will come alive! The work you do will include your OWN healing. Your life will have more meaning ..and you will walk in love, with your neighbour, as Christ walks alongside with you. In summary, you will experience a strange kind of Glory that comes with giving, straight from the heart. ...perhaps, a foretaste of the feast in God's Kingdom, that is yet to come?
I will now end, with a prayer: Gracious and Loving God You sent your son Jesus Christ, down to earth to give us abundant life as followers on the way of faith. Fill us with the strength to take up our cross and follow Jesus May we have the abundance of true life you intended for us May others see your love and grace at work in us, and accompany us on the way. In Jesus' name, we pray Amen.
Juanita has started her discernment for the Diaconate in the Diocese of New Westminster