Glory without the gore, protection without the pain, humanity without the humiliation. Perhaps that’s why so many congregations have replaced their crosses with crowns, why they have stopped preaching life and death in favor of safety and security.
Mark 8:31-38 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Why pick up your cross?
We aren’t called to pain, which is exacted from the outside, but we do suffer by choice for others.
Bearing crosses is about bearing your most broken places.
Crosses are always carried in public, a witness against oppressive powers.
We must first put down the Roman tools of execution to make room for the Christian crosses.
Because Jesus did.
Peter pulled him aside for an exorcism and the Sanhedrin court began plotting his demise. No one has rejected Jesus’ message more than his own people. “From its very inception,” says Bonhoeffer, “the church itself has taken offense at the suffering Christ.”
And yet, safety isn’t a Christian value. But redemptive suffering is. We “must not only accept suffering,” says Thomas Merton, “[we] must make it holy.”
Paul preached belief; John ascent; Matthew obedience; Luke service. But in Mark’s Gospel, discipleship is defined by your willingness to locate in the cruciform shadows, to live at the crossroads, to go where Jesus goes.
On a seaside bluff between San Diego and Tijuana, there’s a park that straddles the United States and Mexico. A 20 foot high blockade down the middle that segregates according to immigration status and documentation. Through the gaps in the iron fence lovers come to love, grandparents gaze at grandchildren and the sick say farewell to the healthy. And every Sunday afternoon, John Fanestil, a border missionary, gathers on one side with a Mexican minister on the other side to offer the Eucharist. But since the War on Terror began, John now engages in criminal activity weekly because anything that goes over the border is illegal, even communion is contraband. Even communion, bread and cup, is contraband.
Why pick up your cross?
Because the church has never been primarily about saving souls or securing salvations, but rather about losing lives only to find them in the causes of Christ.
Yes, your hands will splinter on the wood; yes, your feet will drag from the distress; yes, your back will bow under the burden, but it is the only way to “follow me.”