“That’s just my cross to bear.” How many times have we heard that expression? Maybe we’ve said it ourselves. And rightfully so! Life definitely gives us enough “crosses” to bear: our own burdens. When we use this expression, we are usually talking about those persistent problems, inconveniences, and even annoyances that are just part of life. Sure, none of our lives are perfect. We all have things we have to deal with, so we have decided to just mostly suck it up-grin and bear it.
But I don’t think that’s part of being a disciple and I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said to take up your cross and follow him. Sometimes we make “taking up our cross” into some kind of self-righteousness-like some great work we all need to do. We pat ourselves on the back for being such good Christians whenever we take on some kind of helpful deed that burdens us in some way-taking up the cross.
But don’t forget that the cross is imposed. It is given to us. Even Jesus didn’t pick the cross-the world did it to him. It’s not something we can go out and do-we don’t take it up on our own. And why would we want to? The cross is a symbol of death. It was designed to kill. It is the way the powers of the world, (Rome, at the time) put others to death.
Today the world finds all kinds of ways to put us on a cross. You don’t have to look far at all to find examples of death and suffering in the world. Senseless violence, disease, natural disasters, poverty, inequality, racism… you name it and we’ve seen it. It seems every day the world is inventing new ways to make people suffer and to make us unhappy.
So again, we don’t have to go looking for a cross to take up. The world will be happy to give us one-to put us on one. It’s like the whole world and all of us hangs on a cross- in desperate need of God to save us-to get rid of the problems and suffering. To fix everything, and make sure we don’t suffer any more.
So it’s no wonder Peter gets mad when Jesus, the savior of the world, tells him that he also must suffer and die and that we should all take up this cross of suffering and death that the world gives us. Last week, Peter had his revelation about Jesus, declaring that he believed he definitely was the Messiah. But to Peter, the Messiah was the one who would restore the kingdom of Israel, defeat Peter’s enemies, fix the messed up world, so that Peter and the other disciples, and all of God’s people wouldn’t have to face persecution or suffering anymore. How could this Messiah say that he was going to suffer and die? How could the Messiah, our savior, tell Peter that he would have to suffer too? How could the Messiah say that anyone who wishes to follow him must take up the cross: death itself? Surely Peter thought, “no way, Jesus”. No way am I going to watch you die, you who are the only hope for our people. Surely God must find a better way to do this.
Pretty gutsy of Peter, don’t you think? We can relate to this though. I for one can admit to having times where I question God’s judgment, when things get bad, or the news makes it seem like the world is going down the tubes. Don’t we want a God who will fix everything? Isn’t it easy to feel like God shouldn’t let bad things happen to good people? Don’t we want a God who will take away all of our problems and just give us the good life?
Instead, we worship God even though we live in a world that seems full of problems: where there are no guarantees, life isn’t always fair, good people suffer, and tragedies, suffering, and death are just parts of life. It’s a world that sometimes seems to be full of crosses; sometimes our own crosses are just too heavy to carry. How can Jesus possibly ask us to take up one more?
As Christians though, we carry another kind of cross. In our Baptism we are marked with the cross of Christ forever. We receive the mark of this cross that says we are claimed and loved by God no matter what. It reminds us that no matter what troubles or crosses the world gives us, God will not forsake us. Ironically, the cross-the symbol of death is where we see God’s love most fully for us. Because Jesus took up the cross, he walks with us as we carry ours. He promises that God’s love will carry us when it gets hard, or even when we fail. And through his death and resurrection, he shows us God’s power to bring new life out of our struggles, and promises new life to us even in our death.
It takes an incredible amount of trust to follow Jesus and trust God in life when we face so many struggles-so many crosses. Yes, it would be easier if God would just make all of the hardships go away. But by taking up the cross, Jesus shows us God’s presence with us, God’s power to save us, and God’s power to lead us into new life. The world will find ways to give you a cross. There will be hardships. But Jesus tells us that we can trust him through it.
So we are not called to take up a cross as an act of self-righteousness. We are called to live in a world that is dying-a world that will kill us. One way or another, we will all die. But Christ marks us with a cross that gives us life in the midst of our dying world. It’s a cross that transforms this world into a place of new life, hope, and even joy in the midst of the hardships.
We are called to live in this world, and to bear the cross for the sake of it-for the sake of others. Rather than escaping the hardships of the world, we meet others in them, and help them know God’s presence with them as they bear their own cross.
What would our lives be like if the cross we are marked with in Baptism was more visible? If we could always see it and be mindful of it? How would that help you face the challenges of life knowing that you are claimed by God forever? What difference would it make in the world if others could see that cross? How could we show them? Jesus invites us to think about all of this today, because that is what it means to take up the cross and follow Jesus: being claimed by God forever, knowing God’s presence with you, and helping others see God’s presence with them and in the world.