Reader: Sylvia Scott. audio begins with the scripture passage; sermon begins at 2:20
March 11

Lent 4  Text: Mark 8: 27-37

If you were part of our gathering last Sunday--whether here in person or tuning in on-line -- you may recall I suggested that because there is so much in this particular passage of scripture that is so central to Jesus’ way, we’d come back to it again over these next few weeks, taking a little morsel at a time.

Last week we zeroed in on Jesus saying “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves” … and our reflection led us to wonder what it would be for us to hear that not as a call to deprive ourselves, and not as a call to put a lid on what’s real, but rather a call to deny the illusion of our separateness, to say no to that voice that would talk us out of being who we truly are as a people made for love.

This week’s little morsel follows on that one … where we hear Jesus say, “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

So what does it mean to take up your cross? to bear your cross?  You’ve maybe heard the phrase spoken here or there, usually in relation to some situation where a person is having to endure something they wish they didn’t have to that’s been put on them … the neighbour who won’t deal with his yard full of dandelions; or some ailment that cramps your style, depriving you of the foods you want to eat or the places you want to go, or the life you really want to live; or the abuse that doesn’t stop despite endless promises that it won’t happen again. About any and all of these things we might hear someone say “this is my cross to bear,” as though bearing our cross was about putting up with and doing our best not to whine about some annoyance or unwanted imposition or bad decision we made along the way.

This morning we make room to ask what does Jesus mean by take up your cross?

We first hear him talk about it just after he’s laid it out to Peter and the others what he sees is coming his way. It’s become clear to Jesus that this way of love that he’s walking will present an intolerable challenge to the protectors of the way things are, such that he will suffer and be crucified.  In Jesus’ day, crucifixion -- literally nailing someone to the cross beam they were forced to carry to the place of public execution -- was Rome’s way of suppressing revolution. The cross was an instrument of death … intended to intimidate, to keep people in line.

But it’s not having that effect on Jesus. He’s about to pick up his cross, refusing to be intimidated by the threat of death. Something different is going on in him than Rome intends.

When Jesus says take up your cross and come follow me this is Jesus inviting, not Rome imposing.
This is Jesus inviting us to come with him into the life he’s found beyond the fear of death.
This is Jesus inviting us into the deepest freedom.
This is Jesus inviting us to taste and see, to feel in our bones, the unstoppable flow of God’s love.
This is Jesus showing us the way to stand in and share in that flow of love that is more powerful than a hundred armies.
And what is that way?
The cross that Jesus is talking about is the shattering of our own protectiveness … the shattering of our isolation, the shattering of our shoulder-shrugging complicity, the shattering of hopeless complacency.
It’s this shattering, the dying of these things in us that breaks us open to be filled with and moved by the transforming power of love for the sake of healing and hope.

Here’s a glimpse from this past week of this dynamic at work.
A few nights ago I received a message from a friend who was reaching out for help. He was trying to support a friend who was in a very hard place, and wondered if I might be able to offer some guidance. When I reached him the next day, this is what he described:
A little over a week ago, relaxing one afternoon, scrolling through facebook, he suddenly came upon a post by an acquaintance that sounded suicidal. My friend picked up the phone, got in touch and heard the story. This person had lost his job, and then his accommodation. There’s been no contact with family for years, and in his aloneness, he could see no way out of his helplessness. Hearing the depth of his anguish, my friend invited him to come and stay with him for a week. Figuring he’d be advised by his own family and friends not to do such a thing, he didn’t tell anyone … which meant he had no one to talk to as the distress was building when the week wore on and the time was coming for this fellow to head out -- but to where, into what?

I got off the phone and it occurred to me: this is what is it to take up your cross … it is to become aware of suffering and move toward not away. It is to allow the suffering of another to break open our heart. It is to risk being marked as mad. It is to come face to face to our own limitation. “It is bearing in your heart -- perhaps even in your flesh-- the suffering of others, and their infinite worth, to act for the sake of grace in their lives, to be in solidarity with the poor for the sake of justice. It is to embody God’s grace amidst human failings.” [1]

Here is what we are given to trust … that in touching into the suffering of another, we are not alone, for this is about following Jesus where he is going … where he is already present. This is about going with and being met by the Humble One, the Trusting One, the Gentle One who says to us “come to me all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
This is what we are given to trust … that we are accompanied in a way that makes a way where there is no way by the one who calls us “into life that is truly life: life lit up by heaven’s light.” [2]

[1] Steve Garnaas-Holmes, "Take up your cross," posted on Unfolding Light

[2]  Aaron Miller, posted on March 2, 2018, "Broken and Blessed", a Lenten Daily post by the Spiritual Care Network of British Columbia Conference of the United Church of Canada.