Then Jesus said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
I struggle with this teaching of Jesus.
To deny oneself and take up a cross every day? And as a prerequisite to being a Jesus follower? This is a tough word.
Sometimes this verse is used to keep people in their place, to tell them to accept their lot and not aspire to improve their lives. Telling an abused spouse that their cross is to endure such abuse is not what this text condones. Telling a family that they must slowly starve rather than leaving everything for a better life, or a child that their birthplace means they will not have access to education or medicine, are not crosses to bear. Following Jesus is always justice seeking for one.
As the snow melted in the front of my house last week it exposed the soil, shrubs and earth hidden underneath. The white frame of the for sale sign, unnoticed against the snow, was contrasted with the earth and formed a small cross. It caught my attention and imagination.
Leaving my home (much more than a house) with so many years of rootedness both in relationships and in gardens is emotional. Leaving behind the neighbourhood, the familiar, and the city of Montreal after 40 years are significant changes. In this transition, in this choice and move I feel a sense of call to follow Jesus. Cost and call, being ready for a new phase and season of life and ministry, open to live in faith some new adventures, learning and discoveries. Opportunities for service, growth and new challenges. I live these contrasts all at the same time. But following Jesus also means leaving behind and saying goodbye. It is loss, sadness, tough choices and letting go.
Is this a part of taking up the cross?
For now I look at the cross before me, seeing it in life transitions and change. I stand under it and let Jesus’ love that sacrifices all, touch me with forgiveness and hope. I hear Jesus inviting me into relationships defined by that balance of self-denial and service to others. I willingly take on the symbol of the cross and question what it means for me in this moment.
A hymn from my youth expresses some of these thoughts:
Take up your cross, the Saviour said,
if you would my disciple be;
take up your cross with willing heart,
and humbly follow after me.
Take up your cross, let not its weight
fill your weak spirit with alarm;
Christ’s strength shall bear your spirit up,
and brace your heart, and nerve your arm.
Take up your cross, heed not the shame,
nor let your foolish pride rebel;
your Saviour once accepted death
upon a cross, on Calvary’s hill.
(Charles William Everest, 1833, VU 561)
We live together this Lenten season, taking up our cross and following Jesus.
We believe that he leads us and trust his way.