Jesus’ invitation to carry the cross – it does sound a bit daunting
Mary Copping, 30 August 2020
Jeremiah 15: 15–21; Romans 12: 9–21; Matthew 16: 21–28
The cross of Christ: central to our Christian faith. The cross shows us the love of God, shows us how much he cared for us in sending Jesus to die for us so that we can have that special relationship with him, so that we can be forgiven and live each day afresh and anew.
Sometimes we can forget the importance of the cross for our Christian faith. We see around us many depictions of the cross, some with Jesus still there, some empty, showing the good news that Jesus is risen. The cross is used much in jewellery, by Christians and non-Christians alike. There is the story of the person going in to buy a cross on a chain and saying, ‘Have you got one with the little man on it?’
In our gospel reading Jesus speaks much about his forthcoming suffering and death, and then goes on to speak of the disciples carrying their cross. The disciples had been asked by Jesus earlier who they thought he was, and they’d said, well, he’s a prophet. But Peter declared that, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’ – yes, the Messiah, the one promised, the one to come and redeem the world. Jesus was the one everyone was waiting for – and it must have been a wonderful moment for the disciples. Nothing could ever be the same.
But Jesus didn’t let them glory in that moment for too long and here we have him speaking of the suffering to come. But Peter would have none of it. I love the disciple Peter, so human, and the one who said what others might want to say but didn’t dare. He was the one who walked on the water to Jesus, the one who denied him, the disciple who said, ‘But we’ve given up everything, what about us?’ And now here he berates Jesus – he couldn’t believe that Jesus the Messiah, the Holy One, must suffer and die. He wanted Jesus to be the leader to save them from the Roman rule, as many had thought he would. Jesus’ response to Peter sounds quite hard – ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ – but perhaps Jesus needed all the support he could get for this terrible journey he was going on. And then the difficult part – that they must each carry their own cross.
I wonder what it means to each one of us to follow Jesus’ invitation to carry the cross – it does sound a bit daunting. Some think it means that God has given us a trial to bear throughout our lives, a bit like St Paul’s thorn in the flesh that he begs God to take away from him. To some it means that God is giving us challenges to test us, to see how we deal with the difficulty in front of us. To some it means that God uses the trials we go through to see how we bear up under the strain. To me none of these sounds like the loving God that we know.
The reality is that in life we do have pain and suffering. So when Jesus asks us to take up our crosses it’s not because he gives us pain and suffering but because he knows we’ll have it, but he’s there in it with us, and sometimes shines a light in the midst of the darkness. Through the cross of Christ we can bear our own pain, our own crosses, knowing that Jesus understands and is with us in it. And sometimes through the pain, there’s resurrection and new life, sometimes we see glimpses of Christ’s light. Sometimes this pain is with us throughout our lives, but Christ is there with us in it, understanding and helping us through, giving the strength we need.
In his book The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton, who was a theologian and Trappist monk, describes our souls as potentially lucid crystals left in the darkness. But when the light shines on these crystals, when God’s love shines on our souls, they become transformed. Haven’t we seen that happening through this very painful time of Covid-19 – people’s natures transformed, their capacity for love transfigured? And as we each carry our own crosses God transforms our souls, our spirits, to give us more capacity for love and kindness. And when we go through pain, we can identify so much more with people, others in pain. When we’re in pain, we see how kind and loving others can be. As we carry our crosses, as we walk with Jesus through the pain, God transforms us, and gives us the strength to get through and helps us sometimes to see his light.
Thomas Merton describes our souls as potentially lucid crystals left in the darkness.
We also learn much about God through our suffering. When things are going well, we can often leave God behind, say, ‘Thanks very much but everything’s going fine, thank you, we don’t need you’. Often, only when we suffer do we call out to God, do we realise that we actually desperately need him, and our own strength is not sufficient. That’s when we know we can’t rely on ourselves alone and we know our need of him. And as we call out to him we receive the strength that we need and often we receive the peace that passes all understanding.
In our reading from Romans we have the verse, ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer’. Ours is to know the hope we have in Christ, to bear the suffering, our cross, with Jesus, and to continue to pray, and speak to the Lord about it, to be real about how we feel in it, as David is many times in the Psalms. Jeremiah the prophet had a very hard life, passing on God’s difficult words to those who did not want to hear, and being blamed for them – the messenger being blamed. His prophetic calling was the cross he had to bear and he was very real to God about how he felt, as in our reading today:
Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?
Truly, you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.
We can be real with God through our suffering and pain, and we can know that he hears and loves us and has compassion on us.
Let’s ask our loving God, our loving heavenly Father, to continue enabling us to carry whatever each of us is going through, and ask him to transform us and to shine his light on us so that we can be a transformed, loving people to walk with others as they carry theirs. Amen.