From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised…
Then Jesus told his disciples, “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 will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:21, 24-26 NRSV)
What a sad day.
What a treasured day.
One cannot imagine the agony of Jesus’ suffering. We can read the biblical gruesome details of his crucifixion, watch movies that reenact that terrible time, or imagine all of this at its worst possible depths, but we can never fully fathom what Jesus endured.
In the days leading up to this tragic day, Jesus had tried to tell his disciples- several times- what was going to happen to him. In this passage, he then extends a call to them and any others who want to become his followers: “Let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” We are his followers. His words are for us, too.
But what does “taking up our cross” mean for us? You may have heard different interpretations along the way. I most often hear people use the expression, “It’s the cross I have to bear,” to mean a burden they must carry or a suffering they must endure.
As I wrote in Preface to Holy Week (April 4th) , Jesus died on the cross because he would not give up living as God wanted him to live. He did not stop loving or challenging, healing or helping. He broke the rules that were not important, to ensure he lived the rule of love. He spoke against political and religious leaders while speaking of the reign of God. His cross of suffering and death came because he never stopped being the Son of God.
With this understanding, the cross we take up is our act of continuing the life and presence of Jesus in the world. The cross is our decision to embrace and imitate and live as Jesus did, as children of God. To choose the way of love. Of humility. Of surrender. Of generosity. Of servanthood. To keep standing up- for what is right, for justice, for others. To welcome the outcast. To help those in need. To feed, clothe and visit.
To live like Jesus. No matter what.
In order to take up the cross, we can imagine we would need to approach the cross with empty hands. There would be no way to grasp and bear the cross without being free of other things we carry. The cross of living and loving like Jesus is not a heavy one, but it does require our full embrace. And so the cross can bring a new lightness and freedom that come from letting go of everything else. As Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). As we take up the cross, we let go of the things that distract, that encumber, that hinder us from following Jesus fully and well.
God’s love is so very good. The call to pick up our cross and follow Jesus may sound like a burden to carry, but we will soon discover the joy of the following, the freedom, and the surrender. Our trials will be grounded in peace. Our life will be filled with love and hope beyond our understanding. Our surrender will actually lead to greater freedom. We will receive more than we could possibly imagine. In losing our lives, we will find them!
Are you talking to ME?
Today Jesus asks, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”
On this Good Friday, how is your soul? How have the events leading up to this terrible day affected your spirit?
What would you need to release in order to fully pick up the cross of love, of continuing as Jesus in the world? What path is taking you away from following him closely? Is there something you have felt called to do but have not yet pursued it? What worldly pursuit gets in the way of following Jesus? Are you ready to embrace the cross of Jesus- of living as the Body of Christ?
For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?