Carry a Cross
Do you feel like there are phrases in our "Christian vocabulary" that people use kind of "willy-nilly" but don't stop to define for themselves (or for others)? Phrases that we gloss over without really thinking what we are talking about? For example -- "thy will be done," The Whole Lord's Prayer, "God bless you," "church family," and "This is my body, broken for you." There are lists and lists of these kind of phrases (and that doesn't even include the WORDS that we use in church -- sanctification, redemption, forgiveness...)
I think that the phrase "Carry your cross" is one of these "churchy" phrases that we use but don't think much about. What does it really mean? I'm not sure that I (actually, I'm sure that I don't) have the answer to this question, but when has that ever stopped me from talking about it?
From Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?
I think that the crucifixion was so horrible -- so painful and dreadful -- that we automatically assume that Jesus meant that to be Christians, we must suffer horrible pain -- that "Cross-carrying" is BY DEFINITION equal to suffering. But what does the scripture actually say?
- Deny himself -- I think this means that we place the emphasis on God's will for our lives -- not our own. Deny in this case doesn't mean neglect of self, but instead implies a change of control -- God in control instead of ourselves.
- Take up his cross -- If I knew what this meant, I wouldn't be writing this entry.
- Daily -- Sounds like this "cross carrying" is a daily struggle -- we're never finished in this life.
There is a group of Roman Catholics in the Philippines that "celebrates" Easter by undergoing actual Crucifixion in order to be thankful for Christ's sacrifice. (Click here to read about it). I like S's answer when I told him about this. "Didn't Christ suffer crucifixion so that we wouldn't have to?" Yes, he did. So I think we can all agree that Jesus didn't mean that we should take up an actual cross and follow him to crucifixion.
Cross must be figurative, you think? Could it mean to take up your call? Could it mean to pick up that task which God assigns to you? Daily?
Consider the Luke scripture in the light of this quote from Frederick Buechner on vocation, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." (Thanks to Jeff for the emails to determine what the quote really is and the gift of the book last fall).
Deep gladness sounds alot like joy, doesn't it? How about this one:
C.S. Lewis said, "When they are wholly His, they will be more themselves than ever." He goes on to say, "the deepest likings and impulses of any man are the raw material, the starting point with which [Christ] has furnished him."
And one more from the Bible in John 15:9-11 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Don't you like the idea that we are "furnished" with deep likings and impulses -- that picking up our cross, following God, answering our call will bring us joy? That answering that call will bring us joy because it fulfills our God-given likings and impulses? This makes me think that we are created to carry our cross, and instead of bringing us pain, it will bring us joy -- that once we are wholly his we will be more ourselves than ever? Can anybody say prevenient grace?
Does it sound like I think carrying a cross is just a bed of roses? If that were the case, then I don't think that Christ would have used the word "cross." It's not easy. It's not always what we want to do, or how we want to do it. Crosses are heavy, and the path we walk with them is not always smooth.
- I was watching a member of our congregation today during the youth service. She lost her daughter to cancer right after her granddaughter was born, but she was full of unmitigated joy, dancing with the music. What excuse do we have to be less than joyful when she can be joyful? I'm sure she's not always happy, but joy is different. It's a God-given fulfillment.
- I have felt closer to God this year than any other time in my life. With that has come joy, but it has brought an unexpected result as well. Is it possible that with this joy comes a greater awareness of shortcomings -- of mistakes? Is it possible that when it means more, the worries are bigger?
- Can it be that when joy is bigger, that the other emotions are closer to the surface? I was sitting in the early service this morning, listening to the lead singer of Portal sing about the greatness of God, and I just knew that He would be in our church today; that He was going to touch us. Those leaky tears that aren't crying were falling. Is that joy? I would really rather joy be smiles and laughter, but I don't get to choose.
Now I'm just rambling, so I'm going to stop. So what does it mean to carry a cross? Maybe I'm not sure because I haven't picked one up yet.
Photo: View from the Church steps last night. S thinks it looks like heaven opening up.