Take up your cross and follow Jesus

Homily 2/28/21
Epiphany Parish, Walpole

Loving God, give us ears to listen, minds to inquire, and hearts to discern, and help us to have the courage to take up our cross and follow Jesus. Amen.

In Mark’s gospel up until now we’ve been content with stories of Jesus’s baptism, his gathering of the twelve apostles, all the people he’s healing, demons he’s exorcising, and so on. And then we get to chapter 8, verse 31 and we’re abruptly alerted to the harsh reality that Jesus is going to die. Jesus tells us, “quite openly,” according to Mark, that he’s going to be killed. And not only that, he’s going to... “...undergo great suffering.” Jesus: Leader. Teacher. Friend. The one whom the disciples have grown to love deeply and have given up so much for, is going to be killed.

In a flash, Peter tries to get Jesus to stop talking. Poor Peter is already in denial mode. He petulantly doesn’t want to hear what Jesus is saying. But Jesus scolds him and continues with his teaching. “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” 

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

It seems that Jesus has resigned himself to the reality that his earthly life will come to an end. He will literally take up his cross, that instrument of torture and death. But he obviously isn’t asking his followers to get themselves crucified alongside him. No, rather, he’s commanding those who are serious about discipleship to figuratively take up their cross and follow him…...To deny themselves and to lose their lives and, because we know that Easter comes after Lent, be reborn anew. Lent is the time in our Christian year when we walk with Jesus and his disciples through the desert toward Holy Week. Our Ash Wednesday liturgy lays out our Lenten charge so plainly, we’re invited, “...in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.”

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Each Lent I wonder about what it must’ve been like to be one of Jesus’s followers back then. What must it have been like knowing that Jesus was going to die and yet, as a disciple, still be expected to carry out his ministry? Jesus didn’t have to tell his disciples what was going to happen to him. He could’ve just let them continue doing what they were doing and then trust them to deal with the aftermath of his death. But he didn’t do that. SLOW He wanted them to know so they could begin to prepare for their own ministry. This was their moment of self-reflection and discernment. They had to think of their own role in this ministry without Jesus there to throw out illustrative parables, Socratic teaching, or words of love and support. 

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

I’ve heard from several of my friends and colleagues that this year has already felt like Lent. We’ve given up so much during this pandemic. Each of us, I imagine, is ready to hear some trumpets and celebrate Easter right now. It’s coming. Easter is coming. There will be Easter. There is a vaccine. There will be fewer illnesses and deaths. There will once again be handshakes and hugs. There will also be opportunities for doing things differently. 

Because of the pandemic, churches all over the world have had to learn how to continue to remain in community while being physically separated. Countless religious organizations that at one time would not have ever even considered live-streaming a service are now loud and proud on social media for the world to see, occasional technical difficulties aside. What an incredible opportunity for evangelism!

It is possible, even in the midst of Lent, to feel the hope of Easter. And it’s that hope of resurrection, renewal, and rebirth that can give us the courage to take time to self-examine what it is that still separates us from the love of God. And, as we know so well, we can’t get to Easter without first going through Good Friday.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus.

“For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Take up your cross.

Take up the thing on which a part of you will die.

Carry it.

So, what does all this mean for us? What does it mean to take up your cross? If, for Jesus, the cross is a symbol of his willingness to die for his cause, what are the crosses that we need to take up?

What parts of yourself are you willing to let die so that you can live again? 

Let us pray.

Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

© Margaret Lias 2020