We had a hard Lent this year. We suffered death, family strife, problems on the job, sickness, accidents and depression. Some might call such afflictions our “cross to bear.” I don’t think they are.
Yes, grief, despair and physical ailment challenge us. Part of being human is to suffer. We can thank God that we have a community to support us through it all.
But I don’t think universal human suffering is what Jesus was talking about when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). I think he meant a different kind of suffering.
“Taking up the cross” is the type of suffering that befalls those who live and speak Jesus’ gospel – the all-inclusive, turn-the-other-cheek, accept-everyone, weakness-is-strength, forgive-the-people-who-have-hurt-you Good News that is rejected in our society, which tells us to take no prisoners, never compromise, let the poor fend for themselves and kill your enemies in the name of “justice” and “safety.”
Jesus was a pacifist up to and beyond the point of his own death. He raised up the poor and lowered the powerful. He healed the sick no matter what the situation, and no matter what the people in power said about it. Those who follow his example these days are ridiculed, beaten down, silenced and called names like “communist” and “socialist.”
Even so, Jesus’ modern-day followers continue on. They stumble sometimes. They often fail. They don’t always live up to God’s expectations. But they don’t give up.
Their reward for this special kind of suffering? Easter.
The reward for bearing the cross of Christ is resurrection. Resurrection from death to life, yes, but also the daily resurrection from pain to wholeness, from sorrow to joy, from turmoil to peace. Every day we get a taste of resurrection. So, yes, take up the cross. Live like Jesus as much as possible. But don’t forget to embrace the reward, too. Christ died for you. Christ rose for you.
Happy Easter. Pastor Gage