The Rev. Jennifer Adams – February 25, 2018 – Lent 2, Year B: Mark 8:31-38
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
So I realized after looking back over the last few sermons I preached on this text or similar passages is that one of the things I have been working out with you over the last many years (and there are so many I have been working out with you over the last many year) but one of them is a theology of the cross and not only that, but wondering on my cross too. So first of all, thank you for giving me that space. I came out of seminary able to quote various other people’s, (famous people’s) theologies in this area. Among them I have some favorites – Jon Sobrino, Barbara Brown Taylor, Kate Braestrup, to name a few and there are obviously many that fit within our tradition and belief system as Episcopal Christians.
However, the other thing I realized this week is that no matter how much I read, or live for that matter, I’m still working it out. Or maybe it’s still working on me. The question in today’s gospel is an important one: What does it mean to pick up your cross? In fact it’s so important that according to Jesus, we can’t be a disciple without it.
And so I look around the rooms of my life and I wonder – is that my cross? Or is that my cross? Maybe it’s that over there in the corner, or maybe it’s still buried, or maybe my cross hasn’t even come to me yet, but then what does it mean to follow Christ? Maybe my cross is that issue I’ve taken on, or that burden I have been given, or that challenge I need to face, or that particular personal pain that can bring me to tears no matter how old it is or I am. I’ve heard crosses talked about in all of those ways, and I don’t think those ways of talking are wrong, but I still wonder. This symbol that speaks to us of power and salvation in an ultimately mysterious way, this symbol that Jesus says we need to take up, I still wonder what exactly is my cross and where can I find it?
And so I think it might be good to stick to the source here, Jesus himself, (which is really what we should be doing, anyway, right?) Here’s an approach we can try: given that Jesus took up his cross, let’s ask what that one looked like and what did the cross mean for him?
Well in so many ways, Jesus’ cross was not about him at all, which is interesting. Given our so very personal approaches to “our crosses,” I think this might be an important point. Our approach is that I have my cross, you have yours, and never the crosses shall cross. By this approach, crosses are personal. Which means that the power and salvation to be experienced through them is personal too.
But really Jesus’ cross wasn’t personal per se. Sure it fit him, and one could say only him, but Jesus’ cross had nothing to do with his own personal salvation. Jesus didn’t need the cross for himself. He took it up as an act of profound solidarity with others, all others. The cross united Jesus with humanity in a profound and holy act of genuinely sacrificial love.
And so to shift back, what if my cross has very little at all – initially anyway – to do with me? And what if yours works that way too? When we go about this cross search we tend to focus in so very hard on our own salvation (even Episcopalians do this, just more discreetly and perhaps a little differently than others but we still do it) and I think it’s possible that by that approach we miss at least part of what Jesus is getting at in this passage. I’m looking around my own rooms, but maybe that’s not where the cross I need to pick up is to be found.
If we use Jesus’ cross as a model which is probably not too bad an idea, then my cross is that which draws me into the suffering of someone else or even out into an entire people. Taking this approach, my cross is actually that which draws me out beyond myself and into a deep and abiding solidarity with another through their suffering. The grace being of course, that as I as I pick up that cross, a part of me is saved too.
Maybe that’s the power, the grace Jesus wants us to seek without which, it’s impossible following is nearly impossible. Maybe it’s not around our own rooms that we need to be looking but beyond, out there among. Out there among – where there is a suffering to which I can respond with a grace-filled part of myself. And odds are good, that as I do that, my own places of suffering are revealed too. And who knows, maybe someone else will find something to pick up as that hurt is revealed to them.
If all of this is so, it means that “take up your cross” and “love your neighbor” are actually two ways of saying the same thing. I think it’s possible that’s so. Two essential dimensions of discipleship.
And so I wonder if that’s what Jesus was helping us to understand. Maybe, as this theology of the cross works on me and on us, we can wonder on that together.