Carrying your cross (daily)

Last week my friend Lisa wrote some thoughtful things about what it means to “carry your cross,” from Mark 8:34.  I agree with her (and recommend you go read what she says, it’s worth it).  But I had a niggle.  It felt like something was missing.

I finally tracked it down to Luke’s gospel.  Matthew and Mark both read “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34)  But Luke says they must “take up their cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23, emphasis mine.)  That word “daily” changes things.  What is Luke getting at that Matthew and Mark aren’t?

I’m thinking about it this way:  Jesus himself only carried a literal, actual cross on one day of his life.  By no means did he carry a real cross daily, nor ask anyone else to.  On every other day of his life and ministry, Jesus’ “cross” was as metaphorical as it is for any of us.  It was the deliberate choice to serve God instead of suit himself, whatever it took.  A day-by-day consideration of what his Father wanted him to do, and what he needed to give up in order to do it.  Look again at his whole statement:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Deny themselves.  This is the nature of the daily “cross” for us, and using the cross as a metaphor makes it clear how hard it can be.  There are days on which the denial of self will mean death — death of hopes or dreams.  Death of identity.  Death of relationships.  Death of plans.  It means we must be willing to face the incontrovertible end of things we hold important, up to and including the loss of our own lives.  For some people, on a handful of very terrible days, that will be the real choice and cost of following Jesus.

Jesus draws a hard, hard picture of discipleship.  Yet he doesn't ask anything of us which he didn't also face, and he asks it of us for the same reasons he faced it — to pay a high price, in order to receive a great reward.

It helps me a little to remember that when Jesus carried a real cross, he didn't carry it all by himself.  On that very terrible day, someone else stepped in when Jesus fell and hauled his cross when he couldn't.  We have to be willing to carry our crosses, we have to do it, but when we fall down (and sooner or later, we always fall down) we won’t be left on our own.  Jesus will step in to carry our impossible crosses, and sometimes I think he just picks us up and carries us along too.


3 comments so far

  1. Kim on

    “Deny themselves. This is the nature of the daily “cross” for us, and using the cross as a metaphor makes it clear how hard it can be.”

    Cris, the story’s kinda long & rambling, but I have a point, so bear with me if you don’t mind.

    It’s funny (strange, not “ha ha”), in planning this wedding to William, I’ve had to examine where & how we want to be married – the actual ceremony & it’s structure, not the being in a married relationship. And while doing this, I had an experience 2 weeks ago that came to mind when I read what you wrote above.

    Background: William’s a scarred survivor of Catholic schools from 1968-1981 and ties the start of his separation from the Catholic church to Kindergarten and the nun telling them they were all sinners. Today, I’d say he’s a skeptical agnostic, but he really doesn’t participate in “organized religion.” At the same time, a civil ceremony doesn’t fit his idea of what his wedding should be; so he wants a church wedding but isn’t a church goer. I don’t see myself as a religious person, but I do consider myself a spiritual person. I was raised (baptized, confirmed, etc.) an Episcopalian, but after I graduated college, I gravitated to the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Philadelphia and I “fit” the description of a Universalist and it’s been an apt fit for how I’ve experienced my spirituality, my experience of God. I’ve raised both my sons as Unitarians and been married twice at this particular church as well as held Carl’s funeral service there. However, over the last 5-6 years as people in the congregation have come and gone and a new minister was selected 6 years ago, it no longer fits for me; it’s become too “new age”. And it’s not just this congregation – the other local Unitarian churches in the area don’t “feel” right either.

    So, I’ve been looking for a new spiritual home for myself, as well as a place & officiant to marry us. While I respect the Quaker faith, it is not a fit for me either, and the Pope and I have vast, irreconcilable differences (even if he’s unaware of it), so I started with the Episcopalian churches in the area, because it’s what I know, unlike the many other options (Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc.). Skipping the boring details of particular congregations that I’ve visited in the last couple of months, I’ll jump my visit to St. Paul’s in Elkins Park, which is 2 blocks from my house &, in a weird coincidence, a church I remember attending as a young child.

    Of course, the Sunday I chose to visit St. Paul’s happened to be the Sunday which had confirmations, dedications, and the installation of the recently chosen minister and the service was led by one of the Diocese Bishops. (Can we say 2+ hours, instead of the usual 1 hour service?) However, it included the Bishop’s sermon to the children of the congregation and here’s where I get to the point that came to mind when I read what you wrote that I quoted at the top of this very long comment. The Bishop in his sermon to the children was speaking about God’s love for us, using a teddy bear named St. Basil with it’s outstretched arms to “hug”. He told the children that the cross’s arms were a symbol of God’s love – his “arms” outstretched, always open, to enfold us, like the teddy bear’s.

    This was such a different visual than what I’ve always thought of when I think of the cross that it came immediately to mind when I read your blog today. Then I read your friend Lisa’s writings that you linked to and, again, I was struck by the different tone in the conversation of “cross” from what you wrote about. So much of what we experience in life is determined by how we language it – the actual words we use describing our experiences create a level of our reality (and yes, that is (a) very Buddhist and (b) a great over simplification), but…….what if our “cross” is truly the choice to embrace moving forward and be spiritually embraced by God’s love? What if “denying ourselves” is setting aside our individual problems, concerns, our “self-stuff” and getting out of our own way and the “cross” is the difficulty all humans have in choosing to be truly present each and every moment, good and bad, and follow something that is more than ourselves?

    What if it is just about loving and being loved? Easier said than done sometimes but, what if it is also just that simple?

    • stitchesandwords on

      As if I’d ever mind a lot of words :) You’ve given me more to think about, and a new post may come out of some of it. But some of it I’d rather answer directly.

      I think you’re right, in that it is “just that simple” — to love and be loved. To love God, and let him love us (which affects every other relationship, because of who God is). But there’s more. What happens when we draw out the ramifications of that simple premise? You know better than me. You’ve lived through it.

      When Carl was ill and you were scrambling to take care of him and keep all other bases covered, was that hard and complicated? Duh. Why did you do it? If I may venture to speak for you (and fix me if I’m wrong), I’d guess it was a very simple thing: that you loved Carl and you were going to take care of him. Very, very simple. And it made everything else very complex and hard.

      I hate the implications of that “nun told them they were all sinners” story, because I’m guessing the implied subtext was “and if you’d all just stop being sinners, God would love you. And I might too.” That’s often how people get it wrong, all across the church. So, so very wrong.

      I agree with Christian doctrine in this — all humans are sinners. But it’s not something we choose. It’s more like a sickness, it’s something that has infected us, and we can’t “just not” be sinful. To suggest someone “stop being sinful” would be as if someone had told Carl “well, just stop being sick.” Ridiculous, impossible, damaging, and offensive thing to suggest. The state of sinfulness should engender compassion, mercy, and help, not condemnation. Because we can’t “just not be sinful.”

      The image of carrying the cross is God’s version of “I love them, and I’m going to help them, no matter what.” That’s simple. The working out of that statement meant a lot of hard, complicated tthings in the life of Jesus, a daily choosing to do the hard stuff that would benefit someone else, not himself. To recognize the hardship and sacrifice involved in living out that simple (but not easy) idea of choosing to love and to be loved, is to recognize how deep and powerful that love really is.

  2. Steve Patterson on
    I stopped and talked to a young man who is literally and physically carrying the cross.

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