Empowered by the Cross

Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:

Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

Watch the 6 PM Community Eucharist

The written version of the sermon is here:  

A lot of people have their favorite cross. It might be on a wall or on a church. It might be a piece of jewelry, or a craft that someone made. It might be on a rosary. But it’s “special” not because of its expense or material. It’s special because it helps us to pray. It helps us connect with God, or perhaps re-connect with God.

We make the sign of the cross. We walk the Stations of the Cross. We wear crosses, but the scriptures today invite us to think about what part the Cross really plays in our lives.

The cross casts a shadow over today’s Gospel. Jesus gathers the multitudes with the disciples and explains 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.” When Jesus speaks of the “Son of Man,” his audience would have known what he meant. But they would not have thought the Son of Man would ever be someone who could suffer. In fact, the Son of Man was imagined to be just the opposite: someone who never suffered. Someone who was never rejected. And so, after Jesus explains that this Messiah-figure will have to suffer, Peter speaks up and says what is probably already on everyone else’s mind.

We don’t have Peter’s exact words, we’re just told that Peter takes Jesus aside and tries to clean up Jesus’ presentation a little bit. Peter must have wondered if there surely wasn’t a more compelling way for Jesus to motivate the crowds. Jesus couldn’t be allowed to suffer—that didn’t make any sense. After all Peter and the other disciples have invested a lot in Jesus—he can’t let them down.

The disciples have left everything—families, jobs, positions, futures, and now Jesus is asking them even to give up their ideas and hopes for Jesus and his kingship. Here, Jesus speaks of failure. He speaks of death and the cross.

If Peter was surprised at the way Jesus talked, he must have been even more surprised by the way Jesus snaps at him. Jesus says harshly, “Get behind me,” and then he calls Peter “Satan.” “Satan,” the tempter, the accuser. Last week we read how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert, tempted to take the easy way out, tempted to avoid difficulty, tempted to dodge suffering.

But Jesus goes further in sharing his vision of the future. He tells those gathered around him that not only will HE have to suffer, but that the suffering will be a part of their lives as well, if they follow him.

If one is faithful, there will be suffering. Suffering does not need to be looked for or sought after, it will come all on its own.

The suffering Jesus points to here is a specific kind of suffering. He points to the kind of suffering that happens whenever we live our lives dangerously, in faith. Suffering comes when we are passionate for Christ because of the way in which Jesus Christ clashes with so many of the ways of this world. Notice that Jesus doesn’t seem to suggest any kind of hierarchy of suffering. As one Buddhist author puts it, “Have compassion for all beings, rich and poor alike; each has their suffering. Some suffer too much, others too little.” (Lachlan Brown)

For us to take up our cross, or as Luke’s gospel has it, “to take up our cross daily,” implies a willingness for God to move in our lives. To take up our cross, implies action—always internal, sometimes external. It carries with it intention, energy, creativity, and resourcefulness. It is a way of describing how we are called to move through life.

In order to “take up” our cross, we will probably have to put something down. For me to pick up a load of books, I have to put down whatever else I am carrying. It works that way in other areas of our lives. If I want to read more, I will have to watch less television.

If I’m going to spend 15 minutes every morning in silence or prayer, then I have to give up 15 minutes of sleep. If one pledges to spend more time with family, with a spouse or partner, one will have to come home from work on time, or perhaps even settle for a lower-paying job.

Taking up our cross means that we engage the full power of the Cross, that we turn to it, and enable it to empower us. The cross empowers in at least four ways:

The Cross of Christ connects, confronts, heals, and hopes.

Taking up our cross connects us with the suffering of others. In the Way of the Cross, the Stations of the Cross that we pray every Friday night in Lent, Jesus carries his cross. At one point Simon of Cyrene helps him, and so Simon takes up the cross in a literal way. But throughout the way of the cross, the journey of Jesus to Calvary, others carry his cross with him. The various people we meet in the way of the cross—the woman who wipes his brown, the mourners, and especially the Virgin Mary. She doesn’t help carry the cross literally, but she bears its weight in her heart. At the Crucifixion, she is connected to Jesus on the cross in a way that creates a powerful compassion that flows out of her from then and after.

Whether I suffer a little or a lot, whether I know suffering or pain that is far less or greater than yours, doesn’t mean that I can’t be present for you and with you. When I take up the cross, I face both our suffering and allow Christ to be the third among us, to bear the weight of the cross.

In addition to connecting us with the suffering of others, the cross confronts the violence and injustice of the world. Taking up our cross gives us the words to say “That is wrong. It must change.” The power of the cross helps us confront people, practices, and systems that use and oppress other people.

The cross can heal. In the movies, there’s the almost cartoonish aspect of a lifted cross casting out a demon or slowing down a vampire, but the cross has more subtle, deeper ways of healing. The writer Simon Weil writes of “The cross as a balance, as a lever. A going down, the condition of a rising up. Heaven coming down to earth raises earth to heaven.” The cross allows me to lift another into the presence and healing love of God. There’s a lowering of self as the other raises up, like a seesaw of prayer. Sometimes we see the results of healing prayers through the cross and other times that healing takes time and moves in mystery.

Finally, the cross empowers us to hope. The cross of Christ, everywhere and always, reminds us that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. Darkness comes. The earth shakes. It seems like all is lost. But then there’s Easter. Easter’s daylight brings Resurrection—new life, new opportunity, new challenges, but new community and family in faith.

The cross can connect, confront, heal, and hope.

This Lent, I encourage you to think about a particular cross in your life. Maybe it’s one you carry with you. Or maybe it’s a cross you see everyday on your way or your way to work or school. Maybe it’s a cross already hanging on your wall, or maybe you’ll like to create a new one, or cut out a picture, or buy one to hang and keep close. Wherever your cross might be, I encourage you to look at it this week, and each day, draw on its power in some way. It might be you say a prayer for connection with the suffering and pain of others. It might be you pray for the words and actions to confront an injustice in your life or in the world. It might be you turn to the cross for its healing power for a particular person or people. Or maybe you most need hope right now. The cross will answer that prayer, too.

We conclude our prayers of Stations of the Cross with powerful words that come from the Book of Common Prayer service for Good Friday and have long been used to encourage hope in the face of death or darkness. As we endeavor to take up our own crosses, we can pray those words:

Savior of the world, by your cross and precious blood you have redeemed us:
Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech you, O Lord.

 

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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