Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Taking Up Our Cross

"Take up your cross."

It's an image that has fallen casualty to overuse, overfamiliarity and over-spiritualization. When we talk about our own "crosses to bear," the crosses we perceive ourselves as carrying tend to be the usual discomforts of human life -- illness; interpersonal friction; financial misfortune. Or perhaps we associate a cross with some form of voluntary asceticism.

But I wonder if Jesus' original hearers, and the original hearers of Mark's Gospel, had the same tamed and mundane crosses in mind.

Because crucifixion was a unique, purposeful means of execution. The process -- from the scourging and stripping, to the awful journey toward the execution site, to the extended psychological as well as physical torment of being nailed to a crossbeam and left to slowly die, naked and incontinent, was designed to maximize the humiliation of the condemned, and in doing so to send a message from the powers that be to the rest of society: Challenge our authority, and this is what will happen to you.

When Jesus challenged his listeners to take up their crosses, I suspect that what came to their minds was something other than the rigors of daily life or self-imposed spiritual discipline. I think that they recognized in a way that we don't, the danger implicit in taking Christ seriously, in living into a Reign of God whose values and priorities diverge from those of the dominant culture -- including the dominant religious culture -- and the "powers and principalities" that run it.

So what does it really mean to take up our cross and follow Jesus? What does it mean to "lose our lives" in terms of the claims that our dominant culture places on them?

Station 7: Christ Falls a Second Time, Chris Woods  Posted by Picasa


Tom in Ontario said...

You've hit the nail on the head. What I fail to see in your post is any good news. Where's the gospel? I'm struggling with finding that for this week's sermon. I've already gone way too long on the law side of things and haven't found the gospel yet.

LutheranChik said...

I KNEW one of my good Lootern friends would ask me this question! That's a really good point. And the other lessons aren't much of a help in that regard either, are they.

I'm still struggling with this as well. I think maybe the good news is embedded in the phrase "saving your life," and maybe unpacking what that means -- getting into how salvation isn't simply or even principally a matter of "going to heaven when I die," but living into God's Reign now...and the joy and adventure of that, even though we're also going to have our teeth regularly kicked in by people and systems who are threatened by the countercultural value system we embrace. Elsewhere Jesus talks of the "abundant life" found in God's Reign -- that's pretty good news.

Tom in Ontario said...

A paragraph in Sundays & Seasons has kind of given me an idea for finding the gospel in this text.

"Those who confess Jesus as Messiah are called to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ. As we face the suffering of the world and the brokenness of our own lives, we learn the meaning of losing our lives for the sake of the gospel. Each time we make the sign of the cross, and share the broken bread and the cup of salvation, we remember the good news that our baptism into Christ's death is also the promise of the resurrection.

CoG said...

You are right about how the cross has been tamed. We've dressed it up and made it pretty enough to wear around our necks -- and put in our churches. I've always wondered if comparison to our modern forms of execution would wake people up to the scandal of the cross -- or get one kicked out of the pulpit in short order. We have already lost our lives in baptism so . . .

Songbird said...

a Reign of God whose values and priorities diverge from those of the dominant culture -- including the dominant religious culture -- and the "powers and principalities" that run it

And it's as true of our families, too, when we try to walk away from their expectations and understandings of what it means to be "good" or "faithful." I, too, am struggling with where to find the Good News in this passage, and I hope I will before preaching it tomorrow!