“Lent leads us to the cross,” preached Rev. John Cleghorn at our church on the first Sunday in Lent. The question for us is this: is it the cross of Jesus or our own cross that Lent leads us to? Of course, the whole passion story leads us to Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection. Are we just to revisit Jesus’ journey to the cross? Or do we take his road to the cross personally, so that we each have to give up a lot to take up our cross, to face what is in our lives, our destiny?
Jesus was standing in the world, against much of the teachings of the world and of his religion. He faced the most brutal punishment the Roman Empire could offer at the time. His accusers were determined to get rid of him, to undermine his influence with the people.
And how did Jesus deal with the crucifixion and his death? He knew it was coming; he warned his disciples that he wouldn’t be with them much longer.[Mark 8:31] He was trying to prepare them for what was to come. He, at his most human, asked God three times in the Garden of Gethsemane to “take this cup” from him. Obviously, he knew what pain and degradation he would suffer. And three times, he answered God himself, “your will, not mine.” [Mark 14:32ff] And on the cross he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And in almost the next breath he commended his spirit to the Lord. [Matthew 27:46, 49]
But let’s look today at our own cross. And why we would approach Jesus’ cross as our own. If the cross to be borne is ours, how are we to face any suffering and death? What is it that we have to do to prepare for any challenges in our path? What do we have to admit or to give up in order for us to fulfill our destiny. I am not saying that, in picking up our cross, we are all to die a painful death, but that the pain for us may lie elsewhere. For instance, it may lie in giving up all our notions of what our lives should be and how we want to live them. It may be in surrendering all control for what happens in our lives to God. It could occur in giving up what we want– our assumptions, expectations and preconceptions.
We must trust God in any situation, like Jesus did throughout his life. We have to know deep in our hearts that, no matter what happens, God is taking care of us, guiding us and that whatever happens will be in our best interests, whether we live or die.
Maybe the hardest thing of all will be to give up how we see death as a defeat or at the very least as an undesirable outcome. This was a lesson I had to face when my husband was dying of a recurrence of lymphoma. With God’s help in dealing with this tragedy in my life, in showing me not to cling to his living, I had to trust that no matter what the outcome of this recurrence, that I would be fine and Hank would also be fine—whether he lived or died. And he died just two months later.
When I look back at that time, I think now that Hank had finished his job here. He had healed all the difficulties of his painful childhood and felt complete in himself. He no longer took anything personally. He could just be who he was. I’m not saying that everyone who dies has completed their life’s journey. Certainly, some people will never change. But clearly, he was in the hands of the Lord. The corollary of this thinking is that I am not done yet, I still have things to be healed and transformed that keep me from being the person I was created to be. I still have things to do here in the world.
The truth is that we have no idea what God will ask of us as we follow his lead. We do know from reading about the saints of the church and others that following the Lord does not mean that we will never suffer, but we are assured that He will always be with us, supporting, strengthening, providing whatever we need to face what is happening in our lives.
Ultimately, Jesus stepped up to the soldiers in Gethsemane, accepting his fate, because He trusted God in everything. He knew who God was and what he had to do. Before he came into the world, he was already living in God, was God. That’s what we have to do, too, to move into God’s house, his kingdom, to change our address from .world to .God.
Questions to ponder over the week: Have you picked up your cross? Do you know what purpose God has in mind for you? Do you trust God in everything, not just believing that you trust God, but actually not facing things in fear and anxiety? What keeps you from following God in everything?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of the cross, ready to take on our purpose and destiny as God sees it. May we walk without fear and trembling. May we only see God’s love and likeness in everyone we meet.
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