Take Up Your Cross
by the Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
Director of Mission Engagement
- Isaiah 50:4-9a
- James 3:1-12
- Mark 8:27-38
I have had several opportunities to travel to the Holy Land and to stand many of the places that Jesus stood and walk in the steps that Jesus walked. One of my favorite places to visit is the Garden of Gethsemane. Today, it is just off a busy main thoroughfare with cars, trucks, buses, and motorcycles zipping by. But somehow, when you stand among the many olive trees in this garden, the noise of the world seems to fade. This is because while you are there, you can only imagine what must have been going through Jesus’ mind and heart as he brought his disciples there just after the Last Supper.
Gethsemane was a place to which Jesus frequently went to pray when he was in Jerusalem, but the prayers on this particular night are most profound. Because on this night, his arrest is imminent. His persecution and torture are about to begin. His public humiliation is just hours away. His crucifixion is less than 12 hours away.
So, imagine the scene with me. Jesus takes with him Peter, James, and John and kneels to pray: “Father, if there is any way that this cup of suffering can pass from me, let it be so.” There is a pause, and then Jesus continues with the prayer, “but not my will, but thy will be done.” And it was.
So, what brought Jesus to this moment? You see, for a while, Jesus was one of the most popular speaking attractions in all the land. He had fed thousands; he had healed many; he had spoken passionately to large crowds; he had changed lives. So, where was the turning point from fame to this moment of desperate prayer among the olive trees?
The turning point is recorded in today’s Gospel lesson. Here, Jesus asks his disciples who the people are saying that he is. They have some rather flattering responses: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. See how famous he had become?
But then Jesus asks an even more important question for his disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” He got the answer right, but he misunderstood the implications.
At this point, Jesus says, we are going to Jerusalem, there I will be arrested, persecuted, and die on a cross. There I will rise again. But all Peter could hear was “CROSS!” “Don’t go!” Peter says, “Don’t go!” Jesus sternly orders Peter to be silent, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” I can’t imagine the emotion that must have been behind that statement.
But you see, this is the turning point that brings Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane. And in Gethsemane, Jesus prays with much the same sentiment that formed Peter’s response. Here Jesus says, “If there is any way this cup of suffering may pass, Father let it be so.” Wouldn’t that be our prayer as well? Don’t we want to avoid life’s difficult moments? Jesus, however, finishes the prayer, “But not my will, thy will be done.”
The essence of the Christian life is accepting the gift of grace offered to us by Jesus, the Messiah, and Christ. This gift of eternal life, the gift of a new life here, the gift of a reorientation of our purpose in life. The first part of the gift is easy; it’s the grace that grants us eternity. The next part is much harder, the part about reorienting our purpose in life.
We say we want to follow Jesus, but to do that, we to must take up our cross. Of course, we can’t take this literally. There are many things for us to be worried about in life but being nailed to a cross is not one of them. So, spiritually what are we talking about here? The truth of the matter is that we don’t want to bend, to stoop, to bear any burden greater than our own. With our mortgages or rent, car payments, jobs, schools, and busy schedules, we’ve got no room for a cross. We’ve got no room for sacrificing what we have worked hard to get. We’ve got no time to advocate for someone else. We’ve got more than enough to fill our lives. We’ve got no energy for serving others.
Jesus said, “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?”
That, my friends, is all about reorienting our lives away from ourselves and towards others. So may our prayer today be this, “Help us, dear Jesus, to take up the cross we have tried hard to avoid. Teach us, Lord, to deny ourselves and walk the path that you have walked. Strengthen us, loving Savior, to stand with those with whom you have stood. Help us to follow – we so want to follow. Amen.”