Jesus called his disciples over. Things had gotten a bit tense. Peter had just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, and then Jesus had to go and ruin the special warm fuzzy moment by saying he was going to Jerusalem and would suffer many things and die. Way to spoil the moment, Jesus. Peter, most of all, didn't like the turn the discussion took. He was very adamant that Jesus did not have to die.
"Jesus, you don't have to die. We can rally the people around you, we can hide in the caves in the north, we can cut a deal with the Sanhedrin. Don't talk like this. You don't have to die."
We can understand Peter's sentiment. We don't want Jesus to die either. We're not that fond of death. We try to fight it off at every point. When someone brings up death, we cover our ears and say, "We'll have none of that talk now!" A loved one mentions her desire to have a certain hymn sung at her funeral: "Oh don't be silly! Stop being so gloomy. It is a beautiful day outside. Let's talk about picnics and rainbows." Your parents want to speak with you about the will: "There's no need for that talk. You have plenty of good years left. Here, dinner is almost ready."
We don't like to talk about death.
The moment is ruined, Jesus compares Peter to Satan, and everyone is upset over this talk of death. If I were Jesus I'd have called my friends over, sat them down, and told them, "I'm sorry. It was silly of me. Things will be ok. Don't worry. We're all going to make it. Things are just tense right now, with John losing his head and all, but we're going to make it. We'll do it together, because if we work together, no one can stop us. We're a family. Together, we'll make it!"
It's that speech in the middle of the movie. The triumphant music plays softly in the background, as the camera slowly pans over the serious faces of the people listening to the speech. You know the scene; it's the Oscar scene, when the tide starts to turn, and things begin to look up. This is the perfect time in Mark's gospel for this scene. It is Chapter 8, exactly the halfway point. It's time for that scene.
So we turn to back to the pages of the Gospel, ready to hear the comforting words of Jesus. Tell them its okay Jesus. Tell them things will get better.
And Jesus does gather his friends. He calms Peter down. He says, "Sit down here a moment. I have something I need to say." The disciples all take a knee and form a semi-circle around the standing Jesus. All eyes are on him. He says, "If anyone wishes to come after me, if any of you want to continue what I've started.....Peter, James, and yes you John...if any of you want to truly see this thing through, then you must deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me."
It's not exactly what I had hoped for. Jesus doesn't reassure us that he'll be fine, and more importantly, that we'll be fine. I was kind of hoping for the "I'm not going to let anything happen to you," kind of speech, but this isn't so bad. Jesus just says that if we want to see this through, we have to take up our cross and follow him.
We've been following him right? We traveled across the Sea of Galilee, went up through Samaria, maybe even went to church twice in one Sunday for special Lenten activities. We're following right? We've got that part down.
When I was a kid I was pretty competitive. I guess I still am. You remember that game "Follow the Leader?" I dominated at that game. If the leader skipped, I skipped. If they somersaulted, I somersaulted. If they hopped on one foot, I could hop. Following the leader isn't too bad. And no one ever got hurt, except that one time Bobby was the leader and jumped off the monkey bars. But we can follow Jesus, right? Most of us have been doing it all our lives. We tithe, or at least give close to ten percent (one is close to ten right?); we go to church; we have at least two copies of the Bible in our house; and we make cookies whenever we're asked. We're followers of Jesus.
And we can take up our cross, too! I was in Dollar General just the other day, and I came across the Easter section. My favorite treat every holiday is whatever Reese's puts out. You can't beat a good Reese's Egg or Reeseter Bunny. I was perusing the assortment of chocolate bunnies and eggs when I came across a very tempting Christian Confection. I can get my very own chocolate cross. That's not too bad, is it? This Easter, the Cross can melt in your mouth and not in your hand. If that's what Jesus meant by taking up our cross, I'll take two, because I might eat one before he's finished leading me around.
You wouldn't believe the exquisite crosses you can buy at the mall. For a mere $1500 dollars you can get one covered in diamonds. They have crosses with rubies and sapphires. Christ wouldn't mind us donning a little bling bling as we followed him, would he? Crosses are quite fashionable. I wouldn't mind taking one of those up. Would you?
It seems like everyone takes up the cross. You can see them on people's shirts and around their necks as fashion statements, on bumper stickers, under flags as political statements, on the walls of homes as home décor statements, even on bath towels and sink plugs. We have no problem taking up the cross, do we?
No, Jesus' speech wasn't too bad. But...Jesus hasn't finished yet. He has more to say to his disciples and to us, because he knows we won't quite get it. He continues, "For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it: but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's shall save it."
Whoa, what happened to we're all going to be okay? What happened to ending all that silly talk of death? Why did Jesus have to go bringing it up again, as if the Gospel should have anything to do with death, especially our own? I think Peter had the right idea, getting rid of all that death talk.
But those words sit before us, on our laps and bed side tables, in Mark, in Luke, twice in Matthew: "Take up your cross." And all the gospels tell us those who seek to save their lives will lose them; those who lose their lives will save them.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the fanfare of Palm Sunday and the preparation for Easter that we just skip over Good Friday. We don't have a lot of time for the Cross. We make the excuse that it doesn't make sense to preach the cross before Jesus even gets to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and then you have to preach resurrection on Easter, so there just isn't any time. We tell ourselves that people don't want to hear about the cross and that they especially don't want to hear that Jesus demands we take one up ourselves. But if we are to take Lent seriously, if we are to take Jesus' words and life seriously, then we need to think about what it really means to take up our crosses and lose our lives for the sake of the gospel. I will explore these issues further in my next post.