Take up Your Cross
(Jer.20:7-9; Rom.12:1-2; Mt.16:21-27)
If you look, you’ll see the Cross of Christ most everywhere – in churches, in schools, in jewellery, in art and in people’s homes.
There are crucifixes and plain crosses of all shapes, sizes and colours, in gold, silver, wood, paint and paper. There’s the Celtic Cross, Jerusalem Cross, Cross of St Damian, Latin Cross, Maltese Cross, Cross of St Andrew and the Coptic Ankh. They’re everywhere: on walls, clothing, TV, online, in books, and in people’s hearts, minds and lives.
In our Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples to take up their Cross and follow him. But what does that mean? What does it mean to take up your Cross and follow Jesus?
Christians have been trying to work that out for 2,000 years.
It can be confusing, because there are countless ways to understand what the Cross means, just as there are lots of ways to show what it looks like.
Ron Rolheiser says that the Cross of Christ is like a carefully cut diamond. Every time you turn it in the light you get a different sparkle. The Cross means many things, he says, but its depths can never be fully fathomed for there’s always more meaning to be found.
He also says that it’s not surprising that the Cross is the most universally-cherished symbol on earth, because the Cross is the deepest word that can ever be said about love. [i]
How then might we understand it? The surest way to begin is by going back to the original Cross, and the agony which led to the death of Christ.
Jesus’ suffering shows us that real love doesn’t come cheap. It costs dearly. His Cross reminds us that if we want serious, faithful and life-giving love in our lives, then we must be prepared to pay a price, and that price is suffering.
Anyone who has ever raised a family knows that love and sacrifice always go together.
Anyone who has ever supported a friend or relative through addiction or depression knows how hard it can be.
Anyone who has ever cared for an elderly parent, or a sick or disabled child knows how hard it can be to keep going.
Anyone who has lost a wife, a husband or a child knows what it’s like to suffer such loss and yet have to keep going each day.
And anyone who has carried a deep hurt knows how hard it can be to turn the other cheek and to remain a loving person.
The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky once described love as ‘that harsh and dreadful thing.’ T.S. Eliot said that love costs ‘not less than everything.’
This is what Jesus is talking about when he asks us to carry our Cross and follow him. He wants us to do what he did – to love others, to really love them, even when it hurts.
St Teresa of Calcutta is a classic example of someone who loved until it hurt. She sacrificed everything so that she could lovingly care for dirty, diseased and dying people in the streets of India, and she did it for fifty years. It can’t have been easy, but she did it because Jesus asked her to.
Jesus is asking us to do the same. Not in Calcutta, but wherever we live. He wants us to genuinely, seriously, love others – even if it hurts to do so.
That’s the key message of the Cross. If you want real love in your life, if you want to be a good parent, or a good friend, or to have a good marriage or to keep some other commitment you have made, then you must be prepared to suffer and sometimes die to yourself. There is no other way.
Our society doesn’t think like this. It doesn’t like hearing this. Lots of people would rather walk away, and they do. But Jesus says that if you try to hang on to your life, you’ll lose it. And he adds that if you give up your life for his sake, then you’ll save it.
That’s why St Francis of Assisi said, ‘it’s in giving that you receive, and it’s in dying that you are born to eternal life.’
This is fundamental to our Christian faith.
There are crosses everywhere, but the Cross itself is so much more than a piece of jewellery, a work of art or a Church decoration. It’s a reminder of Jesus’ tremendous love for us and his call for us to love others, just as he did, even if it really hurts.
This is what it means to take up your Cross and follow Jesus.