What do you think of when hear “bearing the cross”?
You may think of wearing, not bearing, a cross. Like little gold crosses: pretty, inoffensive jewelry. You may think of bigger gold crosses on necklaces, proudly, defiantly worn against Christian persecution in America. (Pro tip: there is no such thing persecuted Christians, not in America. Some American Christians are easily offended, but they aren’t persecuted.) Either way, we’re talking about jewelry. And sometimes crosses on T-shirts.
You may think of a phrase your grandmother used, saying about an issue, “That’s your cross to bear.“ Usually that meant migraine headaches, or a shiftless husband. It meant that you were carrying around a physical challenge, a bad relationship that you couldn’t end, or chronic emotional pressure you couldn’t shake.
Is that what Jesus meant when he spoke of the Cross?
“Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
Luke 9, New International Version
Jesus knew what a cross was, and he knew his audience did, too. They had seen crosses, with people on them. It sent chills up their spines as they remembered. The Roman Empire put people up on crosses to die, for the crime of defying authority. It was a terrible way to die, reserved to destroy revolutionaries and put down and punish rebellions. Then the corpses hung there, left on public display to serve as a warning.
In Clarence Jordan’s words, it was a political and religious lynching. In James Cone’s words, sending chills down the spines and memories of Black people, the cross is the lynching tree.
Rugged wooden beams, or a rough-roped noose, are a far cry from either gold jewelry or personal problems. A cross is the risk you take for doing the right thing in spite of the consequences. Jesus deliberately heads toward Jerusalem, ever forward, knowing what’s waiting for him there, unless he stops. But he doesn’t stop: he continues on, and dies a martyr’s death. And then there’s resurrection.
We do the same. Forward, ever forward, straight ahead on The Way of Mission, straight into the eye of a storm of trouble if need be. Confident in our own resurrections.
We each go forward, but we don’t go it alone. Notice that Jesus said it to them all. Imagine he said, “You all take up your cross daily and follow me.” Like we say in the South, y’all take up your cross, together. Forward, ever forward, reassuring each other that we’re doing the right thing, losing and saving our lives together.