Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
The English word, paradox, means something that is true, even though you wouldn’t think it could be true. Paradox is something that would be contrary to normal belief. The word has Greek origins: para+doxa. Doxa means “glory.” (We get our word “doxology” from the same root.) Doxa is glory. Para means “other.” Other glory; glory in a way other than we would have expected. When we hear paradox on Jesus’ lips, he’s talking about the glory of God being revealed in a way other than what we might have imagined. That’s paradox. And paradox seems to roll off Jesus’ lips. He has many one liners: “whoever would be first must be last…” about our needing to be “born again…,” about our “growing up to become children…,” about “losing our life if we want to save it” And, the most shocking paradox of all – what we hear in the Gospels: “if any want to be followers of me… they must take up their cross and follow me.”
If only we could get out from under the cross, but it seems to hang over us all the time. Christianity would seem so much nicer and neater if we could take just the second half of Jesus’ invitation. If we could say, “Okay, Jesus, I’m willing to follow you, but you can keep the cross to yourself, thank you. I would just as soon not take up my cross, but simply follow you.” But that does not seem to be Jesus’ bargain. He says that if we want to be his disciple, we must “take up our–not his cross but our cross – and follow him.[i] If only we could get around the cross… but it seems to be everywhere.
If only the archetypal symbol which we wore around our necks and stained into our church windows and placed behind the altar could be something other than the cross. If only the chief Christian symbol were something else, say, a tree of life, reminiscent of the garden of Eden, it would so much more pleasant and less troubling. Or if only the chief Christian symbol, our archetypal image, were, say, light, transfiguring light, or maybe a scene from mountain top. If only our chief symbol were a rainbow, or the song of muses, or a mighty wave of the sea, or a great rock, or a temple or a totem or a place of Mecca. But it’s not. The chief Christian symbol, on which everything else hangs, is the cross, the rather off-putting contradiction of the cross. “If you want to be my disciples,” says Jesus to all of us, “you must “take up your cross and follow me.” And Jesus goes on to say, “For 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.” Someone has said that the Gospel, the good news, is bad news before it is good news. And I would call this some of the bad news – at least the tough news of the Gospel.
So what is it “to take up our cross”? I don’t think we have to go out and look for it. I think it’s probably already there, in all of our lives. The cross, for each of us, is not some kind of exalted thing. The cross is some kind of lowly, humbling thing in our lives, something which we would probably never have chosen to be there, but also something from which we cannot escape. So where is the cross for you? Or, what is the cross for you? I’ll ask the question in very down-to-earth terms: What is killing you right now? What is consuming the life right out of you, because that may well be the invitation of the cross for you?
Jesus says, “Come, follow me.” And the way he goes, his truth, his life goes via the cross.[ii] I don’t think we’ve got to go looking for the cross; the cross has a way of finding us, and we either trip over it, or we must pick it up. And if you understand just now what it is to have been handed a cross, to be carrying a heavy cross, or to be nailed to a cross, and it is undeniable and unavoidable and inescapable, then do it. Surrender to it. Take up your cross and take Jesus at his word: wait for Jesus or wait with Jesus to discover the life that he promises comes through the cross, the paradoxical glory of the cross that he does not spare us of, but rather shares with us. Our theology hangs on this paradox.
[i] This invitation of Jesus is consistent in the three Synoptic Gospels: Matthew 10:38, 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23.
[ii] John 14:6.
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