Carrying the Cross
September 17, 2006
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 8:27–8:38
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
"Carrying the cross"
I have a cross. I received this cross as a gift last weekend, actually, at my installation service here at St. John's. It's not a large cross, nor is it small. It is not ugly - rather, it seems very calming. It has a Central-American look to its design, probably because it was made in El Salvador, a country whose name is the Spanish word for "the savior." People all over the world have crosses. Some are huge, like the one in Effingham, IL, which I used to pass when driving east from St. Louis to Ft. Wayne - almost 200 feet high as it stands just off the interstate where travelers can't miss it. Some are much smaller, like the one on the ring that I often wear. We've got a pretty impressive one right here in our sanctuary, right above the altar. But why do we have crosses at all?
In the second half of our Gospel reading today, Jesus announced to the crowd and his disciples that those who would follow him must "take up their cross." But he wasn't telling the people to go out and buy jewelry or decorations, or to build monuments. Really, this was just kind of an odd thing to say. A cross? Only a condemned criminal would be carrying a cross: that was part of the death sentence, when the rulers really wanted to add insult to injury. The man carrying a cross is a marked man. All this talk of death, and it's not even the Lenten season yet!
But Jesus knows what's coming. In the first half of this section of our reading, Mark notes that Jesus tells his disciples plainly what was to come. The world wanted to kill Jesus, for it was incompatible with the kingdom that he would bring. Jesus was a marked man. And he calls us to be, too. When Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him, it's a death sentence, as far as the world is concerned. In Baptism, we are linked to Christ in his death - we are dead, to the world. We can no longer live the life that we lived before Jesus called us to Himself, because we are now incompatible with this world.
Skylar Elaine has a cross. Last evening, a cross was put upon that little child. She was sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. She is now a marked person. The world and the devil are after her, and they will do their best to call her away from God. They seek to return her to slavery to sin and self-centeredness. And they will continue to try for the rest of her life. They seek to do the same to us: we are marked men and women, because each of us carries a cross.
Even though the world is against us, we can have hope. We can have hope because Baptism has linked all of us, Skylar Elaine included, to Jesus in his resurrection. New life. Life that will not end for Skylar or for us, even after our bodies have worn out and we rest in Christ, awaiting the Last Day and the resurrection of the dead.
This is the most exciting news since the beginning of time! And the world needs to hear this Good News. There are people - not just strangers at the bus stop, but coworkers, friends, and even family members - who do not know this Jesus: who he is and what he has done and still does for us. A part of carrying our cross is carrying it to other people and sharing its message. Sharing the free gift that God has given us in His Son. Sharing the hope that we have in Christ: that even though the devil and the forces of the world would see us as outsiders and enemies, the One who stands with us, the One who calls us to carry our cross, is stronger.
So we have a cross in our sanctuary. In the Baptismal rite, the sign of the cross was made over Skylar Elaine. The pastor makes the sign of the cross over the people in the Benediction and over the elements during the Words of Institution in the Lord's Supper. You may notice others making the sign of the cross over themselves at various points in the liturgy. We do this to remember. We remember that Jesus called us, too, to himself in Baptism. When you wake up in the morning, make the sign of the cross over yourself and remember that you are dead to the world, sin, and the devil. Remember that you have been raised to new life, every day. Remember the hope that we now share as a people under the cross.
We have hope, because we have a cross.
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, the Christ of God, you came down from heaven to be among us, living as a man, calling us your brothers and sisters. You took up your cross and did not turn from the task set before you, suffering death in our place. But death could not hold you, and through your work on the cross we know have new life. Pour out your Spirit upon us now, that we might boldly share this Good News with the world. In Your Holy Name, Amen.