I take, O cross, your shadow for my abiding place
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 8:31–9:1
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“I take, O cross, your shadow for my abiding place”
Daylight Saving Time is upon us. I’ve heard from a number of people who don’t like it at all. They say that it’s a failed experiment in energy conservation, which now just throws off their schedules twice each year. It’s definitely darker when you need to get up early in the morning – especially that first Sunday when you have to “spring ahead.” There are folks on the other side of the fence who enjoy the shift, though, because it gives them more hours of sunlight in the evening when they’re returning home from work and school. They might even get to spend some time outside if the weather’s nice enough. While it’s not yet two weeks since the time change, I feel like the days are different, especially on those sunny days when it feels like spring is actually arriving. The truth is, though, that Daylight Saving Time doesn’t really change anything except your perspective. It doesn’t modify the earth’s rotation around the sun – the longer days are dawning without the help of any federal standards. It’s your experience that’s different.
As you headed to the church this evening, you might have gotten to see the sun dropping down on the western horizon. With all the trees that we have around here, sunsets produce a lot of shadows. Standing in one of those shadows, you can see the brilliant outline of the sun’s rays lighting the tree’s silhouette. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow.
In only a few months’ time, those trees are going to be more than scenic additions to the landscape. If you’re working or playing outside on a hot northern Virginia day, you’ll probably going to be glad to find a tree where you can go for some shade. That shade will be a welcome relief, a shelter and place of rest from being exposed under the glaring summer sun.
This is the last time this Lenten season in which we’ll gather for our regular midweek service, singing, “Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand.” We keep looking to the cross, the place where Jesus gave up his life for ours. Standing in the shadow of the cross isn’t a happy place, and it’s not meant to be. It’s a reminder of the sin in each of our lives, sin which we drag along from day to day. It’s a reminder of how the world rejected Jesus because we have cared more about our will being done than about God’s. But even more than that, the cross is a reminder of what God has done for you and for me to give us unholy people shelter against the blinding light of His perfect holiness.
Jesus plainly tells Peter and the rest of the disciples what was going to be happening to him. He was going to the cross that was firmly in his view, but that wouldn’t be his final destination. Beyond that, he would rise again. For Jesus’ disciples – people like you and me – we have to see the cross to see the shadow cast by the light coming from what’s beyond it. The brighter the light, the deeper the shadow. That’s the way it is with those trees on the western horizon and the way it is for us in our sin. The more you realize how fall you’ve fallen short of perfection in your actions, your speech, and even your thoughts, the more you’ll see how much God has loved you in Jesus taking on all your sin. The cross becomes black as the light of God shines around it, casting the shadow in which you can live.
Living – abiding – in the shadow of the cross changes your perspective. Jesus told the people that anyone who would follow him would have to take up their own cross. Part of carrying your cross as a Christian is the ongoing battle with the sin that wants to run your life away from God. It’s calling you to look every which way but at the cross. It’ll tell you that you can’t find relief there. It might even have you thinking that you’re so bad that you only deserve darkness. But that light that frames the cross is light that drives darkness away.
Earlier in this service, did you hear it when we sang, “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of his face”? In the shadow of the cross, there is light. The sunshine that breaks through the darkness and brings you hope is the sunshine of God’s own face, Jesus. Through Jesus, you get to see God! Standing in the shadow of the cross and looking at the light that frames it, you have the picture of Jesus death and resurrection as he told his disciples – but you also have a picture of your death and resurrection. To see the life that Jesus brings, see the cross.
Tonight, Jesus calls you to change the way that you look at your life. From the world’s perspective, imitating Christ is a burden – and a hard one, at that. But consider instead the perspective that Jesus offers: following him leads to life, life which doesn’t evaporate in the light of God’s holiness, life which death cannot destroy. Trying to keep hold of a life without him, on the other hand, is death. When you’ve been holding on so long to the promises that worldly things offer, you fail to notice that they’re the burdens dragging you down. Life without the cross of Christ eats away at your soul and leaves you dead, inside and out. Following Jesus and carrying your cross, though, you will have the victory over sin that Jesus won for you.
Shadows and shades aren’t permanent fixtures. They change with the light. But living in the shadow of the cross, under the sunshine of God’s face, Jesus, we have a home in this world – and life in the next.
More in Lenten midweek 2013: Beneath the Cross of Jesus
March 13, 2013From my contrite heart, with tears
February 27, 2013The Shadow of a Mighty Rock within a Weary Land
February 20, 2013Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand