Take Up Your cross

Take Up Your Cross

     Years ago we had a weekend youth retreat at Camp Buc.  We’d leave just before suppertime and would stop at a restaurant on the way.  I was driving our only church bus at the time but eight other vans and cars with youth and counselors were behind me.  We pulled into the restaurant and the youth jumped up to get off and get in line, but I had them wait a minute.  I pulled out a 10”x17” wood cross.  I told them there were several rules for the weekend and they had to share the rules with everyone else in the other vehicles.  First rule was that the cross could not be refused.  So if someone handed it to you, you had to accept it.  The second rule was that it could not be laid down all weekend.  The third rule was that it was to be given back to me at night time after the last person was in bed.  And lastly, you couldn’t take it from someone.  You could hear the mumbling as I asked them if they understood and they said yes, and of course, they were chomping at the bits to get off the bus to get in line to eat.  So I handed the cross to one of them and opened the bus door (and I immediately got out of the bus from my side).

     The cross was like a hot potato – the last youth to get off the bus was stuck with carrying it into the restaurant.  Others from the other vehicles were curious but when told the rules by the youth who had first received it, tried to move away from it so they wouldn’t have to hold it.  And other patrons in the restaurant, of course, were watching what was happening.

     Last week’s meditation referenced one of Jesus’ teachings to His disciples from Mark 8:34:

            “If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

     The cross, a symbol of shame and death upon which Jesus denied Himself, even His life, for our sins so that we might have eternal life, is our symbol of hope and the promise of God’s love which has no end.  Yet Jesus said something else about life in John 10:10:

            “I have come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.”

     We may think of abundant life as the good life – a life with no worries, no problems, no storms, living in our own comfort zone and having everything we need.  With Jesus, our life perspective changes from what we need to Who we need.  With Jesus we have an abundance of the things that money cannot buy – peace, joy, love, mercy, grace, etc. – even in the midst of worries, problems, and storms.  He holds nothing back from us that is good, giving to us generously to the fullest measure and beyond to overflowing beyond imagination.

     Being a Christ-follower is more than just being a believer.  To deny oneself is to give Christ first place in our lives; to be mindful that He is ever-present with us; to open ourselves for Him to work through us; to love as He did, putting the best interests of others ahead of our own.  It might bring discomfort, dis-ease, inconvenience, and a stretching of or even stepping out of our comfort zone.  And it might change our perspective, instead of waiting for others in need to come to us for help, we might watch for, listen for, and search for ways to reach out and help others.

     The youth were definitely experiencing something out of their comfort zone that weekend.  At the restaurant, some were teased and laughed at as they tried to avoid being near the cross, let alone taking it. Others were ridiculed and had fingers pointed at them, as if it were a jail sentence.  At the camp, some had trouble carrying the cross as they carried their luggage and sleeping bags to the cabins.  For some, having to carry that cross got in the way of fully participating in the sessions or free time activities.

     As the weekend progressed and they reflected on the talks, the songs, and the exercises that reinforced the lessons, a change began to happen.  The youth’s countenances changed as they received the cross; it became less of a hot potato and some began to welcome it when it was given to them; some were holding it much longer than before; some began keeping an eye on it not to avoid it, but to see if they would have the opportunity to have a turn holding it.  They began to let go of their pride in trying to avoid it and learned to humble themselves when receiving it.  By Sunday morning’s session, some, though the rule was that they could not take it from another, would position themselves in hopes of receiving it.  They were ready to take up their cross.

     Mindful that the scripture is not referring to our carrying of a physical cross, the cross does change us from within.  Perhaps in the beginning we have the fear of what it will cost us to carry it – shame, ridicule, being misunderstood, getting out of our comfort zone, etc.

     Most of us will ask the question, “what is it going to cost me to take up my cross” and we fret about what we might lose.  Perhaps the greater and more important question is “what is it costing me to not take up my cross?”  “What am I losing if I do not take up my cross?”

     May we recognize our cross each and every day.  May we be ready to take it up, regardless of the cost, regardless of the loss.  May we be content to deny ourselves, to put Christ and others first, and to know that whatever we receive, if anything, in return, will be greater than anything we can imagine.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.