Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:31-38
I grew up near a semi-famous landmark. The Nelsonville Cross is a white metal cross that stands on a hilltop above the historic town of Nelsonville, Ohio. The town itself is a pretty borough that has a few claims to fame. It used to be a center of mining and ceramics, of brick firing and was also the home of a small brewery. It was also the birthplace of a shoe company that eventually became the international brand, Skechers. When I was growing up, though, the town had seen better days and for the most part was only known for the large, white cross on the hill. It was visible from the main road during the day, and illuminated by a spotlight at night. It's origin was poignant: the cross was erected by a man in tribute to his wife, who had died and whom he missed terribly. The local Presbyterian pastor had assisted the man in finding land, donated as a private park by a fellow parishioner. The town helped by waiving ordinances regarding private memorials. Its prominence, and dominance, as a Christian symbol erected with public assistance is a remnant of another time in our nation's history. It's persistence because it still stands on private land.
What I remember is that it was a fixture of my life. Whenever we went through Nelsonville on our way to Columbus, Ohio and points north (mostly to visit family in Michigan), I would look for the cross. I enjoyed the night drive-bys particularly, because of the cross' prominence and with its white color and bright effacement, it could be seen for miles. I enjoyed as well looking for it on misty or dim days, because it was not always easily found in those instances. It was a sign that we were near home. It was a sign that we were almost THERE.
Here, though, is where the lesson on crosses begins. That cross was not, and never will be, Nelsonville's cross to bear. It was not, and will never be, my family's cross to bear. It was not, and never will be, my cross to bear.
And yet, Jesus tells us that if we want to be his followers, we have to be willing to take up our own cross and follow him.
So, what does my cross look like? What might yours look like? Have you thought about the cross you bear for Christ? Mind you, the cross you bear for Christ, I believe, is quite different from the many crosses we bear that point more to the powerful and person struggles of our human lives. The cross we bear for Christ is not much different from that cross on the hill in Nelsonville, albeit in a metaphorical sense for most. It is an outward and visible testimony, a witness, even as we bear it forward in devotion to our chief cross-bearer, the Christ. The cross we bear for Christ is less a burden and more that memorial/proclamation. It gives meaning to existence, it lends purpose. It qualifies our identity as both followers of Jesus and as fellow heirs of the promise...That Christ Jesus' witness on the cross breaks free from all earthly expectations of the Messiah and thus liberates him to be savior and redeemer not just of one nation, one people but of all Creation.
That invitation to take up our cross and follow him is an invitation to let go our our personal expectations of a Jesus whose message we think we can mediate or control. Peter stands out as a foil for that tendency we all have to try to mediate the impact that Jesus' choice of the cross over earthly glory and mortal success. Jesus has only just celebrated Peter as one with the sight to discern the arrival of him as the Son coming into the world, but now rejects him when Peter presumes to project his personal agenda and affections on Jesus' revelation of just what it means to be a messiah who bears a cross.
Jesus invites us, individually and as communities, to follow him. Glad tidings, indeed! He qualifies that invitation now, though, with the news that in order to follow we have to be willing to also take up our cross and follow him as he bears his own into the full embrace of human suffering, even through the gate of death and into a glory that is beyond human imagination or control.
So, the challenge awaits. What is the cross you are called to bear? How will that cross be not only your own, holy burden but also a sign and witness to the glory and love of a God who walks alongside us and whose own cross became a signal witness to the renewal of life...of Life itself?
Are you willing to not only take up that cross, but also to allow it to be that sign? That kind of faith is humbling, and illuminating to the world.
Like a cross of white steel on a hill above a small, Appalachian town.
Like a hillside now covered in crosses that were fashioned, and carried, with each, unique love of a savior who bore his own...and who also invites us to let our own stand as testament to the new life we know as his disciples, knowing the cost and the weight of the burden is only a passing thing which will fade under the greater weight of the glory and love of a God who creates, redeems and sanctifies ALL for ALL.