“If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” These words of Jesus set the cross at the heart of Christian life. In baptism we were, in the words of St Paul, baptised into his death. We were buried with him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead we, too, might walk in newness of life.
It is hardly surprising that it takes a lifetime to understand what it means to die and rise with Christ. Initially, and somewhat superficially, we tend to identify our crosses with life’s tragedies and disappointments. These, we say, are the crosses that we
It is undoubtedly true that suffering patiently borne conforms us more closely to Christ. The sharing in Christ’s death, however, goes far beyond the patience with which we bear life’s reverses. To take up the cross of Christ, to die with him, goes to the heart of what we are, and how we perceive ourselves.
We see this in the ministry of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah had been called by God as a prophet and, after initial hesitation, had accepted God’s call. His became a thankless task. His words fell on barren ground. The more he called a headstrong people to repentance, the more their resistance turned to violence and rejection.
Jeremiah gave full vent to the feelings we so often experience in the face of adversity. “I am a daily laughing stock, everybody’s butt. The word of the Lord has meant for me insult and derision all day long.” Resentment finds fertile ground in our disappointments, and Jeremiah was no exception: “You seduced me Lord and I have let myself be seduced. You have overpowered me.”
It was hardly surprising that Jeremiah was tempted to speak God’s Word no more. His feelings were understandable, but if we are fully to share in the death of Christ we, like Jeremiah, must die to them. Jeremiah spoke of a fire burning in his heart, imprisoned in his bones. This fire, this presence of God within him, was greater than any clinging to life and survival. Our deepest self wants to hold on to what we have become. Jeremiah surrendered his life and his feelings to the Word of God. Something died within him, and in so doing he was raised up as a fire burning at the heart of God’s people.
Jesus confronted his disciples with the same mystery as his thoughts turned to the Passion that awaited him in Jerusalem. “Jesus began to make it clear to his disciples that he was destined to go to Jerusalem and suffer grievously, to be put to death and to rise on the third day.”
We speak so easily of the Cross, and yet we, like Peter, are ill prepared for its reality. “Peter started to remonstrate with him: heaven preserve you Lord, this must not happen to you.”
Without any conscious realisation, Peter was also saying: “This must not happen to me.” To accept the death of Christ he would have to accept in himself the death of any lingering and self-indulgent understanding of what it was to become a disciple of his Lord. It was this lingering selfishness that Christ rebuked: “Get behind me Satan, because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.”
The greatest and the most inescapable cross that all must bear lies deep within us. Throughout a lifetime we learn that our ways are not always God’s, our thoughts not always his. To accept this truth about ourselves is to die with Christ, to let go of self so as to be raised up in the mind of Christ Jesus.