“Take up your cross and follow me.” —Luke 9:23
Easter is coming. All around the world followers of Jesus will be celebrating his resurrection and the good news of the gospel. Easter dresses. Easter Sunday sermons. Easter baskets for the kids. Easter crosses. Easter hope.
I personally love Easter. I love the story of life emerging from death. Joy coming from someone. Beauty from ashes. God, alive.
But I also believe wholeheartedly that we like to focus on “Sunday” of the Jesus story and God’s triumph over death and want to forget “Friday’s” suffering death on the cross and “Saturday’s” grief over the deep loss of all they hoped for.
I’m always reminded we can’t have Sunday without Friday.
We can’t have new life without death.
We can’t have joy without sorrow.
Friday represents the path that most of us don’t want to take—pain, suffering, raw and scary vulnerability.
Early on in my Christian experience I was taught that the life of a Christian was filled with only the good. That if we believed enough, prayed enough, asked for forgiveness enough, we’d always feel “filled up in the Lord” and “in God’s will.”
I’m not dismissing the power of those things, but I do believe a lot of this teaching have led us down a path that wasn’t really what Jesus had in mind.
When he told his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him, I don’t think he meant, “So now you can separate yourself from the world and worry about your own spiritual growth.”
He meant, “The way to life is to be people of sacrifice because that’s what my cross represents.”
I also don’t think he meant sacrifice in the way a lot of us have interpreted it—following the law, adhering to “religion,” making sure the outside of our cups are clean.
No, the way of sacrifice is messy, bloody, hard, unpredictable, and oh so beautiful, because it involves being all tangled up with people.
The way of the cross is the path of pain—our own pain and the pain of others.
Recognizing our own pain is about getting in touch with our unique messy human story, taking down our guard and becoming more honest about our relationship with God, others, and ourselves in spaces and places that can hold it. It’s about risking being misunderstood and making ourselves vulnerable even when we don’t want to.
The way of the cross is entering into the pain of others, too. The more we are in touch with our own pain, the easier it is to welcome others’ pain. It’s interesting how that works, and I’m constantly reminded how all roads lead to my own vulnerability first (the part I’d truly like to skip over!)
Entering the pain of others is holding space for others’ raw, messy stories that are often hidden under the surface.
It’s engaging the realities of injustice and oppression with our heart and our feet and not just our head. It’s caring when no one else does.
It’s living in the middle of the story where there’s not a happy ending and might not ever be this side of heaven.
It’s willingly sacrificing what feels comfortable and messes with our time and conveniences.
I will be honest—the way of the cross sounds good in theory. When it’s tied up in a bow and presented in a three-point sermon it can make us nod our head and say, “We’re in.” But so many times once we’re in on real life, it’s easy to look for an exit strategy and any way to not have to risk ourselves too much.
The way of sacrifice is not supposed to inspire shame and feelings of “not working hard enough for God” or “not caring enough for people.” Those are all the crazy things that rattle around in our head that can really mess with our freedom. No, sacrifice doesn’t come from have to’s.
Sacrifice comes from freedom to love because we are first loved by God. It comes from “compelled to” not “have to,” and most of all it comes from the wild wind of the Holy Spirit, our advocate and friend, reminding us that the ways of Jesus are not the ways of the world. A life of descent will always be harder, but richer, too.
The cross hurts.
The cross heals.
SheLovelys, now more than ever, the world is in desperate need of pain-holders and people willing to pick up their cross and sacrifice their pride, ego and comfort for a taste of heaven on earth. May we share the load together, knowing that even though taking up our cross hurts, it also heals.