And that’s the thing. Whether we are at a remote retreat getting spiritually charged, or somewhere on a fishing vacation, or simply trudging through our everyday scenes, the call is always there. Because Jesus has given us life by his cross, we are called to give up our lives, in some way everyday so that others might live. But we don’t want to do that. We want to do our own thing, to live for ourselves, to make our own way and reap some benefit for ourselves.
But the question is continually slapped down before us: “What does our faith have to do with our life?” As Mark tells the story, Jesus speaks openly about what is going to happen to him once they reach Jerusalem. Shocked by what he has heard, Peter pulls Jesus to one side and begins to rebuke him. We can only imagine what the disciple said. “How can you say that? Why would you say that? Do you think that anybody wants to hear that sort of thing from you? We thought it would be a march toward victory, but now you’re saying it’s a funeral procession? Who else will follow you, if you tell them that?”
Notice, however, that in order to say those things, Peter took Jesus aside. That is, he literally took Jesus out of the place he had been standing and pulled him to the edge, out of his position at the center and off to the side where he could deal easily with him.
Jesus’ response is to put Peter back in his place and to call the crowd with the disciples around him once more. What is his lesson? No disciple can put anything in Jesus’ place, not even their love for him or for his safety. No follower, not even Peter, can drag Jesus out of the center. Our place may change, nearer or farther, as our faith grows and develops but Jesus remains central and offers this instruction to help us remember. Take up your cross and follow him.
We are being disciple by his words about the cross. The well may run dry if the source is neglected. Part of the reason for our worship is to be conditioned by the gospel so that the gospel may continue to bless the world. We are in disciple boot camp; we are in training. So we let him lead us to the source of life itself. That source, Jesus says, is in the cross: “The Son of Man must suffer and die.”
Must; the Greek word literally translates “it is necessary.” There is no other way for God to enter our lives and reshape them, reenergize them, and redeem them. The Son of Man must suffer and die so that we may see God. The cross is central to God’s plan. If we are to be delivered from suffering, he must suffer with us and for us. If we are to be rescued from sin and death, e must endure the penalty for sin and death. There is no other way than the way of the cross.
We must remember that in our baptism we have been baptized into that way of the cross with Jesus. As the baptismal liturgy in the old red Service Book and Hymnal read, “Receive the sign of the holy cross, in token that henceforth you shall know the Lord, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.”
He must suffer and die because the stakes are so high. What is at stake? Life itself, says Jesus. Jesus did not come to make life a bit more bearable, to ease the pain a little, or to give us that warm, fuzzy, loving feeling we all want. He came to give us so much more. He came to give us life, a life that cannot be crushed by sin, by our guilt, or ended by death.
We find life by following Jesus, and he went to the cross. We take up his cross and it is then that we know what it is to be alive. The way to life for all of us, Jesus says, is through the cross. “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.” This is not an option, not a way; it is the only way.
Even though we have time and time again made the commitment to follow Jesus, if not in the way of the cross, at least trying to live with compassion, we have failed again and again. We have broken or commitments, even those that are most deeply cherished. But God does not break his commitment to us. God has made an everlasting commitment to us and to the world: to be our God. And he keeps that commitment, even if it means the cross.
Maybe that’s why this passion prediction and call to follow in Jesus’ way comes so early in Lent. To help us face the reality of our self-serving natures, to once again give US the forgiveness of the cross, and to call us back on the Jesus journey instead of our own. Amen.