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Lent 2

Sunday, 25 February 2024
Revd Janet Spence, Chaplain

‘Take up your cross and follow me’

Lent 2

‘Take up your cross and follow me’

Today’s instruction from Jesus to the crowds to take up their cross and follow him put me in mind of a monastery I visited regularly some years ago. It was very comfortable, the food was good, the chapel was beautiful; it was an important place for me. But one thing that I struggled with was the crucifixes ... they were big, and they were everywhere, in every part of every corridor, and on every bedroom wall.

I was convinced that we aren’t called to stare at Jesus’ death all the time; that we are a resurrection people. That if we want to focus on the cross it should be an empty cross. So, a routine developed ... the first thing I did on entering my room was to take the crucifix off the wall, and carefully place Jesus-on-his-cross in my wardrobe for the duration of my stay.

Through this season of Lent, as we seek to repent and believe the Gospel; there is one question that dominates, that runs through all our Lent courses and books ... ‘What does it mean for me to be a faithful disciple of Jesus?’, and part of this is ‘what does it mean to take up my cross and follow Christ’.

Frederick Buechner, an American minister, theologian and author who died in 2022, suggests that Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness searching to understand, ‘What does it mean to be me?’ And Buechner goes on to say that during Lent we should ask ourselves, ‘What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ?’

Before we can begin to understand what it might mean to be a disciple of Christ, we need to examine Jesus’ trials and his own deepening understanding of what it meant for him to be true to who he was, to be the Messiah.

‘What did it mean for Jesus to be true to who he was, Jesus the Messiah?’, and ‘What does it mean for me to be a disciple of Jesus the Messiah, of Jesus Christ?’

These two questions are inextricably linked, and in today’s short Gospel passage Jesus addresses them both, and the answers we find are just as challenging today as they were when his disciples first heard them.

The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah, and they knew what this Messiah would look like... the Messiah was to deliver the Jews from Roman oppression. The child, Jesus, would have grown up knowing that this is who the Messiah would be.

Up until this point in Mark the disciples have associated Jesus with prophetic figures, but in v.29, immediately before today’s Gospel, Peter makes his great confession, proclaiming; ‘You are the Messiah’, and Jesus acknowledges this truth. But it seems that his and Peter’s understandings of what this means are two very different things.

Jesus, in trust, shares with them the painful truths revealed to him through his time in the desert. He shares with his closest friends his inner journey of discovery made possible through his desert trials; he shares the most tender and vulnerable truths that he has discovered about who he is and what the implications of this will be.

Any who have spent an extended time in silent retreat will know that such times can be deeply challenging, troubling, and disturbing, even whilst being powerfully grace filled. It is incredibly hard to share these deep experiences with others, and often almost impossible to express in a meaningful way.

And so here we have Jesus, sharing with the disciples what he has learned through his 40 days, and, I imagine with some trepidation, he tells them of his coming suffering, rejection, and death. And yes, he does speak of rising again after 3 days, but it seems like the disciples, by that point, had stopped hearing what he was saying.

Jesus has been tempted, by many things: food to alleviate his being famished; tempted to prove that God will save him even amidst his doubts about who he is; tempted by having power in the eyes of the world in the face of his human smallness and weakness. All of them temptations to be a different kind of Messiah from the person (and God) he is discovering that he is. And in the wilderness his response to those temptations is strong: ‘Get behind me Satan!’

So now, today, as Jesus begins to share his understanding of who he is, and the necessity that he will suffer, Peter wades in with those same temptations again.

Now Peter is surely acting out of love for Jesus – Jesus whom he has just proclaimed the Messiah. So, I imagine Peter putting his arm around Jesus, taking him aside, and explaining it to Jesus - ‘Suffering, rejection, death? No.... You are the Messiah who will reclaim David’s throne! You will rule the nations with power and might as in the days of old! You are to be crowned, to be crowned King!

Peter and the others cannot imagine a Messiah who suffers and dies, and Jesus’ sharp response defines this passage as a central, defining moment in the Gospel.

‘Get behind me Satan!’ The same temptations - power and might – have to be fought against once more. Because power and might is not Jesus’ way, the way that he came to understand through his 40 days in the wilderness.

So, having reached some understanding of Jesus’ messiahship, what might my discipleship look like?

And looking honestly at myself, what might my rebukes be to Jesus?

What are the things I do, the ways I behave, that go against the Gospel?

We could do worse than to read, and to keep reading Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy’s poem, Indifference:

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

So, let’s keep asking ourselves through this Lent ... what does it mean for me to ‘deny self, take up my cross, and follow Jesus’? What is the discipleship call that is mine, perhaps given voice within you as you hear that poem, Indifference? What are the attractive compromises I might be tempted to make? What are the acts of compassion, of justice, of peace, to which I am called?

Maybe I, personally, need to start by spending a bit of time sitting with the crucified Jesus. Not in denial of the stunning truth of Christ’s Resurrection, but at least acknowledging the hard truths, the violence, the hatred, the rejection during the life and death of Jesus the Messiah in first century Palestine.

And maybe not hiding him in the wardrobe.

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