Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them 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."
Christianity hinges on one significant moment in time. What is it? The resurrection of Christ. Yes? We are Easter people. The story of Easter is so mesmerizing because of the dramatic shift from death into life again. In a word, the Easter story is about transformation. And in this prophetic message from Jesus prior to his own transformation, he tells us the way to experience this change of heart ourselves is to….take up our cross.
Take up our what, Jesus? The cross was supposed to be...your work. You endured that pain on our behalf, right?
Right, Jesus says. I showed the world a new truth: there can be no resurrection without the cross. And if you want to follow me, you follow me, cross and all.
That part of being Easter people is a lot harder to accept.
We are not hardwired to like suffering. The disciples are no different- they want to claim Jesus is Messiah, but they don’t want to see him in pain. That’s why Jesus is having this hard conversation. When his friends use the word Messiah to describe who he is, Jesus silences them. “Nope, Peter, not today. I’m not ready to be called Messiah- at least not publicly. To be Messiah for my people, I will suffer.” Jesus holds fast to this plan of secrecy until the moment comes, when he finds himself deep in the throes of a trial that ultimately leads to his death. That’s when he takes on the identity of Messiah.
There’s no resurrection without the cross. We find him here in Mark explaining once more to his disciples this hard reality AND inviting them to take up their crosses too. Why? Because the resurrection is totally worth it.
“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?”
It’s counterintuitive, isn’t it? Suffering leads to redemption? That just can’t be true. If this is hard to wrap your head around, I get it. I don’t want a God of love to somehow condone suffering either. Maybe that’s why he says it another way in John 12: “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”
Think of the hardest moment you’ve been through recently. Now think of what type of inner strength formed as a result of your experience? What seeds of goodness were planted in the midst of a terribly difficult season of life?
After Blaire was born, some of you know, I found myself in a season of what I now understand was post-partum depression and anxiety. It was SO hard, and I felt really really alone. I also didn’t know how to ask for what I needed. In the midst of that suffering, I couldn’t have known what seeds God was planting within me, what passions God was developing in my soul. Here’s what I can tell you: my experience of PPD/A has allowed me to connect with SO MANY other families facing the same situation- and really understand what it’s like. It’s also inspired me to look in on women who’ve just had babies much more readily (and often without invitation) than I would have otherwise. See, when you’re in the throes of PPD, your judgment can be clouded, and you don’t know how to ask for help. So now I just show up, and who knows but God just might use my cross to become someone else’s resurrection. That is my prayer, every day. This is what real change looks like- messy, illuminating, and upending.
To be transformed requires something of us- and that “something” often feels a lot like suffering. For Jesus, who assumes the role of Messiah, transforming the world meant giving of himself entirely. Completely gone from earthly existence SO THAT we humans are no longer confined to a mere human reality, but can be “transformed into Christ’s likeness.” (2 Cor. 3)
That’s the good news- we have the potential to be transformed even in the midst of the suffering. This idea flies in the face of so much messaging around us. In every commercial and advertisement we see, we are sold a story that beauty matters most, that social status will give us joy, or maybe the worst of all: that comfort is our ultimate goal. Millions of products exist to give us what we seek most: less pain, an easier cross to bear. My lumbar support pillow promises me a pain-free existence, and I’m glad for that.
But if I sought only comfort all my life, I would have NEVER birthed a child. I would have never experienced PPD; and I would have never been changed by these difficult situations, transformed by taking up my cross and living for someone else. You don’t have to have a child to know what it is to live for someone else. That IS in our DNA- a desire to be connected, to engage lives of purpose, to be the kind of seed that bears fruit. I wonder what you might lift as a cross of your own that began in suffering and resulted in a type of transformation? These are the stories we must share, because this is the stuff of faith, the reason we follow Christ...at our core we need to believe that suffering will NOT have the final say. And we take eternal solace in the truth that we can do only in part what Christ did once and for all: take up his cross for the sake of redeeming you, me, the world.
So don’t be ashamed of your cross. Maybe it’s mental illness, maybe it’s a horrific loss, maybe it’s a moment of deep shame. Whatever your cross might be, bear it in faith that God just might be up to something good after all. Maybe God will even use your cross to become someone else’s resurrection. May it be so. Amen!
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Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.