And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34–35)
Imagine someone coming to work with a small, gold, electric chair around her neck, or sitting on the bus across from someone with a hangman’s noose on his T-shirt, or walking into your neighbor’s home to find a picture of a guillotine proudly displayed in the entryway. These would be grotesque to us, and yet, as Christians, we have become accustomed to crosses being worn as jewelry, being printed on our clothing, and even decorating our homes.
I am not opposed to these things, but I do think our familiarity with this object and sanitizing it from its original purpose has also sanitized our call from its original purpose. We have come to expect our Christian lives to be of the same golden quality as the crosses around our necks. We forget that Christ’s call to the cross is not one of comfort but one of sacrifice, not one of security but of risk, not one of saving one’s own life but giving it up for others.
The purpose of our exploring the shadow of the cross, therefore, is not to become more comfortable with the cross but rather to become less comfortable with it as we understand its nature more fully. In the scripture passages we will look at each day, we will see that they foreshadowed a servant who would provide salvation through his own suffering; they reveal that Jesus came not to condemn and conquer but to serve and die; that the Church, from its very inception, was a community of sacrifice and humility; and that throughout the ages God has lifted up the lives of those who laid them down for him. All of this, from Genesis to Revelation and from the early Church to today, happens under the shadow of the cross, reminding us that we are called to live lives of sacrifice and that, if we truly want to save our lives, we need to lose them completely to the Gospel.
For this reason, the shadow of the cross will serve as a mixed metaphor for our time together – a reminder of curse as well as blessing. At times, the shadow of the cross reminds us of the desperate state of affairs, the fallen-ness of humanity, and our own sinfulness. At other times, the shadow of the cross reminds us of God’s great love for his people, providing salvation for all who place their trust in him. At all times, however, it serves as a reminder that we are called to live under the shadow of the cross, identifying with the suffering of Christ so that we can find new life in him.
In what ways have we grown too comfortable with the cross? How do we need to be reminded of its nature as both a curse and a blessing? Where is Christ calling us to sacrifice ourselves for others?
Heavenly Father, reveal to us the true nature of your call on our lives. Give us strength for the task of sacrifice. Help us realize that true life, full life, comes from sacrificing it to you. In the powerful name of Jesus, amen.