Mark 8: 31-end
Every single day most of us make decisions without giving it a second thought:
- we decide what time to get out of bed
- what we eat for breakfast, is it cereal, toast,
a full English, or do we skip it completely?
- we decide what we are going to wear.
And then what?
A lot has changed in the past year and many of the decisions that we made in the past has gone. Where to go, who to see, what to do…the coronavirus, along with government restrictions, has put paid to that for now!
Its been a tough year and I don’t know about you but I’m more than ready to see my family, to hug my grandchildren, to meet friends for coffee, have a meal out, visit people in their homes, to go on holiday even! I’m sure that each one of you have your list too?
So, with the vaccine showing such positive results, it was with baited breath that I tuned in to listen to what Boris Johnson had to say on Monday when he set out his three-stage plan to bring the country out of lockdown.
Did you watch it live too? What did you think? Is Boris moving fast enough for you? Or maybe too fast? Did you agree with his plans? Did you like what he said?
It isn’t easy, is it? Having to listen to the things that we don’t really want to hear? Every day for months now, we’ve been given the coronavirus statistics, the number of people testing positive, the number in hospital…the number of deaths. Even now, a year down the line, it is hard to take in.
We’ve just heard the account from Mark’s gospel where Jesus told his disciples things that they didn’t want to hear…that he was going to suffer, be rejected and then killed.
For Peter, his immediate reaction was ‘No way!’ That couldn’t be right. Hadn’t he just admitted to being the Messiah? Surely, it couldn’t be right to end the way that Jesus was describing. I mean, if he was really the Messiah, then he could make things right, Perform a miracle or two! He knew he could do it. He’d seen it with his own eyes.
I think that we all have a bit of Peter in us and want a God who can save us from dealing with the harsh realities of the world that surrounds us…poverty, illness, violence, war, famine…world-wide pandemic!
Jesus leaving Peter and the disciples just as things were getting interesting wasn’t part of Peter’s plan and he wasn’t going to sit back and just accept what Jesus was saying.
Jesus’ reaction to Peter is hard for us to understand in this day and age and seems quite harsh. As if what he had just told them wasn’t bad enough, Jesus goes on to tell them that to become one of his followers they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. That put a completely different slant on things and suddenly their commitment to their leader takes a turn for the worse.
It had massive implications because taking up their cross meant death…a slow, agonizing cruel death. Crucifixion was the Roman form of execution and a death of shame for criminals. To think that their friend and leader or even worse…themselves might face that type of death was unthinkable.
When Jesus was telling his disciples what would happen, they only picked up on the negative. They only heard the bit about death and they didn’t pick up on the bit about ‘rising again after three days’. I mean, why would they? It was way beyond their capacity to understand. I can relate to that!
Jesus went on to tell his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. So, what does it mean to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus?
In Jesus’ time, it literally meant the threat of being nailed to a cross in punishment and left to die. For us, in a modern western society, thankfully, it doesn’t mean crucifixion. To take up your cross can mean many things. Most of us at some time or other have had, what we may consider, a cross to bear. It might be in the form of illness or disability …of addiction maybe…an unhappy family life, bereavement…and much more…
The cross is the very heart of our Christian faith. We were signed with its sign at our baptism. Many of us wear a cross around our necks. Some of us may have a small holding cross to help us pray, or we might even sign ourselves with the sign of the cross. None of us can know what crosses we will be expected to bear in the days, months or even years ahead. What we do know is that Jesus bore his cross for each one of us.
Lent is a season when we try to make that extra effort to travel that road with him to the cross. Its not an easy journey and the temptation is to skip Lent and especially Holy week and move straight on to Easter, because the pain and suffering is too much to bear. And because we know the end of the story, we tend to jump ahead to the truth that he did, in fact, rise again. But to do that is to weaken the impact of Jesus’ words and actions.
Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
He wasn’t talking about us all living lives of constant self-denial, of fasting or living lives of abstinence. He was talking about saying yes to God, of making a decision to follow him…wherever that might lead.
It isn’t one of those little decisions that we make each day, like what to eat or what to wear, it is a massive decision and one that changes the direction of our lives. It’s a decision that only we can make. It doesn’t depend of latest government plans to lift lockdown, or the most up to date list of restrictions,
it isn’t part of a three-stage plan, dependent upon dates or data, it is about listening to your heart and responding to God’s love. It is saying YES to God and it has much bigger consequences than any other decision we will ever make.
Decisions, decisions, decisions ……human or divine?
The choice is ours! Amen
Rev Julie Clarkson