From this Sunday’s sermon (8-31-14) …. I take notice of crosses that I see people wearing, and (of course) I wonder why they wear them. So, one day this past week I mustered up the courage, while picking up a few things at the grocery store, to ask 5 people why they have a cross hanging from their neck; they were easy to find. With Labor Day approaching, perhaps folks looking forward to one last cookout, the store was quite busy.
Here are their answers:
It belonged to my mother and it makes me feel closer to her when I wear it.
My husband gave it to me for my birthday, but I really wanted a new car.
I don’t know, I just wear it all the time.
Mind your own business! (insert 2 expletive words describing one’s back side)
Because it has diamonds on it and I love diamonds; see?
I wondered what would have happened if I told them that the cross could actually still be considered what it was in Jesus’ day – a contraption used to torture criminals and other trouble makers to death – people were nailed to it and left to die; their legs broken so if they managed to get down from their cross they could not run away. If a wooden cross was not handy, or could not be constructed, a nearby tree would do just fine. A slow death was the purpose of hanging from one from a cross; often coming from being pecked to death by large birds. “So, in a way, wearing a cross around your neck is sort of like wearing a miniature hangman’s noose or guillotine around it,” I could have said. But I did not go that far in my little “carry your cross” fact finding mission. I politely thanked them for their answers and made my way to the self-checkout counter (quickly) and got out of there.
Overtime, I began to hesitate, then just move on, when I came across Jesus’ “Take up your cross, deny yourself, if you want to become one of my followers,” teaching found in Matthew’s gospel (16.24) All too often, I fear people hear Jesus saying, “Unless you’re willing to suffer and die, you can’t come along and be with me.” I don’t believe he meant for us (or the disciples) to understand what he was saying as some sort of an invitation to risk our lives for him. And above that, we all have some sort of “cross we assume we must bear,” poor health, addiction, depression, aging, the pressures of being a teenager, single mom, single dad, kids of split apart parents, middle aged, just plain old and falling apart, feeling unloved, not so good marriages – you know what I mean. I also fear we associate what Jesus is saying here with an understanding that these things that bear down on us are “our cross in life,” and we are supposed to just shoulder the weight and drag it along with us until we are dead, or we are not “followers of Christ.” Not so.