“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
One day not too long ago, a friend and I were at a department store looking for a birthday gift for when we passed by the jewelry section. It had been a while since I had been past jewelry racks, or, admittedly, even out shopping for gifts in a store at all, and I was struck by how many things there are that you can buy. Earrings that look like fruit, or emojis, or unicorns, or little animals. Hoops, or dangles, or gemstones…bracelets of every color; silver or rose gold; necklaces with charms and pendants…the racks just went on and on and on. As we wandered through, looking at everything and sharing our opinions on what we liked best, we came to a gigantic rack filled top to bottom with jewelry made in the shape of a Cross.
Now you might think, as a pastor, that I would be delighted to see so many options for Crosses, but to tell you the truth, I felt….rather startled. I thought of my own Cross jewelry at home—-a silver and gold Cross that my aunt had made for me for my ordination; a small simple silver Cross that Frank gave me for my birthday one year; Abby’s tiny heart with a Cross inside it that my mother bought for her baptism….I suppose I knew that one had to have a place at which to buy those Crosses, but it never occurred to me that there were racks of Crosses two aisles down from the shoe department and next to the makeup counter at Macy’s. Giant Crosses that had to be three inches long; crystal-encrusted Cross necklaces; earrings studded with artificial gems….I wanted to feel happy that a symbol that is so important to me was there for all to see and for all to think about the sacrifice of Jesus, but I had a strange feeling, seeing them there. My friend must have seen me looking at them with an odd look on my face, because she said, “That’s the fashion now, everyone wears them. Cross jewelry is the thing, even if people don’t go to church or know anything about Jesus.”
That experience has stuck in my mind, and I’ve turned it over again many times, trying to decide what I think about it all. On the one hand, I love to see Christian symbols in the secular world….the message that God’s Spirit is alive in so many places and that those images serve to remind people about the Living Word. But on the other hand, I shudder to think about something as central and pivotal as the Cross being used as little more than a fashion statement. Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are far more important than to be relegated to whim and vanity. As Christians, when we wear something with the Cross, we do so to remind ourselves of whose we are…. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”, Jesus tells us. That doesn’t seem like a command that can be contained in a brightly-colored bauble or oversized glittery Cross necklace. The Cross stands for humility, and justice, and salvation, not for a fashion statement.
Our symbol this morning is the Cross, and all of the things that the Cross represents to us as individuals and as disciples in community with one another. How do we define our cross? What does Jesus want us to do when he tells us to take ours up and follow him?
It’s a life-changing command. Worthy of our deep thought and attention. We can’t be in God’s grip and in the grip of seeking status and power in the secular world. It’s one or the other. Both together just doesn’t work. Because the Cross means denial and serving others and fighting for justice; not indulgence, and self-serving behavior, and turning a blind eye on the “least of these”. The Cross means something real….it is transformational.
It concerns me that people might be going around, wearing a Cross, and still speaking hurtful words or laughing at another’s misfortune or making fun of someone. It concerns me that people might be going around, wearing a Cross, and cheating or lying or stealing from another. It concerns me, because while I want the image of the Cross to stay relevant in a post-Christian world, I do not want the Cross to fall victim to a passing fad or capricious fancy. That is the symbol of my salvation. And I want it to remain so.
I want the wearers of the Cross to continue to remember themselves as peacemakers; as spirit-sharers; as kind, and gentle, and generous; as patient and good and joyful. As seeking justice and speaking truth to power. As people of faith.
We are at a crossroads, here, along our Lenten journey. Which way are you going to turn? How are you going to take up your cross and follow Jesus? It’s at one and the same time a terrible and beautiful instruction…we walk around the Cross because we are afraid. Afraid of what it means to pick it up. Afraid of what it means to follow Him through the dusty streets onto the hill at Calvary. We are at a crossroads. We have big decisions to make about how we are going to live as people of Lent. About how we are going to live in a practical and active way as people who bring justice and mercy to the forefront of every decision. Sure, it is a lot easier to wear the symbol and ignore its meaning, but that doesn’t mean that its meaning disappears from view.
You have the choice to view the crossroads as a difficult challenge, faced with myriad options and not knowing which way to turn. You have the choice to follow the crowd on whatever path they choose and reassure yourself that it is the right one. The crossroads *can* feel like a churning whirlpool of decision-making, like a place of unrest and confusion. It’s natural that we should want to move on—to trade our insecurity for security.
But there is something important to be found at the crossroads. Something we have trouble seeing when we just view it as an “X” on our map of life…when we shift our vision—just slightly, even—we can see that the crucial intersections of our lives are marked, not by an “X”, but by the Cross. There is a Cross at the crossroads. Christ dwells there.
We have to decide who we serve. And when the pressures of life pull us off the path, it’s a decision we may have to face again and again. The siren song of the world will inevitably grow louder and we will occasionally forget whose call we are answering. The Cross at the Crossroads will remind us anew. Which way are you headed? This season of penitence and prayer provides the perfect opportunity for us to ask ourselves that very question…and to listen in the stillness for the answer. There is a Cross at the Crossroads.
Let us pray, “Lord Jesus, you denied yourself, took up the cross, and journeyed all the way to crucifixion in Jerusalem. We confess that we resist self-denial, we refuse to take up the cross that requires sacrificial love, we fail to follow when your way challenges our comfort and safety. During this season of repentance and reflection, help us to more closely, more willingly, more nearly imitate you. Amen.”