Take Up Thy Cross

Gospel of Mark. 8:31-38. 

 ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Intro. Alexey Vanalny and Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia professes to be a Russian Orthodox Christian but many may wonder if his actions go with his profession of faith. In contrast Alexey Navalny who recently died in prison was originally a militant atheist who converted to a Christian faith and said his new found faith made circumstances easier for him.

 There are fewer dilemmas in my life, because there is a book in which, in general, it is more or less clearly written what action to take in every situation.”

In August 2020, Navalny became unwell during a flight from Tomsk to Moscow. He was rushed to a hospital and later evacuated to Germany where he received treatment. The cause of his illness was determined to be a poisoning. Navalny himself accused President Putin of being behind the plot against his life. Shortly after his recovery, in January 2021, the opposition leader returned to Russia. He was promptly arrested upon his arrival at the airport.

During this court case, Navalny pointed out that the Bible text

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” was very encouraging to him. 

He called the verse “more or less an instruction to activity.” And that helped him to endure the circumstances he found himself in while being imprisoned. He added. I feel a real kind of satisfaction. Because at some difficult moments, I did as required by the instructions and did not betray the commandment.”

Alexey is now one of the modern Christian martyrs who “took up the Cross of Christ” for the good of his nation and society. 

I mention that because of our gospel reading  and Jesus’ words to the disciples and the crowd. 

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

The Way of His Kingdom for Jesus involves dying in shame and agony on a Cross but also His own disciples must be prepared for suffering to and possibly their own deaths. Jesus warning became a realty over the first 200 years of the Church’s existence and growth. First persecuted by unbelieving fellow Jews and then various Roman leaders until the reign of Constantine. Legends tell how 10 of Jesus original 12 disciples were killed because of their witness to Him, and many others of their successors. The warning to Simon and the disciples was an utter shock and we should realise how shocking it was, against their expectations. 

The disciples of Jesus were hoping for the Kingdom of God to be set up by Him but for them this was hope based on a political kingdom with Jesus as literal King over a freed Israel. But such an earthly reign that have made Jesus just part of the power structures of the world. What Jesus was and is bringing is something radically different to the realms of human politics and society. Simon Peter, the disciples and the developing Church be needed to realise the path to the K of Christ was not an easy march to glory. Instead Jesus confronts the worst realities of all human waywardness. 

There is the vast array of individual and collective selfishness and corruption of politics, society and even religious beliefs and laws. For many in the world that reality of persecution and suffering for Christ and His real Kingdom beyond the world and time and space continues. When people profess Christ and live out the realities of His love they may face opposition from the elements of leadership and society that hates what He stands for and represents. 

I do not think most of us will face that kind of opposition and danger to our lives. But if we do have to suffer in some way that is for His sake and the sake of His love, we will be in the best company of Him and all who have done so. 

So what does carrying the Cross mean today when we are not under persecution? 

Again we must think of the Kingdom of Christ that is not of this world and is at odds against all the sin filled corruption that is in us and around us. Our cross is to be part of the conflict with all that corrupts and degrades our own lives and the lives of those around us. Our Cross to carry is living the higher motives and actions of His self-giving love. the Cross is the symbol of the “I ” crossed out. 

There is a lot in the many varied historic spiritual and traditions of the Church that call us to put our selfish self and desires to death. To nail them to the cross.We recognise the selfish ways in which we may act, that cause hurt for others and seek forgives and inward reform. All the crises and suffering we see and experience can lead us think about our relationships with Christ and our inner need of change to enter into deeper unity with Him and all that He is. 

Our destiny is eternal life in union with Him but that pathway involves facing up to ourselves and what we can be. It includes imitating Him, acting in His love in every aspect of out lives. It is that path that is not only good for us personally, it is also good for the world.