The seasons of Lent and Easter have always been important to me. This year has been different. Ash Wednesday came and went without me taking any notice. The only time I was reminded that it was the season of Lent was when I went out for lunch and saw fish on the menu.
Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, Rita and I skipped church. I cannot remember the last time I missed a Palm Sunday service. Instead we attended a funeral. I was there to support a friend whose sister-in-law died. My wife came for other reasons. The lady whose life we were remembering had passed away from cancer. A little over a year ago, within a month of my wife’s diagnosis, that she received similar news. Both faced and fought cancer with dignity and strength. Her battle lead to a memorial service on Palm Sunday.
I stood in the chapel with hundreds of other mourners listening to the stories of this amazing wife, mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and woman that brought laughter and tears. This was a person whose definition of family was always expanding to include outsiders. Strangers were nothing more than future family members. She met her soulmate and husband at a young age and together they promised to do their marriage “right.” This couple lived, loved, worked, and laughed together. They managed to forge a marriage and life together the rest of us dream about. All the stories reinforced the fact that they managed to do marriage right.
About halfway through one of the stories the speaker mentioned that this lady met her soulmate and married in 1986, the same year Rita and I started our life together. Looking across the chapel at a husband mourning the loss of his partner in life and love was heartbreaking and sobering. On this morning I was standing beside my wife and partner of more than 30 years, and he was across the room with tears flowing down his face. I was there holding my wife’s hand, and he would never feel his wife’s hand again.
I am a self-described “theology nerd.” Over the years I have officiated many funerals. I still struggle to make sense of death. I did walk away from that service with a renewed passion for life. It was Jesus who suggested that worrying about tomorrow wasn’t worth the effort (Matthew 5:25-34). None of us are promised any moments beyond this one. On the Sunday as Rita and I walked away from a service of remembrance and celebration of a life well lived, I took my wife’s hand in mine and sent up a prayer of thanks for another moment.
During last Sunday’s sermon the pastor referred to Matthew 16:24, where Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to be his followers then they must be willing to deny themselves. This is one of those passages that is easier to just skip. It is much simpler and less confusing to talk about a religion that teaches us to be good “Christians” rather than to engage a faith that asks us to abandon an entire way of life.
Self-denial has never been a favorite sermon or bible study topic. Taking Jesus’ words seriously have the potential to disturb the status quo and the status quo is comfortable. To be honest I like things to be comfortable, predictable, safe, and secure. These are the foundations of an uncomplicated life.
Self-denial removes me from the center. It may even move my family, church, community, and country from the center. According to Jesus, self-denial naturally leads to cross-carrying and cross-carrying leads to aloneness.
Jesus carried the cross 2,000 years ago because carrying the cross was what needed to be done. Without the cross there could be no Easter and without Easter there could be no resolution to the sin problem.
When Jesus calls his followers to cross-carrying it is a call to courage. It is a call to stand-up for truth even when no one else wants to hear the truth. It means exposing and naming the powers that have neutralized the church’s prophetic place in the world.
When we name racism as a current sin, we risk our popularity. When the church declares that we need a president of color because another white man will just reinforce the worst of our prejudices and stereotypes, we risk being called non-Christian. When the church stands up against the raping of the environment just for cheaper fuel, we risk being called extremists. When the church stands for the stranger and alien in our midst, we risk being labeled unpatriotic.
Friends, this is the call of Easter; a call to self-denial, cross-carrying, and truth telling. It will not be easy. It will not make you popular and you may end up feeling very alone. Know this; we serve a High Priest, Jesus Christ, who understands.
Filed under diversity, enemies, enemy, ministry, Mission, racism, racist, religion, respect, self denial, sexist, war
It will be Easter in a few weeks. It seems like a good time to ask a basic “Christian” question: Why did Jesus die on the cross?
Is it possible that we have forgotten why?
From a certain perspective Easter seems to be mostly about chocolate, eggs and candy. Or, for the casual faith crowd, it would be easy to conclude that this is the time of year for new dresses, fancy hats and an annual pilgrimage to church.
If you spend any time listening to popular Christian culture it might be easy to conclude that Jesus died on the cross so that we could own the house or car of our dreams. Or maybe he died so that TV ministers could have world-wide audiences. Could it be that Jesus died to inspire church “building” programs? Is it possible that Jesus died so that church sanctuaries would be filled once a year?
Then there is the “ignore Jesus’ life and teaching, and focus on His death” crowd. They believe that Jesus died so that we could get a free ticket to heaven. If you are unfortunate enough to miss the free ticket-to-heaven line you still get a free ride but this “other” option is not quite as fun.
So why did Jesus die on the cross? John 3:16 provides a clue. We are loved. Unconditionally loved. It does not make a difference who you are, what you have or have not done, where you come from, your economic status, your national or religious origin – none of this matters. Jesus died on the cross because He loves you, unconditionally.