Ã¢â‚¬Å“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.Ã¢â‚¬Â Luke 9:23
To take up the cross means to identify with Christ, sharing in his rejection, shame, suffering, and death. When I have visited Sudan to visit and worship with the Christian community there, I have encountered the faith of our brothers and sisters, who carry their cross daily and follow Jesus Christ. On one trip, I wrote in my journal, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The living faith of this persecuted church has grown from the Cross of Christ. The cross has become their proud symbol of the strength to live and die for Jesus Christ. The followers of Jesus in this land of oppression have adopted the cross to symbolize the only life they want to live. In the sign of the cross they conquer the forces of darkness, oppression, hatred and evil. To them, the cross represents their daily struggle, the pain of betrayal, suffering, affliction and the triumphant faith to follow Christ.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Archbishop Carey has said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“In our Western Church we have lost the dimension of radical discipleship to identify with Christ in the suffering and pain of humanity. We have replaced it with a following of Jesus which is virtually costless. Indeed, some evangelists are guilty of going to the other extreme of offering the carrot that if you accept Jesus, he will solve your problems, help you find a good joy, husband, wife, peace, contentment, etc. The motive behind this may be admirable Ã¢â‚¬" it is true, after all, that the presence of the Lord is healing Ã¢â‚¬" but the result is a Ã¢â‚¬ËœfilletedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Christianity, with sacrifice removed.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To carry the Cross of Christ in our lives is not a fashion statement to be airy-fairy thing or a life style choice. The most recent example is of Abdul Rahman, an Afghan, who converted to Christianity 16 years ago as aid worker helping refugees in Pakistan. Last month at the time of his arrest the Afghan police found him carrying a Bible in Persian. He was charged with rejecting Islam which is punishable by death in Afghanistan. In many such places even in the 21st century it is a risky, costly, demanding and often dangerous business to commit oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s life to live under the cross. It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Pastor who died in HitlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s prison called it Ã¢â‚¬Å“costly discipleshipÃ¢â‚¬Â. The Church itself and our individual lives are ultimately built on faith that must extend beyond mere belief in a theology of prosperity and happy clappy living. It must be a faith that dares to risk, to reach out, to put Christ at our center instead of our selves. The 14th century theologian Thomas a Kempis said, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jesus now has many lovers of his heavenly Kingdom, but few bearers of his Cross.Ã¢â‚¬Â
To bear a Cross is not a romantic idea but a costly venture for Adbul Rahman in Afghanistan and costly for us who want to witness to the redeeming power of the Cross of Christ. We realize Iraq war has entered into fourth year. Recent cartoon of Prophet Muhammad caused much furor in the Islamic world. The Islamic world has already drawn the conclusion that the Christian West is in a crusade against Islam. There is a great wave of hatred in the Islamic world towards the Christian church. How do we carry a cross in such a charged geo-political atmosphere? Many of us today are debating about the merits of war in Iraq. I would say the response of Christ to the cross-bearers is to pray as the LordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Prayer makes clear, Ã¢â‚¬Å“forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.Ã¢â‚¬Â As people from the West we must extend our hand to the people in Iraq or in the Muslim world in love. Our Savior Jesus Christ stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone (without discrimination among Jews and Gentile, black or white, Muslim, Hindu or Christian) might come within the reach of JesusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ saving embrace. Cross of Christ broadcasts as loud as can be to the world that its message is forgiveness, love and reconciliation among God and His fellow human beings.
To live under the cross means that every aspect of life of a Christian believer is shaped and colored by the life of the crucified and risen Christ. Now, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to GodÃ¢â‚¬Â (Ephesians 5:1-2). During this time of war, uncertainty and chaos let our Lenten prayers may direct us to Ã¢â‚¬Å“seek peace and pursue it.Ã¢â‚¬Â Peace making is serious endeavor as the peace which God secures is never cheap peace. It is always costly as God made peace with the sinful humanity through the blood of Jesus ChristÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cross (Colossians 1:20). In order to work as peacemakers among our human family for justice, peace, elimination of poverty, cleaner environment and building bridges between those who differ with our faith or political ideology we will have to demonstrate our authenticity as GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s children. Nietzsche, an atheist and nihilist once remarked, Ã¢â‚¬Å“You Christians will have to look a lot more redeemed before I start believing in your Redeemer.Ã¢â‚¬Â I hope and pray that the cross is not just a theological conundrum, but a living reality in our everyday lives, inspiring us to serve God and GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s People in our communities and the world.
Shanti, Salaam and Shalom of Christ!