The Carrying of the Cross
This is day 38 of my 40 day Lenten Blog.
"If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me." (Matt 16:24).
Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly riding a donkey while the people waved palm branches and laid their coats on the ground. They were hailing Him as their king, but a few days later they would be shouting "crucify him!" They were happy to wave palms, to celebrate with Christ during the good times, but they were not willing to risk the wrath of the Romans or the Sanhedrin. They were not willing to follow Jesus into death.
After being sentenced to death by crucifixion, scourged, and tortured, Jesus was forced to carry His cross up the hill to Golgotha which means the place of the skull. This was an excruciatingly painful journey, but one He had to endure to complete His mission of redemption and salvation. And, as Christ tells us, it is a journey we must all endure if we wish to live in eternity with Him forever.
The cross was, for Jesus, the end of the first life and resulted in the first death. But Jesus, obviously never tasted the second death. The second death would be a fate much worse than all of the scourging, torture, humiliation, and even death on a cross. For the second death is separation from God in the fiery pits of Hell.
Those of us who want to live without the cross in this world will taste not only the first death, but the second death as well, for Christ tells us that "whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."
Only by willingly giving up our lives for Christ can we avoid the second death. This means giving up our carnal pleasures and conformity with this world. This will mean loving God more than anything in the universe and loving others as ourselves to the point of giving up our time and treasure to help the Church and those in need. But for some it will go further. For some the phrase, "take up your cross and follow Me" will have a much more literal meaning and will include being imprisoned, tortured, and even executed.
When we take up our cross we follow in the footsteps of Jesus on the road to Golgotha. The palms were gone, and so too was the joy and excitement of His triumphant entry. Now as Jesus walked through the streets of Jerusalem and up the hill to the place of the skull carrying the heavy burden of the cross he faced many different people. Some beat him and mocked Him. Others wept for Him. Veronica wiped the sweat and grime from His face. His mother Mary met Him and shared His pain as only a mother could. And Simon the Cyrene even helped lighten His burden by taking some of that burden onto his own shoulders. Noticeably absent from the road to Golgotha were His best friends, His disciples. They had all abandoned Him during His greatest trial. We will face the same road and the same people as we follow Christ. Some will hate us, mock us, and beat us (figuratively and literally). Others will abandon us. Still others will pity us. But some will be there to help us even to the point of sharing in our suffering.
We will also be witnesses to others struggling up the hill to the place of the skull carrying a heavy cross and following Jesus. We will then have our own choice whether to mock them, pity them, abandon them, or help them.
Whether we take up our cross and follow Jesus or whether we try to hold on to this life is the most important decision we will ever make. Let us not delude ourselves into thinking we are following Him when we are not. We should all take the time as we enter the Triduum to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are truly giving up our lives for Christ. Have we taken up our cross yet? Or are we still waving palms, calling Him Lord, but unwilling to give up the trappings of this life for Him?
Today's prayer: Lord give me the strength to willingly lay down my life for Your sake.
R.C. VanLandingham lives in Florida with his wife and kids. He is the author of several books including the Christian fantasy books Peter Puckett & The Amulet of Eternity, Peter Puckett & the Enchanted Chalice, and Magdalene Hope & the Elves of Evermore.