That is a hard story to listen to, and not just because it’s long.
It’s about the tremendous self-giving love of Jesus Christ, of course. And the courage of some of those who followed him. But what comes through in this story again and again is human brokenness. Jealousy and cowardice. Betrayal. The corruption of power.
It shows how easily a mob can be swayed, and it shows just how dangerous that can be.
And in a way it seems appropriate that we had different people read the story in parts this morning, not just to break things up a little, but as a reminder that we need to pay attention to the role each of us plays in the Christian story as it continues. Because our faith is an ongoing story, and our participation isn’t just welcome—it’s required. And there’s no reason to think that’s ever going to be easy.
I keep a folder of articles and clippings that catch my attention, including a short item from a Florida newspaper about a church that commissioned new processional crosses.[i]
Now this church already had some ceremonial crosses and they were beautiful, but the problem was that they were heavy and the church members were finding them too hard to carry. So they commissioned a set of new crosses made by a woodworker who was the husband of a church member. And everyone was pleased with how well they turned out.
The headline on the story was, “Lighter crosses are easier for Lake church members to bear.”[ii]
And I get it. My own seminary had a special processional cross that was used on major feasts, and I had the privilege of carrying it on one of those feasts, and it was a beast. So I can sympathize.
But really? Their crosses were too hard to carry and they needed some that would be easier? How could any Christian actually say that out loud and not be embarrassed?
Are we really looking for lighter crosses that are easier to bear?
If this Gospel tells us anything it’s that we can’t appreciate what Jesus taught about love without recognizing that being committed to love has consequences. The way of the cross is hard.
When Jesus rode into town on that donkey, he was on his way to the cross.
When we picked up our palms and acted out a version of that donkey-led procession this morning, we joined a long, long crowd of witnesses on the way to the cross.
Jesus was committed to truth-telling in the name of love, and the cross is where it got him. And it had to be that way.
The ultimate triumph of the Resurrection wouldn’t be possible without the Crucifixion. Easter would be nothing without Good Friday. Our faith is nothing without the cross. Even—or maybe especially—when it feels heavy.
And this story continues, and we all have a part to play.
Jesus warned his disciples they’d have to take up their own cross if they really wanted to follow him.[iii] But what did he mean by that? It’s not just about the ordinary hardships of human life. Jesus spoke truth to power, and power didn’t like it. To the powerful he was a threat, and they conspired to have him executed in order to silence him.
But he would not be silenced. That’s the power of the cross! And we have to pick up our own cross and carry it, no matter how heavy it is.
And sometimes, as I know you know, it can feel very heavy indeed.
But as I think about the meaning of the cross, I’m also thinking this morning of two takeaways from this story that should be comforting.
The first is that Jesus is always with us, especially in our pain. So we’re never alone.
And the second is that we also have each other to walk this way with us, to be there with us through our hardest times.
When Jesus suffered and died on cross, he joined himself forever to all human pain and suffering. He’s present wherever people are hurting. He’s with us in our hardest times.
We don’t suffer alone, because Jesus is with us.
But even more than that. Our witness to the suffering of Jesus on the cross calls us to bear witness to all the pain of our broken world. Like those women who stood and watched at the end of this Gospel.
It wasn’t a passive thing, the watch those women stood at the foot of the cross. They were bearing witness to the suffering of Christ. And it must have been hard to keep watching. But they did.
They saw what Jesus had to endure, and they made sure he didn’t go through it alone. They stayed with him to the end, and they prepared to tend to his broken body when it was over.
And as the story continued, they would not be silent about what they had seen. They became the first witnesses to the Resurrection.
Our faith is about bearing witness to suffering and injustice, where it happens.
And bearing witness isn’t a passive thing. To bear witness is to make a statement that suffering doesn’t go unnoticed. That it’s seen and acknowledged. That those who suffer don’t bear their pain alone, because there’s a community that will walk through it with them. And will tell the world what happened.
And we are that community.
Preached at the Church of St. James the Greater, Bristol PA.
[i] “Lighter crosses easier for Lake church members to bear,” Orlando Sentinel, February 6, 2015. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/lake/os-lk-church-lighter-crosses-20150206-story.html. Accessed April 6, 2022.
[ii] “Lighter crosses easier for Lake church members to bear,” Orlando Sentinel, February 6, 2015. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/lake/os-lk-church-lighter-crosses-20150206-story.html
[iii] Matthew 16:24