We journey with Jesus, through St Mark, to Calvary.
St Mark 8: 31-38
Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
To turn from wishful thinking to painful reality is a hard choice for even the most devoted of disciples. The cross is more than a piece of jewellery to be worn or admired, it is a definition of who this Jesus of Nazareth is and who his followers must become. The cross was the ultimate control weapon of the state, its use intended to dehumanise and intimidate. The refusal of Jesus to be deterred from his calling is made clear in his rebuke of Peter and his determination to take the long walk to Jerusalem. The challenge of the Lenten journey is to make the choice to set aside our own hopes and desires in order to be the person that God calls us to be. In that choice there lies fulfilment and not emptiness, life gained not lost.
We have a natural desire to be comfortable and not to make enemies, to enjoy the respect and good opinion of contemporary culture. When that culture excuses prejudice and accepts discrimination as necessary then it is time for disciples of Jesus to speak out. The threat of intimidation and ridicule cannot be enough to deter us from our calling to speak truth to power. Who will we chose to be? Friends of the privileged or disciples of Jesus?
God of surprises,
Forgive us when we choose comfort over challenge
or when we ask for certainty
when we are called to live by faith
or when we are content with empty piety
when action is needed.
Christ of the Cross
Give us the strength to speak out for others
to risk the sneer and contempt of the self-important
and to know our fulfilment is in following you.
Spirit of God,
restless and free
we will follow and risk
until your kingdom is come. Amen
The Rev’d David Grosch-Miller is a member of St. George’s URC, Morpeth and the Immediate Past Moderator of General Assembly.