Lift High the Cross

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

It is a day that serves as an important reminder that there is no Life without the Cross. From the time of Peter, there has been temptation to avoid the cross. When Jesus predicts his passion, Peter rebukes him. “God forbid.” You can almost imagine Peter putting his arm around Jesus’ shoulder, turning him around and saying soothingly: “Let’s go back and heal some more people, turn some water into wine. Let’s not have any more of this nonsense about getting killed.” And Jesus replies, “Get thee behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

The prediction of Jesus’ passion was hard enough for his followers. But Jesus was always clear that the cross was a fundamental part of discipleship: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

The call to discipleship occurs here in connection with Jesus’ announcement of suffering. Jesus Christ must suffer and be rejected. It is the “must” of God’s own promise, so that scripture might be fulfilled. Suffering and rejection are not the same thing. Jesus could, after all, yet be the celebrated Christ in suffering. The entire sympathy and admiration of the world could, after all, yet be directed toward that suffering. Suffering, as tragic suffering, could yet bear within itself its own value, its own honor, its own dignity. Jesus, however is the Christ who is rejected in suffering. Rejection robs suffering of any dignity or honor. It is to be a suffering devoid of honor. … Death on the cross means to suffer and to die as someone rejected and expelled.

Jesus must suffer and be rejected by virtue of divine necessity. Any attempt at thwarting the necessity is satanic, even or precisely where such attempts come from the circle of disciples, for it is intent upon not letting Christ be Christ. That it is Peter, the rock of the church, who incurs guilt here immediately after his own confession to Jesus Christ and his appointment by Jesus, means that from its very inception the church itself has taken offense at the suffering Christ. It neither wants such a Lord nor does it, as the Church of Christ, want its Lord to force upon it the law of suffering. Peter’s objection is his unwillingness to accept such suffering. With that, Satan has crept into the church. He wants to tear it away from the cross of its Lord.

Peter here stands for the Church – from its very beginning – and for us. A desire to have Jesus without the suffering and rejection. But, as Bonhoeffer’s language makes clear, “just as Christ is Christ only in suffering and rejection, so also they are his disciples only in suffering and rejection, in being crucified along with Christ. Discipleship as commitment to the person of Jesus Christ places the disciple under the law of Christ, that is, under the cross.”

So we can enjoy being with Jesus at wedding feasts and dinners at the home of friends. We can share his joy in healing and in feeding those without food. We can wander merrily through grain fields, and take boat rides with Jesus. (And I have no doubt Jesus enjoyed time with his friends – and that they had times when they joked and laughed and maybe even had a little too much wine.) BUT if we would call ourselves disciples, we must also stay wedded to him in his suffering and rejection, that is, be “disciples under the cross.”

Today is a reminder of that.


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