I had seen Redtailed Hawks sitting on the steeple which is a cross on the top of the Second Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. It would sit up there and upon seeing a squirrel scurrying on the ground, would fly down and pounce upon it for its next meal. He would use the cross for his own purposes of need. There is a bronze hawk on a cross that I created years ago that sits in a Labyrinth at Second Baptist Church and it was created from the inspiration of the actions of the Redtailed Hawk that used the cross. When you start the walk of prayer, the hawk looks squarely at you, as if to say, this cross that I am perched on, I have used to fly from and gain my sustenance for living. What do you use the cross for?
So I celebrate Thanksgiving after driving and sleeping in a bed designed for minions, sitting in chairs designed for the flying monkeys and little people of the Wizard of Oz, and I come home and am hurting beyond anything that I have yet experienced. But I did it! I did not saddle my babies nor my wife with my pain. I will have MRI’s next week in order for us to develop a plan for more surgical fun. This time, due to the scar tissue in my back from the other surgeries, I get to have what is known as a contrast MRI where they insert a dye so they can see more clearly through the rods, screws, cages, scar tissue, mole tunnels, okay not mole tunnels, but other stuff that has made my spine whatever it is. And all of this has left me really digging deep in my soul on this day because I am hurting and asking questions.
There is an image that is just real clear in the New Testament if you care to look at it and it is the image of a cross and crucifixion and a cruel death. If you are walking down a dusty road during Jesus’ day, you would probably see people hanging on crosses, some dead, others dying, convicted of some sort of crime. No doubt that Jesus saw it on a regular basis and from this, he makes a statement: “whoever wishes to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” He is saying that we should pick up a heavy piece of wood that will be nailed to the other part of the cross then stuck in the ground, and follow him. Gosh, does that whole image really get at you like it does me?
There is yet something that is deeper in this whole cross image. What Jesus describes is something reserved for criminals. Jesus is asking us to sacrifice ourselves and become a criminal for God’s sake. Me a criminal for God’s sake, walking around with that piece of wood tied to my arms and back, and following Jesus? There is something to this that travels yet deeper in our soul if we allow ourselves to struggle with it. It has reflections of Jesus in our society and travels the whole relationship between us and God and the world we live in. It has reflections of the scripture passage found in Micah 6:8, to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
But what exactly is the crime that we should commit and be given the guilty verdict for and then nailed to a cross? Our crime is found in the way we live in the world which is different than anyone else outside of the views of Jesus. Our crime is found in the way we view justice compared to the world. Our crime is how we love versus how the world loves. Our crime is found in the way we forgive. Our crime is found in the way we treat others. The world will see us as guilty and worthy of the cross when we live according to Jesus as we bear a cross.
See Jesus had this concept in his mind because he knew where he was headed. He knew that he would eventually be classified as a criminal and placed on a cross, punished for his crime, and to die a cruel death. So he asks us to do the same. He asks us to be criminals for God’s sake where we have to be. He asks us to pick up the very thing that makes us human, to deny what we would really like to do with the self that we have, drag that piece of wood of our awful selves to the place where it is nailed to a beam and stuck in the ground. Earlier he had told people that to simply say Lord, Lord would not be sufficient for squat, indicating that words are hollow. Instead, he looks at us and says, deny yourself, pick up that cross that you have been given, and drag it to the place where it will be stuck in the ground and you yourself be crucified next to the son of God.
Lord have mercy because I keep trying to take that beam of wood off of my back and be something else!
So then, what is your cross? What is it that would lead you to be crucified? Karen read this and said it is real heavy. I agree. It is real heavy. What does it mean to deny myself, to pick up the cross that would lead to a crucifixion, and follow Jesus to that place? For me, the cross I bear leads me to a place where the pain I suffer and the pain others suffer needs to be seen and heard in our society that claims to have some allegiance to God in some sort of way. My cross is my pain. Pray tell, what is yours? What is it that you are dragging to the place that will lead to crucifixion?