It's been a bit of a week at the vicarage.
Last Friday, I went down to Dorset to say Goodbye to Eirene, the wonderful woman who has been a 2nd mother to me all my life, and most particularly so since my parents died when I was 18.
She, in her turn, went home to God on Saturday – and I know I should rejoice that she is now restored to the life and health of which Alzheimers had deprived her for the past few years, is indeed better than she has ever been – but all the same, I miss her – I'm sad....and that's OK.
Sadness is part of being fully human...and faith doesn't preclude suffering.
Faith doesn't preclude suffering.
Hang onto that thought, if you would......for it's coming back again.
Also within the week were several other deaths so I found myself treading holy ground with many grieving families...
Then there were sad stories of family breakdown, children and parents divided, mothers unable to cope and fathers walking away...
Of couples filled with goodwill but unable to communicate with one another...
Of adults struggling to find hope and purpose as they failed to find work, not just once, but again and again.
By yesterday morning, I was full to the brim with the sadness of others, sadness that mingled with my own sorrow so that it seemed really hard to live out my calling to preach the gospel...GOOD news....
And then I sat down to read the texts for today...started to read the gospel......and oh goodness....where is the good news here?
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?
Take up their cross?
Lose their life?
That's supposed to be GOOD news?!?!
here we have it, straight from the Master himself
Far from precluding suffering, faith seems to guarantee it.
I'm not really sure that I signed up to that.
Following Jesus is all very well – but does that have to mean walking the way of the cross? Couldn't we just cut straight to the Resurrection?
I have to say, Jesus, after the week I've had I was rather hoping you'd do the work for me...
Couldn't you carry my cross, please? After all, you're the expert.
And of course, that's actually exactly what he has done.
All that sadness, all that disappointment, all that anger and doubt and denial...and all the sin of the world.
That's what makes the weight of the cross that he carries.
But we are invited to carry it too...to learn to be Christlike by sharing in his suffering even as we hope to share in his glory.
Our crosses will be wrought of different materials, each unique to the bearer.
Perhaps the experiences of brokenness in our own lives, the awareness of the times we've failed God and failed each other, our lack of love, our lack of trust.
And the things that just seem to be part of life – a difficult marriage, an ailing parent, a troubled child, an unplanned loneliness...things we might prefer to jettison, but find ourselves carrying day by day.
Your cross will be quite unlike mine, - we might imagine that we'd each find the other's easier to carry, but exchange is not possible.
And we can weigh ourselves down still more, if we insist on holding on to the things that seem precious, those things for which we've struggled and fought, the things we might be tempted to put ahead of Christ's call to follow.
But there's really no point in doing that.
The prizes that seem so shiny and alluring now – health, wealth, success, even family stability – they turn out to be so much dead-weight, things we can't take with us into the Kingdom, burdens that will hamper us as we try to follow the One whose call is constant.
He knows, I promise, how hard it can be to put those deceptive weights down...just as he knows the weight of each cross represented here.
And he wants us to follow because, of course, the way of the cross leads through pain and suffering to the new life of Easter.
It's into this that we are baptised...sharing Christ's death so that we might also share his resurrection.
Each of us was commissioned to follow Christ...so this Lent, I invite you to consider what that looks like for you, at this stage of your journey.
I promise you that it means more than simply finding a way to the future, for it will involve seriously discerning and carrying out the work to which you are called here and now.
You'll probably be all too aware of the cross you've been given to carry, know its weight to the last milligram...and, I'd guess, you're aware too of those bits of yourself that cause the most problems, the bits that are hardest to deny and set aside as you go on your way.
I can't pretend that the cost of following Christ's call won't be high – it may cost even the death of some of those things that looked so precious.
But remember, it's your life that's at stake – your real life in Christ for all eternity.
Peter could not believe that the route to the Kingdom lay through the death of his Master ...but we can look at the cross with the perfect, 20/20 vision of hindsight...
We KNOW that, however painful, however difficult the here and now – Easter is coming.
Our own daily deaths – those we choose, as we set aside the things that weigh us down, and those that we would love to avoid if we could – those deaths are part of the way in which we become little by little aligned with our Lord...and travel not only the way of the cross, but the route through death to life everlasting.