Hebrews 4:14-5:6; Mark 8:34-9:1
Today we do something that goes against the strongest inclinations of fallen humanity: We adore and celebrate the Cross. Absolutely no one rejoiced about crosses in the first century, for crucifixion was the most horrible form of execution the Romans could devise. When the Lord told Peter plainly that He would be killed, the head disciple was horrified and tried to correct Him. That is when Christ said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” In order words, Peter was thinking like any other human being enslaved to the fear of death.
That, of course, is precisely why Jesus Christ offered Himself on the Cross: to set us free from captivity to the grave. He did not breathe life into us so that we would disappear into the earth, but so that we would be united eternally with Him in holiness. If we believe our fate is simply for the decay of the tomb, we will go to great lengths to distract ourselves from the pointlessness of our existence. So we end up worshiping power, pleasure, possessions, and anything else that staves off the dread of death. We will make this world a false god in one way or another in a failed effort to save ourselves on our own terms.
Today we adore the Cross because through it our Lord has conquered death, making even the tomb and Hades pathways to the eternal life of the Kingdom through His glorious resurrection. It is because of His great Self-offering as our High Priest that we may depart this life with the hope of resurrection and life eternal. But in order to share in the glory of the empty tomb, we must first follow Him to the Cross by taking up our own crosses. That means dying to the corrupting power of sin in our lives as we crucify the addiction to self-centered desire that arises from the fear of death. For if we seek to save our lives by the standards of our fallen world, we will end up losing our souls.
Fortunately, there is still time to live as those who are not ashamed of the Cross. We have the remaining weeks of Lent to prepare to enter into the deep mystery of the Lord Who caused death to die. And we do not have to look hard for opportunities to do so. They are all around us. For example, we should turn our attention away from our favorite distractions (e.g. cell phones, video games, social media, news, sports, and movies) and toward the Lord in daily focused prayer, Bible reading, and studying the lives and teachings of the Saints. We should sacrifice a small part of our usual routine by attending Lenten services each week. If our physical health and life circumstances allow, we should fast as best we can according to the guidelines of the Church. If we cannot fast from food due to illness, we should learn to accept our struggles with patience, perhaps finding another area of life where we can practice self-denial. We should give generously of our resources, time, and attention to others, especially the poor, sick, and lonely. We should serve our family members, friends, and fellow parishioners instead of simply ourselves. We should pray for our enemies and do what we can to heal broken relationships. We should stay on guard against anything that inflames our passions. We should shut out our dark and tempting thoughts with the Jesus Prayer. We should confess our sins honestly this Lent, and be vigilant against sliding back into unholy habits.
It is through such everyday acts of faithfulness that we will take up our crosses and follow the Savior Who offered Himself on the Cross for our salvation. That is how we will be set free from the fear of death and all its corrupting effects on our souls. That is how we will adore and celebrate the Cross as the great sign of our hope, as the only true answer to the tragic brokenness of our humanity. The God-Man offered Himself on it in order to save us. Now we must offer ourselves to Him in humble repentance by dying to sin in order to open ourselves to the glory of His resurrection. That is the Lord’s calling to each and every one of us for, through the Cross, He has filled all things with joy.