Read Mark 8:31-38
At the center of the Christian faith stands the cross of Jesus Christ, which would appall most of us, if we identified the cross with actual crucifixions and not simply as a symbol of faith or a piece of jewelry. Remember, the cross in Jesus’ day didn’t represent faith or hope. It certainly didn't represent love. If it represented anything it represented the end of such aspirations. A cross was the symbol of a lost cause, a dead end, the place where messianic pretenders and common criminals shared a humiliating fate.
We might wonder why the early Christians did not adopt another symbol – there were other symbols to be found – the Chi-Rho, the Icthus, even the peacock, a symbol of resurrection. But the symbol that stuck was the cross. Try as we may, we can never quite escape the truth that at the center of our faith stands a horrific defeat. Paul makes clear that the crucifixion was a centerpiece of early Christian preaching, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
The cross is still a stumbling block when we read passages like Mark 8 and hear Jesus speaking not just of his own cross but ours as well. The cross remains palatable so long as it's just Jesus upon it. It becomes less so when the conversation turns towards our own cross bearing. But the scriptures make plain, the cross isn't just the price paid, it is also the path paved.
David Garland explains this dual purpose of the cross with a simple story (that he borrowed from scholar Eduard Schweitzer) about a heavy snowfall that strands a young boy in the home of a friend after school. “He cannot get home, ‘until his father comes, with his strong shoulders, and breaks the way through three feet of snow. The boy ‘follows him’ in his footsteps and yet walks in a totally different way. Father is not merely his teacher or example – or otherwise the boy would have to break his own way, only copying the action of the father – nor is it a vicarious act of the father – otherwise the boy would just remain in the warm room of his friend and think that his father would go home instead of himself.’ The problem is that the way Jesus prepares for us to go home is not the one we want to travel. It is arduous and paved with suffering, but it is one that we must journey to get home.”
Dr. Garland's words ring so true to my own experience, "The problem is that the way Jesus prepares for us to go home is not the one we want to travel" and yet "it is one we must journey to get home."
God, thank you for making a way home for us where there was no way. Give us the courage to now walk in your steps as we follow you towards the kingdom come.