“Carrying the Cross” in Lent
“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected
by the elders, chief priests, and scribes,
and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to them all,
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves
and take up their cross daily and follow me.
For those who want to save their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
What would it have felt like to look Jesus in the eyes and hear him say: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering … and be killed” (Lk 9:22)? How could this son of Mary, this Son of God, be put to death in a manner reserved for the worst of criminals? The disciples had just watched Jesus feed over five thousand people, and heard Peter’s proclamation that this miracle-worker and friend was the Messiah. To them, Jesus’ prediction must have seemed incomprehensible.
These words should also cut to the core of our faith. They give us pause and ask us to contemplate exactly why the God-man had to die, and what it means for our own destiny. There is something in Peter’s statement (Matt 16:16) that continues to guide us to the truth. When Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, he identifies him as the fulfillment of God’s promises to God’s people. These promises of redemption from sin, of peace, and of eternal life in the Kingdom reach across time and space—forming a reality Peter witnessed firsthand when Christ was transfigured with Moses and Elijah (Lk 9:28-36). The same Christ who predicted his death to the disciples is also the risen Lord, who became low to set humanity on high. He is the suffering servant (Is 53) who descended into Hades to heal wounds and restore life (1 Pet 3:19-20; 4:6).
By following the will of the Father, Christ made it possible for us to choose life (Deut 30). In the season of Lent, we are challenged to embark upon a death to the self—to “take up our cross daily” (Lk 9:23) by casting away things that make us comfortable in this temporary home (2 Cor 5:1). Marking the Way of the Cross, we show forth the ashes of our mortality by embracing struggle (and yes, even pain). The agony of our Savior is a visceral reminder that God worked through the things that are not (1 Cor 1:28). God raised up the humble to victory (Lk 1:46–55) over evil principalities and powers (Eph 6:12). These powers seek to distract us from the suffering God; the God who condescended to meet us in weakness, temptation, and death (Heb 4:15; Matt 26:38-39).
So let us not be incredulous at these mysteries. Let us not scoff at the lowliness and baseness of Lent. Those who put aside pride—filling up the sufferings of Christ in the Church (Col 1:24)—bear witness to the central salvific act. Imitating the patient and forgiving Lord, let us never repay evil for evil (Lk 22:49-51). Let us say with Stephen, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:54-60). In this hope, this promise that faith will one day become sight, our Lenten remembrance is transformed into a sign of love and a participation in the salvation story. When we bear our crosses this Lenten season, the marks of our Lord’s passion are inscribed not only on our foreheads and on our lips, but also in our hearts, “written not with ink, but by the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor 3:3).