Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 20/4/11
On Monday evening I walked into the Dudley Church Holy week service holding a cross. The theme for my sermon was “The Wood of the Cross: The Call to Follow”.
It was not a very big cross, probably only a metre high. I held it as I preached and reflected on different types of wood used in the Bible as part of God’s plan of salvation – from the wooden Ark that saved the animals and one righteous family in the Flood to the wooden cross that bore the Son of God and the weight of the world’s sin.
Many of us who claim to be Christian, are in fact Christian by convention, that is, church goers rather than by conviction. We believe Jesus is our Lord, the Son of God who died for our sins and by believing in Him we hope for eternal life. That is all well and good but what about living by his teachings? It seems that often we just want to be members of the club for the benefits (wonderful benefits indeed), but do the bare minimum possible to join, filling the registration, signing to abide by the rules and paying the subscription.
But as we approach the annual commemoration of the redemptive act of Jesus, His atonement for our sins, there is an opportunity to reflect on what it mean to be a true Christian.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the first use of the term Christian is made in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, now near Antakya, in modern-day Turkey (Acts 11:26).
Mike Gascoigne writes that the word "Christian" is comparatively rare, appearing only three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16) and is therefore unlikely to have been their usual name. They were sometimes referred to as "The Way", although this was also not their preferred name, but more likely a term of abuse given to them by others. It is possible that the term "Christian" was also given to them as a term of abuse, although they gladly adopted it for themselves because they were happy to accept suffering and abuse in the name of Yeshua (Jesus). The two most popular names that they normally called themselves were "Disciples" and "Saints".
The word "Disciple" (mathetos in Greek) means one who is trained or taught; a student or follower. Jesus the Christ was very clear what it meant to follow Him. ‘Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23 NLT)
For those of us who think that our crosses as Christians or Disciples of Christ are too heavy to carry, here is a story that I read and shared with my congregation on Monday night:
One day a man complained to God that his cross was too big and heavy. God took the man to a large warehouse with a small entrance door and said, "Go inside and leave your cross by the door. Inside you will find crosses of many different sizes and shapes. Take whichever one you like."
"Wow," the man thought, "this is more like it." So, leaving his cross just inside the door, he went into the huge warehouse. Inside were hundreds of crosses. And, yes, some were bigger than the others, but even the smallest one he could find was much bigger than the cross he had been carrying.
After searching through all the crosses for several hours, the man headed back towards the door in disappointment. Nearing the door, in a darkened corner, he saw a small cross. It was smaller than any other cross he had found in the entire warehouse. Joyfully he picked it up and carried it through the door to show it to God.
"See what I found!" he cried joyfully as he approached God. "It is just the right size for me. I can carry this cross."
"I’m glad you can handle it," God replied. "That is the same cross you brought here."
At the same time we are also called to help each other carry our crosses. In the story of Simon of Cyrene, a Libyan Jew in Jerusalem for the Passover who finds himself giving relief to a physically broken and exhausted Jesus and carrying the Cross a short distance, there lies the call for each one of us to be willing to bear the weight of one another’s burden. If we can take up that cross and deny ourselves If we, like Simon, can truly take on Christ; be in Christ in the agony of Good Friday then we can truly come to be with Christ in the Joy of Easter and then we will be blessed.
As we struggle hoping for someone to help us with our own crosses, our sin and our shame, our frustrations, our weakensses, are we able to keep our eyes open to the others struggling with the weight of their crosses? Whose cross can you bear?
Easter symbolises not only Christ’s death and resurrection but our death to since and our becoming a new creation. It is a time of repentance and forgiveness, of making peace and reconciliation. It is a time of healing. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
Easter is a time for Christians to remember that Jesus gave His life not just for Christians but for the whole world (John 3:16). It is a time to reach out in love to the brother and sister as well as the neighbour and stranger.
A wise older sister from halfway around the world shared with me today, “when I watch life unfold, I think about the perfection of the divine plan. Let us pray for all humans this Passover that we realise that we are One, in one Source and that kindness is everything. Everything always works out and better than any human could imagine.”
Dudley Holy Week services are at 7pm tonight and tomorrow and at 9am on Good Friday. On Easter or Resurrection Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with a combined sunrise service with Wesley City Mission at the Suva Peace Garden (just in front of the Suva Civic Auditorium).
May this week be holy and blessed for you and this Easter, may you find new life and the strength to not only carry your cross but to help others carry theirs.
Rev. J.S. Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is the Circuit Minister of the Dudley Suva Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma