Why Holy Week Matters: Taking up Your Cross
At the cross, Jesus generously gave his life for us. And yet, we can easily take that gift for granted and respond with indifference or entitlement.
Third in a three-part series connecting everyday life with scenes from Holy Week: at the table, in the garden, and at the cross.
Not long before he died, Jesus challenged his disciples to “take up their cross and follow,” or as The Message translation puts it:
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
(Matthew 16:24-26 MSG)
During my teenage son’s recent spring break, he and I spent three days on a “mission trip” in the city of Chicago. Teams of kids from our suburban church (located just an hour away from the city) made up beds in homeless shelters, painted walls in inner city churches, cleaned Salvation Army kitchens. We slept on a church floor at night.
One day, my team visited a ministry to teenage moms in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. Girls in the program get an apartment, childcare, help with job placement or finishing school, and a strong support system. They work toward self-sufficiency.
Don’t Miss the Chance for a Better Life
The ministry is a beacon of light in the violence-plagued neighborhood, and the staff was grateful to have a group of eager volunteers. After cleaning all morning and then eating lunch, our guide, the maintenance man for the building, took a few of us to an apartment which had housed a young mom (the ministry focuses on moms ages 13 to 19) and her two small children, ages about 6 and 18 months.
Unfortunately, she had to leave the program after she left the children alone in the apartment for more than seven hours. (Her children were placed with a family member). The apartment had been a wreck, our guide told us, “it looked like Hurricane Katrina.” We were to finish the cleanup started the previous day.
Some girls respond to the generosity of this ministry with gratitude and positive action. However, some are simply not ready to accept the responsibilities that go along with the gift.
We washed dishes and pots and pans that were crusted with grease, we scrubbed walls and the range hood and the bathroom, cleaned the windows, sanitized the beds. Many dishes and pots had to be thrown away as they were ruined by neglect.
That young girl, a mom too soon for countless reasons, wasn’t there to say thank you to the team of kids who scrubbed down the apartment, singing worship songs as they did so.
Sure, the staff of the ministry thanked us repeatedly. We were serving them, but we were also serving that teenage mom. And the ministry had tried to serve her.
How could she be so cavalier about such a generous gift—housing, help with childcare and finding a job? Why would she not respond to such a gift by at least making an effort?
Probably because she was still a child herself, and being responsible is hard. It would require self-sacrifice—putting her children first, saying no to partying and hanging with her friends. Washing her own dishes. Being unselfish.
The Incredible Opportunity of Self-Sacrifice
As we think about Holy Week, we think of the cross, where Jesus generously gave the most precious gift—his own life. And yet, truth be told, I can easily take that gift for granted. There are days when I respond with indifference or entitlement. As much as I wondered how that young mom could do what she did, I realized—I do the same with the gift that Jesus offers.
Sure, I’ll take the gift of salvation, just like she took the free apartment and free childcare. But will I take up my own cross, or will I choose comfort (or ease) over self-sacrifice? Will I do the hard work of serving others? I saw this girl’s enrollment in the program as an “incredible opportunity.” But do I see Jesus’ invitation to take up my cross as an “opportunity”?
That girl missed out on the chance to build a better life for herself and her children. Why? Because it would require hard work, sacrifice. She would have to take up her cross. Raising two babies by yourself is difficult, changing generational patterns is incredibly challenging. And I realized, I do the same thing. I miss out on abundance, on “finding my self, my true self,” because doing so requires self-sacrifice. It’s hard. It requires putting others first—even others who don’t show me any respect or gratitude.
Ironically, the way to fully embrace the gift of what Jesus gave us on the cross is to take up our own cross, to serve others without expecting anything in return. The joy I ultimately experienced in that apartment on Chicago’s west side had nothing to do with the ministry thanking me, or the young mom not thanking me. It had to do with realizing that I’m just like that young mom—but Jesus loves me anyway. Like her, I sometimes choose to avoid the hard work—but Jesus persistently invites me to the abundance that comes from self-sacrifice.
Keri Wyatt Kent is the author of ten books and co-author of six others. Through her writing and speaking, she helps people grow closer to God and live their faith. Connect with her at http://keriwyattkent.com