Take up your cross and follow me
Take up your cross and follow me!
The Fifth Sunday of Lent 2021
We are one week away from Holy Week.
May we prepare to celebrate the mysteries with profound reverence and love.
“The hour has come” Jesus says, “for the Son of Man to be glorified.”
“I solemnly assure you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat.
But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
The image is clear. Dying is part of living. No death, no life. No dying, no rising.
Jesus goes on with a riddle:
“The person who loves their life loses it,
while the person who hates their life
in this world
preserves it to eternal life.’
We often try to grasp the things and persons in our life tightly and not let go. Parents sometimes have difficulty letting go of their children. Persons diagnosed with terminal cancer sometimes have difficulty accepting the inevitable and have difficulty preparing for a peaceful—or as we used to say “a happy” death.
This scripture is about surrender. About letting go.
We think of surrender as something unhealthy, that surrender means defeat. But for Jesus and for us surrender is the way to victory.
Jesus is a model of surrender and letting go for us. On the cross he stretched out his hands to be nailed. He let go of his ministry and his life and entrusted them to his heavenly Father.
He emptied himself—as the beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 shows us.
If we want to live a truly spiritual life, we have to let go of all things that are not God.
There is a stripping process, a cleansing and purifying that is part of spiritual growth.
Throughout our lives we are given trials that can cleanse and purify us—if we let them.
We are to be purified as gold and silver are purified in the furnace.
The task is simple: to let go.
During this past year so many of us came to understand this. The New York Times this past week and the Washington Post offered articles showing how much has changed in American life during the past year. Many or most of us have indeed surrendered to the Pandemic and the changes it has wrought in our lives.
But we find that oh! so difficult. The more we realize we should let go, the tighter we cling to things and persons and pet projects.
When I used to walk my dog Shoney, of happy memory, he was always on the hunt for chicken bones that our lawn-mower guys leave behind in the grass. Do you think I could get him to let go of one of the bones once he finds one? I was the one that used to do the surrendering ~ even though it was bad for him! But let’s move on.
“The person who loves his life, loses it” Jesus says.
Facing the issue of letting go and trying to discern the things we need to let go of is a holy and a wholesome process.
Forty years ago, at one of the darkest periods of my life, I came to realize that I needed to let go—not because it was the right thing to do but because I had no other choice. My life was not working any more. I had to try a different way.
I wrote the following prayer to capture the moment:
Lord Jesus, I surrender my ego;
forgive my sins of egotism.
Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-will;
let me be motivated by a loving concern for you and the people you want me to care for.
Lord Jesus, I surrender my self-centeredness;
let me do what you want me to do.
Lord Jesus, bring the Father and the Holy Spirit and abide with me and remain with me.
Let me see as you see,
hear as you hear,
speak as you speak
and touch as you touch.
To you be glory and honor, forever. Amen
The Cross is a paradox.
An instrument of cruelty and death becomes a sign of life and eternal salvation. Jesus allowed the soldiers to strip him of his clothes and he stretched out his hands to be willingly nailed to his cross.
What was this amazing paradox Jesus was teaching us?
William Barclay offers three suggestions . . . .
First. Jesus was saying that by death comes life. The grain of wheat was ineffective and unfruitful so long as it was preserved in a jar or in a sack. It was when it was thrown into the cold ground, and buried as if in a tomb, that it bore fruit. It was by the death of the martyrs that the church grew. In a famous saying, “The blood of the martyrs in the seed of the Church.”
It is always because men have prepared to die that the great things have lived. By the death of personal desire and personal ambition someone becomes a servant of God.
Second. Jesus was saying that only by spending life do we retain it. The person who loves his life is moved by two aims, by selfishness and personal security. Not once but many times, Jesus insisted that the person who hoarded his life must in the end lose it. My mother had a saying,, “It’s better to burn out than to rust out.” The world owes everything to people who recklessly spent their strength and gave themselves to God and to others.
Third. Jesus was saying that only by service comes greatness. The people whom the world remembers with love are the people who serve others.
This Easter, may we surrender our life more fully, more richly into the hands of our loving Father. Let us unite to Jesus’ Cross the sins and shortcomings that hinder us from being the wonderful instrument of God that he wants us to be.
We surrender our failure to spend time in prayer with the Lord.
We surrender our failure to offer true care and support to one another.
We surrender all our character defects, particularly our refusal to grow spiritually.
We surrender our cynicism and lack of trust.
Our poor self-esteem and failure to love and love and accept ourselves.
We surrender our resentments.
We our sins and our tendency to do evil.
But we also surrender all the beautiful loving moments of our lives ~ all those who have helped us grow and blossom ~ all our loving relationships.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
And before you go, here’s a wonderful hymn with words on this Scripture. Click here.
Here are today’s Mass readings, if you would like to reflect on them. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series /The Gospel of John – Volume 2 / Westminster Press /Philadelphia 1975: p. 123.
And here’s a Prayer of Acceptance that I composed back in 2007. Perhaps you’d like to copy and paste it and print it to place in a prayer book.
Prayer for Acceptance
I praise and thank you for the gift of life and of love you share with me and my loved ones.
I find acceptance very difficult at times.
Sometimes I feel you give me crosses too difficult to bear.
I ask you now if in your kindness you would grant me the grace to accept . . .
(here name the situation or persons.)
I really want to live in your will but sometimes I lack the faith and hope to do so.
I sometimes feel self pity / discouragement /anxiety /guilt and poor self esteem.
I keep taking back the things and persons I have placed in your hands
as if I lack confidence in your ability to preside over my life.
Today ~ right now ~ I ask that I may accept my life as it is
so that I may receive your grace and your loving guidance.
Father, I also pray for those around me who may be struggling with difficult crosses.
I pray for those who are struggling with relationships with their spouses or their children.
For those who are having financial difficulties.
For those young people who have lost their way.
For those who are seriously ill or near death.
May we all be given the strength and the grace we need.
Father, I meditate now on the Cross of your Son
and our Brother Jesus Christ who willingly accepted death on a Cross.
May we be given the strength to unite our lives,
as meager s they may seem to be, with his act of sacrifice
so that we may experience the joy of his Resurrection.
Father, I place my life in your hands.
Father, I place my life in your hands.
Father, I place my life in your hands
~ bob traupman / st. augustine ~ 2007