Article for the March edition of The Hillside Messenger
The Way of the Cross
For some people, to celebrate Easter without observing Lent and Holy Week is much more sensible and spiritually far less demanding. For them, resurrection seems more plausible when linked with spring, fertility and Easter bunnies.
But for Christians in the Anglican tradition, Lent and Holy Week are not only part of our ecclesiastical historical heritage, but also an integral part of our Christian theology and approach to life. Our priority of following Christ in our daily lives means that we must pay attention to the whole course of his life, and not just the more pleasant aspects of it. Anglican devotion tends to embrace meditation on the life of Christ, so that we may follow more obediently the example of His life. In the Collect for the Monday before Easter, for example, the Church acknowledges the necessity of Christ’s sufferings, and applies that to the Christian way of life:
ALMIGHTY God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
– p. 138, Book of Common Prayer, 1928
This Collect implies that just as for the Lord Jesus Christ, there was no escaping of the cross, neither will there be for us Christians, who will not find “the way of life and peace” to be any different from the way of the cross in which we are to walk. Another Collect, the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter, expresses the truth that God gave the world his only Son as both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly life, and prays that Christians will not only always receive the former as a benefit of immeasurable value, but also will daily try to follow “the blessed steps of his most holy life” (pp. 171-2, Book of Common Prayer, 1928).
The necessity of the Lord Jesus Christ’s sufferings was prophesied in Isaiah 53, among other passages. The Lord Jesus himself corrects the misconception that two disciples had about him on the road to Emmaus, when he says in Luke 24:25-26 (KJV):
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?
Since Christians are followers of Christ, they must also follow his way of life, which will entail the endurance of trials and opposition for the sake of the Gospel. These may include misunderstanding even by our friends, being overlooked for a promotion, mistreatment, hostility from others, persecution, and many other things, including a difficult way of life, such as, for example, missionaries and some clergy may have to endure. The logical way of the world is to build a career, to enjoy success, to gather wealth, acquire possessions and invest for the future. Some Christians will be able to achieve some of these goals, but others may find that their calling does not permit it.
Writing to Timothy, St. Paul exhorts him, “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3). Earlier in the same Epistle, he writes, “Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Enduring hardship and sharing in the afflictions of the Gospel, are integral to the Christian way of life. The “faithful saying” (2 Timothy 2:11-13) makes this even clearer:
For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him:
If we suffer, we shall also reign with him:
If we deny him, he also will deny us:
If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.
Just as the prerequisite for Christ’s resurrection and ascension according to God’s will was that he suffer, so it is for us Christians, only in different ways for each of us. The Lord Jesus’ sayings about taking up one’s cross and following him make the same point (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27). The criminal who was condemned to death in the days of the Roman Empire had to carry the crossbeam of his cross to the place of his execution. To deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus, calls for a way of life in which you bear whatever disgrace, shame, or hardship that Christ calls you to bear for his sake and the Gospel’s faithfully to the end. For many it has been martyrdom or torture for the faith; for others harassment and persecution; for others, homelessness because the violence against them on account of their faith causes them to flee from one place to another; for yet others, misunderstanding of their mission, or rejection when God sends them as messengers to proclaim his word to various nations or even individuals.
At the heart of the Gospel message is the preaching of “Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23). For this message to be effective, it must be reflected in our lives, in our thoughts, prayers, words and actions, even if to the Greeks, or in today’s terms, the intellectuals and philosophers, even politicians, the message of Christ crucified is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23). Carrying our cross as we follow Christ must be more important than any political or worldly ideology, as our mission requires us not to be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2), but transformed by the daily renewing of our mind by the Holy Spirit through the word of God, the Bible.
Here we return to the purposes of observing Lent and Holy Week before Easter. The purposes are really to remind each Christian of the cost of his salvation, the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, to encourage everyone who is a Christian to continue following Christ faithfully, and, by meditating on the events of Holy Week, to grow stronger in faith and obedience to God. As we do this year by year, we shall find it harder to deny our faith, or to be silent about our faith when we know that the love of God for this world constrains us to testify to Christ.