The First Station: It’s Called The Way of The Cross For a Reason
March 10, 2011 § 1 Comment
There’s actually a nasty little bit right after a similar passage in Luke which says, “… those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels”. Following Jesus is not for the faint-of-heart and it’s not a some-time thing. The Way of The Cross is a daily exercise. Jesus isn’t kidding around about this stuff. He wants us to live out loud and He wants us to give the work of following God everything we have, even death to our own self.
If you’re new to the Episcopal Church you’ll find that we LOVE to talk about our Baptismal Covenant because it frames our common life together in service to God’s mission for our individual lives. That’s a pretty powerful thing we’re promising. The vows and blessings in that Covenant call us to live a life supporting and sustaining one another, not only socially but spiritually, not only within the walls of our sanctuary but the sanctuary which is God’s entire creation “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ“, and it calls us to the service of GOD’S mission for our lives … not our own desires for our lives, but the perfection our lives can attain through the recognition of God’s perfect will for us, if only we will ask, if only we will lay down our lives, if only we will listen, if only we will hear and obey.
There is such an enormous difference between believing in God and living for God; between finding lovely passages in the Bible to please our ear and having its precepts mold our lives; between identifying as a Christian and living actively as a follower of Christ. There is also a difference between going to church every Sunday like we’re going to a concert in a beautiful environment with a lovely soundtrack and pretty vestments versus the work of going to church every Sunday when maybe we’re too exhausted or maybe we’re angry at another congregant or maybe we’re in an dry season in our practice of public worship but we suck it up because we realise the importance of coming together to empty ourselves of “coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship [God] in spirit and in truth“. God calls us to experience a Transfiguration “by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship … transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect“.
There’s an interesting arc in the “reality” show Bethenny Ever After (stop judging me) where Bethenny is overwhelmed with her new station in life. We met her many years ago on two other reality shows (I don’t get out much) as a single lady with estranged parents and few friends, an entrepreneur who was living the Big City Life and working the dating scene and surviving. Now she has the package of a new husband and a new a baby at once. Her husband is an only child, having lost his brother years ago, and his parents are very present, very dear, very involved, very first-time grandparents and this guy also has a slew of bestest friends he grew up with who are all still actively involved in one another’s lives. Oh, bombshell? Those people all live three hours away in the suburbs. Bethenny is being forced to absorb all these people and all their needs and all their schedules in her new existence as wife and mother and now daughter. To me, it speaks of one of the reasons I believe many of the friends I’ve had in my life don’t want to be partnered and don’t want to get married: they don’t mind the company of a relationship and may even want a long-term coupling but they certainly don’t want the reality of being burdened with all the inconveniences of combing two lives in to one existence. In my experience and the experience of many of my married friends, we didn’t marry just one person, we both joined to form one entity which comprises an intricate web of friends and family members and all their baggage and all our baggage and the responsibility of juggling it all, especially at those times when we don’t want to. Many people don’t find the rich blessings I do in that sort of accountability.
Perhaps, too, many people see a relationship with God like that: “God, really great job, I’m a big fan, love your work, but I don’t want all that family stuff you’ve got clinging to you.” Our Baptismal Covenant charges us to be actively involved in one another’s lives and to look after one another as we promise to live lives of worship, forgiveness, proclamation, service, and justice-making. I know a lot of people in my life, myself included for a time, who only want to go to a huge church where they can get lost in the crowd or be a church hopper so they can remain somewhat anonymous or sneak in and out of regular services like they’re stealing something (which they actually may very well be doing). I think it’s because people don’t want to get involved … it’s just too expensive. Getting involved would encroach upon their privacy, their personal time, in essence, their selfishness. Belonging to a Church is also very hard work … it’s actually a Lifestyle. Howard Gally reminds us how much work it is when he says that the Church, referring to the Christian community, is <not an assembly of likeminded persons. There are members who quarrel (Phil. 4:2), who promote factions (1 Cor. 11:18-22), and who hold different opinions (Rom. 14:2-6). It is, moreover, a body that does not exist for its own sake, but is a people called by God to “make disciples of all nations” ( Matt. 28:19), and to live in love and unity so “that the world may believe” (John 17:21)>.
Let’s take this Lent to shake off a very subtle disease, the one which The Church of Ephesus was accused of in The Book of Revelation of Jesus Christ: that of losing its First Love. Let’s condemn our selfishness to death and rejuvenate our spirits with the innocent, fresh and giddy love we once had for the joy of being loved by God, the beauty of all God’s creation and the love we feel for God in return and combine it with the excitement of belonging to such a rich community of God-loving people and a willingness to serve them. I know it will, in turn, replenish us to be sent out into the world in witness to God’s love.
(Image: St. Luke in the Fields, mudpig via creative commons)