Jesus said (Mark 8:34): “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Take up your cross, Jesus said. Those words have led to an expression Christians often use when speaking of their troubles. “It is my cross to bear,” many will say when speaking of their bad back or constant headaches or financial loss or difficult loved ones or whatever. This is a good and helpful way to look at these things. Seeing your trouble as your cross to bear links your suffering to the suffering of Christ, and that can dignify your pain and give it some meaning. There is needed comfort in that, because that is what we get in this world– suffering. That is what Jesus got when he was here on this earth, and so he said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” and he could have added, “I had to suffer too, you know.” Jesus might have even said, “What kind of king or queen do you think you are that you should not have to suffer? Everyone suffers, so is why is everyone always saying ‘why me, why me?’” Why not me?, we should ask. After all, unimaginable suffering came even to the Son of God, Savior of the world himself, so why not me? So Jesus says, ‘take up your cross,’ that is, whatever form of suffering it is that you have to bear, ‘and follow me.’
Elizabeth Clephane was one who did just that. She was born in 1830 and in her short life had more than her share of crosses to bear. Her parents died when she was just a child, and Elizabeth herself was always frail and in poor health. She died when she was only 39. Yet, she bore her many crosses with dignity, and used what energy she had to follow Jesus. Elizabeth and her sister used their time and their wealth to serve the poor, the sick, and those otherwise in need in their community of Melrose, Scotland. In time, they had given away everything they had, living little better than the poor they were serving. The people of the town loved the two sisters, remembering their cheerful disposition in spite of everything.
Not only did Elizabeth take up her cross and follow Jesus, she also wrote a song about it. She had written many poems and several were put to music after her death, but just one of them became a favorite, Beneath the Cross of Jesus. Every verse speaks of the cross of Jesus: taking a stand beneath it, looking to it, abiding in it, and resting in it. Knowing how she literally wore herself out in serving Jesus make some of the lines even more meaningful. The cross, she wrote, is ‘a mighty rock within a weary land, a home along the way, a place to rest from the burdens of the day,’ and so forth. Elizabeth knew her Bible well. These three brief verses contain images and phrases from Jeremiah, Matthew, the Psalms, and three from Isaiah. This is a wonderful hymn, filled with faith in and devotion to the one who died on that cross. It is a reminder of what it means to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
Mark 8:34-37 — Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
I Peter 4:12, 13 — Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
BENEATH THE CROSS OF JESUS
Beneath the cross of Jesus I long to take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.
Upon that cross of Jesus my eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonder of His glorious love, and my unworthiness.
I take, O cross, your shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.
O God, who by the meek endurance of your Son beat down the pride of the old enemy: Help us, we pray, rightly to treasure in our hearts what our Lord has, of his goodness, endured for our sakes; that after his example, we may bear with patience whatsoever things are adverse to us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —Book of Common Prayer, (alt.)