We have a book at home called ‘You Choose.’ It’s been a firm fave for a while now. The premise of the book is - if you could live anywhere, wear anything, do any job, enjoy any pastime, eat any food, live in any house, travel in whatever you like and sleep in any bed - what would you choose? Anything being possible I quite like the idea of living on the beach, wearing a suit of armour, working as an artist, eating sweets, flying a space shuttle and sleeping in a shoe. It’s ridiculously silly, but it raises an important question - if you could have any life - what would you chose?
Would you go for a Euromillions style bumper life - new house, cars, holidays etc? Would you go for the much touted celebrity life - premieres, receptions, fancy food, glam clothes, fabulous body and a gorgeous face? Would you rather have the life you have now, but a bit better - the mortgage paid off, a bigger pension? Sadly most of the time it’s not like that. Most of the time life is pretty humdrum, sometimes it’s expensive, sometimes peppered with joy - like the imanent arrival of a new baby, other times with the searing pain of tragedy.
Along comes Jesus preaching good news. Great, I could do with some of that, but listen to Jesus today - ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it...’
Take up their cross? Lose their life? That is good news to the celebrity obsessed generation? That is good news to the unemployed engineer? That is good news to the struggling single parent? How so Lord?! Can’t we cut straight to the good news of Resurrection bodies and new and eternal life? I’m not sure that any of us signed up for this Way of the Cross self-flagulation. I want to follow you Jesus, but as you’re the expert, can’t you carry my cross for me please? But that is exactly what he has done...
All the doubt, fear, brokenness, and sin in the world - that’s the weight of the cross that He carries. And we are invited to carry it too - to learn to be Christlike is to share in His sufferings even as we hope to share His glory.
Rajmund Kolbe was born in January 1894 in central Poland, which was at that time part of Russian Empire. His father was German and his mother of Polish. He had four brothers, they lived a simple life. In 1907 Kolbe and his brother decided to join the Franciscan.Order. In 1910 Kolbe was allowed to enter the novitiate. He professed his first vows in 1911, taking the name Maximilian.
In 1918 Kolbe was ordained a priest. In 1919 he returned to the newly independent Poland, from Rome where he had been studying, and he encouraged his fellow Poles to live a renewed faith. During WWII he provided shelter to thousands of refugees from Greater Poland and was also active as a radio amateur vilifying Nazi activities through his reports.
On February 17 1941, he was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned, later being transferred to Auschwitz. In July 1941 a man from Kolbe’s barracks vanished, prompting the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men from the same barracks to be starved to death, in order to deter further escape attempts. One of the selected men, cried out, protesting that he had a family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place.
During the time in the cell he led the men in songs and prayer. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. He was finally executed with an injection of carbolic acid. ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it...’
Carrying our cross may not call us to the extreme sorts of living and dying as Maxamillian Kolbe, but Jesus calls us to carry our cross. Each of our crosses will be made of different materials and carry different weights - the times we know we have let God, ourselves and each other down, the brokenness of our lives, but our crosses are also honed by the things we struggle with in life - debt, a tricky marriage, an elderly relative, loneliness - things we’d like to lose but find ourselves carrying in our hearts each day. We weigh ourselves down still further if we insist on grabbing onto the we so often put ahead of following Christ - health, wealth, success - all seem so alluring now, but can so easily turn to dead weight, that wont take us into the Kingdom, burdens that will hamper us in following the One who’s call is constant.
This is the cross He carries for us. The one one which, through His death on it, offers each one of us the chance to unburden our hands and our lives. The cross we are each called to bear by Him, is not one of patient endurance in the face of suffering, it’s not even a call to the quiet martyrdom that life for some has become - ‘we all have our cross to bear.’
The cross He calls us to carry is the empty cross of the Resurrection, the one we are marked with at our baptism. The one that identifies us with Him - the one who carries the weight of our brokenness, our sinfulness, and in return offers us eternal life.
do you chose? A life that allows you live anywhere, wear anything, do any job,
enjoy any pastime, eat any food, live in any house, travel in whatever
you like and sleep in any bed... or one that takes seriously Jesus' words, ‘If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For
those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their
life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it...’ The
choice is - do you carry your cross, or His? It’s as simple as the
choice of life or Life Eternal? Amen.