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 will find it.”
Just prior to Jesus telling his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him, there is a distinct shift in the life and ministry of Christ. Several verses earlier, He tells his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and on the third day be raised to life (Mt 16:21). More specifically, Jesus will deny himself in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he asks God to take this cup of suffering away yet concludes His prayer by saying “not my will, but Yours be done.” He will literally carry his cross – the instrument of his own execution to the hill called Golgotha; and He will choose to follow the will of His Abba Father by dying on the cross. Thus, when he tells his disciples to deny themselves, carry their cross, and follow Him, Jesus is asking them to follow His own example.
Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of a 40-day journey we Christians call Lent. It is a journey of self-denial, carrying our cross, and following Christ. Of course, there is nothing about this process that sounds remotely desirable. But we choose this journey with the belief that by the end, it will bring us to the same place it did for Jesus, mainly our own “resurrection.” This is not simply a resurrection that happens in our life after death, but a resurrection power NOW that raises us above the sorrows, sickness, and storms that we encounter in this life.
During my 8 years in Kazakhstan, serving on the mission field, there were many a day when I cried out to God, that the hardships I faced were too great to bear, and I wanted to jump ship and return to the United States. Each time, God reminded me that there are times in our Christian journey where we have to carry our cross in order to follow God. What sustained me during that time was the hope that God was preparing something glorious at the end of this road. God’s plan was not my suffering but the resurrection that followed!
I truly believe the resurrection for me is Community United Methodist Church! God was preparing me for this very ministry and spending these days with each of you. God also knew a pandemic would come and was preparing me and creating endurance, so that we may hold on to each other and make it through this storm. With tears in my eyes, I write to confess that it is truly my joy and honor to serve alongside all of you and that I’ve been resurrected from days that were difficult and dark. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
I believe this is God’s desire for all of you. Whatever it is that God is asking you to sacrifice even though it is difficult, by choosing this road in order to follow Christ, God promises each of you that same resurrection power at the end of your journey. May God give us the strength and courage to make difficult choices for the sake of Christ. And may we all experience the glorious resurrection at the end of our Lenten journey.