Holy Week | Walking in the Way of the Cross

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Lectionary Readings for Good Friday Year B: April 3, 2015; Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10: 16-25; John 18:1-19:42


If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 8:34


The cross means different things to different people these days. For some, it is a piece of jewelry. For others it is a sign and symbol of their commitment to Christ or their call to ordained ministry. For many Christians around the world, the cross is an experience—it takes the form of daily and life-threatening persecution. For every Christian, the beauty and brutality of the cross is the inescapable reality that confronts us during Holy Week, challenging us to consider what it means for us to follow Jesus in taking up our own cross—whatever form that may take.

Take up Your Cross

For decades, I have lived in and traveled to areas of the world where Christians are a persecuted minority. In the 1970s, I was a student in Lahore, Pakistan, when Muslim extremists desecrated the church on a Christian college campus. The building was damaged, Bibles were burned, and Christians were assaulted. This made no sense to us because the college had provided the finest education to both Christians and Muslims in Pakistan for more than a hundred years. The Christian community was outraged, and we held a rally in Lahore Cathedral to pray and express our frustration at how we, as minorities, had been treated by the majority community. Leaders of the assembly (made up of nearly 2,000 people) then marched to the governor’s house in Punjab to present a memorandum of protest.

I was asked to carry a large processional cross to lead the march. Although it was a peaceful demonstration, armed policemen repeatedly pointed their guns and batons at my chest. It was a terrifying experience at the time, but one that now seems almost mild in light of recent events. You see, it was less than two years ago on a Sunday morning in September when two Taliban suicide bombers attacked All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack left 127 worshipers dead and more than 250 wounded.

In January this year I was invited to preach and celebrate Holy Communion at All Saints Church. It was a profoundly moving experience to worship on the very ground where the blood of Christian martyrs was spilled. After the service, I was approached by Mano Rumalshah, bishop emeritus of the Peshawar diocese, who presented me with an iconic Cross of Thorns. “Receive this Cross of Thorns,” he said. “Receive it on behalf of a people who carry around in their bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our bodies. And please remember us in your prayers” (2 Corinthians 4:10).

Marked by the Cross

The bishop’s request for prayer was no mere formality. Incidents of violence against Christians were becoming more frequent and churches in predominantly Muslim countries were on high alert. Just three weeks earlier in the coastal Libyan city of Sirte, masked ISIS gunmen went from room to room in a residential compound checking IDs, and separating Muslims from Christians. The Muslims were released but the Coptic Christians—Egyptians working in Libya—were handcuffed and kidnapped. The identification process was simplified by a distinctive mark—a small cross tattoo on the inner wrist.

For generations, Coptic Christians have tattooed themselves as a permanent sign of their allegiance to Christ. On February 12, less than three weeks after my trip to Peshawar, the video-taped beheading of twenty-one Coptic Christians by Islamist militants in Libya was worldwide headline news.

It is stories like these and many others that I wrestle with throughout Lent and Holy Week. What does it really mean for Christians today to be obedient to the call of Christ? How are we to respond to his teaching: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).

Dangerous Choices

Those who first heard these words and decided to follow Jesus had already made a risky choice. It was a perilous time in Roman-occupied Palestine—violence and uprisings were common and threats to the state were ruthlessly put down. Jesus’ followers knew he was the Messiah, and they thought that meant Jesus would soon be overthrowing the pagans, restoring the temple, and establishing a new kingdom built on justice. That was their dream. But instead of defeating the Romans, Jesus ended up crucified. And his followers were left with a command to exchange their lesser dreams for a cross.

This, at its simplest, is what Jesus was all about. Through his crucifixion, the Messiah makes it clear that following him is not without cost. In fact, it is a dangerous choice that inevitably leads to death of one kind or another. Or did we suppose that taking up a cross would require only a few minor adjustments to our ordinary lives?

The persecuted Christians I have come to know over the past thirty years help me to understand more about what it looks like to take up one’s cross today. Their living faith has grown from a risky choice to align themselves with the cross of Christ. Their cross is a daily struggle to follow Jesus in the midst of betrayal, suffering, threats, and persecution. And this commitment is the source of their extraordinary perseverance and power. They embody the truth that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”
(1 Corinthians 1:18).

Jesus’ Call to the Cruciform Life

Jesus’ life and death show us that the cross is not optional. Taking up one’s cross is required for all who follow Jesus Christ. Christ leads the procession carrying his cross; we, his followers, are to walk in his steps bearing our own crosses. We do so knowing that life with the cross ultimately ends not in death but in the glory of resurrection.

So what are our crosses? They are not simply trials or hardships. It is typical to think of a tough boss or a troublesome family member as a “cross.” But difficult relationships are not the same thing as a cross. Even suffering, illnesses, or disabilities cannot properly be called crosses. A cross is a choice. We take up our cross when we walk in Christ’s steps and embrace his life, which means extending ourselves in difficult circumstances for the sake of the gospel. At times, that may mean lifting high the cross of Christ in the public square. At other times, it may mean embracing weakness instead of power.

For Christians in Pakistan, it means loving those who persecute them. “We are 100,000 Anglican Christians among 30 million Muslims,” said Mano Rumalshah, “and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have told us to leave or be killed. Instead, we wash their wounds and provide them tender care in our hospitals when they are injured. We are not leaving. We are continuing to serve, to carry his cross, and to follow Jesus by loving those who hate us.”

Such sacrificial love for others—the cruciform life—is the gold standard of Christian conduct. The apostle Paul and the first followers of Jesus did not win the world to Christ through sword and power but through service and witness. The church in the northern hemisphere has been losing membership because it has become aligned more with wealth and power than sacrificial love. The sign of the church’s true power is not in the heights of our cathedral spires, but in the depths of our loving and sacrificial service. It is in and through our weakness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the church finds its power to conquer violence and death.

Learning from Jesus How to Be Like Jesus

In a world marked by poverty, greed, apathy, violence, and persecution, Jesus’ life and death challenge us to live cruciform lives. The world is waiting for us to lift high the cross—to make costly choices for love of Christ. I hope and pray during this Holy Week that we will all find ourselves under the cross of Jesus, asking what it means to follow him in life and in death. As we walk in the way of the cross this week and ask Jesus to show us what it means for us, may we heed his plea:

“Take up thy cross,” the Savior said,
“If thou wouldst my disciple be;
Take up thy cross with a willing heart,
And humbly follow after me.”
—“Take Up Thy Cross,” Charles William Everest

© 2015 Patrick P. Augustine. Not to be reproduced in print without permission.

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The Very Reverend Canon Patrick P. Augustine

Ordained as presbyter in the Church of Pakistan, Patrick Pervez Augustine came to the United States in 1983, and he currently serves as rector of Christ Episcopal Church in LaCross, WI. He has traveled extensively, seeking to be a voice for persecuted Christians throughout the Anglican Communion. In 2013 he was recognized with the “Award of the Cross of St. Augustine,” the highest honor of the Anglican Communion.

14 Comments

  1. roberto on April 1, 2015 at 8:20 pm

    Thank you Fr Patrick for bringing your experiential world view and speaking up for the persecuted church. I am deeply concerned with the decline of Eastern Christianity and the loss of its wisdom tradition. However, there is an encouraging strengthening of the bond between Evangelicals and Episcopalians as both provide leadership in this issue of modern Christianity, this issue of the heart. Thank you for your loving contribution to interfaith dialogue.

  2. Bill Power on April 1, 2015 at 7:55 pm

    Father Patrick is a true and wonderful preacher of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the true example of a Christian and what it means to lead a life in Christ. I thank God daily for his presence in our family at Christ Church La Crosse. It is indeed a great honor to be part of his parish and to recognize our brothers and sisters in the world. Their suffering and joys are ours. We need the strong message of Christ in all parishes and churches in this country and the world. Many can benefit from Father Patrick’s vision of peace and love. Being a true Christian never judging only offering our love and compassion. We need to pick up our cross and follow our Savior, Jesus Christ. If we truly believe in His love, we on this fragile planet will find God’s peace and love is meant for all. Only then will we find God’s peace. Christ’s cross is the most powerful symbol known to history. Let us not forget the reason why this is true.

  3. Agook Kuol on March 31, 2015 at 6:01 pm

    The Very Reverend Dr. Patrick Augustine, a servant of Christ in this contemporary demonstrated what it means to be a Christ. He has living his Christ-like in many ways by advocating for the persecuted Christians worldwide and support them with their needs. I am very humbled to read of his articles. His work and writings exegetically inform the rest of the world and what the cross means! There is a great power in the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy Easter you all.

    Agook Kuol

  4. […] Holy Week | Walking in the Way of the Cross […]

    • Patrick Pervez on March 31, 2015 at 7:48 pm

      Thanks. I am glad to know you are going to Pakistan to promote reconciliation work. You are welcome to use this resource material provided credit given to the author and publisher: the Transforming Center, Wheaton, Illinois. Blessings and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace be with you. Please be clear in your mission that you bringing message of peace/Shalom as the ambassador of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus there is no real peace and reconciliation fellow human beings. Cross of Christ is the instrument to reconcile the world. Salaam!

  5. Sam Mall on March 30, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    Thank you Patrick for this excellent Message. As Erroll Mulder has commented, it is a first person, and revealing account of the stark reality, for people in the WEST, which you and I & millions of Christian believers in Pakistan and many other Middle Eastern & African Muslim dominated countries are facing.
    A poignant account of the realities and costs of “carrying and walking in the way of the cross”.

    God willing, I am leaving for Pakistan, next month to launch a new series of Muslim-Christian Interfaith Project, entitled, FACE TO FACE ENCOUNTER. I will email the Proposal to you and could possibly include and use this Message from you, as a Conference Resource material, being the global voices of concern. Blessings.

    Sam Mall: Reach Out International Inc. USA / Pakistan Ministry (Check us under REACH OUT on FACEBOOK)

  6. Mary on March 30, 2015 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you so much for this inspiring article. The most powerful section to me is, ” The sign of the church’s true power is not in the heights of our cathedral spires, but in the depths of our loving and sacrificial service. It is in and through our weakness, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that the church finds its power to conquer violence and death.” In this we find the key to successfully carrying our cross – in and through our weakness – empowered by the Holy Spirit to do what can only be accomplished by Him through us. Here is our discovery point of power to conquer all opposition – and through deep love and sacrificial service.
    I am grateful for this powerful, profound reminder.
    Blessings,
    Mary

  7. Cathy on March 30, 2015 at 5:05 pm

    The way of the cross is a way of love, forgiveness and hope. Witnessing to that cross and the way of Jesus invites us to build bridges of love and peace. I am concerned that the Bishop’s article connects ISIS and other acts of violence with all of Islam. Jesus refused to identify with his own power, with the power of the temple or political powers (kingdoms of this world) in his own ministry and mission. As a follower of Jesus I serve on a local interfaith board. The president is a Muslim woman and staff member of the local mosque in our area. This large Muslim community reminds us that Islam is not a religion of violence and many who call themselves Muslim are using it as a political or tribal “hiding place”. As followers of Jesus it is important to build bridges of love and understanding and not to incite more negativity in our storytelling. Jesus invited us to remember the story of the Good Samaritan as the unlikely neighbor who showed mercy as the Way for all of us….and who invites us to do the same. Islam has been beaten, robbed, bloodied and bruised by small political and tribal groups who wrongly use the religion to advance political and tribal ideologies and harm others. As Christians our discerning invitation is to be careful not to add to any story of hate and prejudice with the stories we share. The way of the cross…the way of Jesus…is a bridge of love, hope, compassion and forgiveness. At the end of this parable Jesus asked “who was the neighbor?” and the answer was…the one who showed mercy…the Samaritan…despised by the Jews….is our teacher….we are called to go and do the same. Blessings, compassion and love~

    • Ruth Barton on April 3, 2015 at 4:49 pm

      I couldn’t agree more that the way of the cross is to show mercy and compassion to all–even to those who persecute us. This is one of the main points of Fr. Patrick’s article as he describes Christians who continue to show love and care toward those who persecute them. Your reminder that only a small portion of those who identify themselves with the Muslim faith resort to the kind of violence we are seeing in our world right now is an important one–that is why I/we are careful to use the word “extremist” “militants” “radicals” in describing the perpetrators of violence and persecution against Christians. Unfortunately, Christians have also been the perpetrators of violence at different times and in different ways; this is an affront the message of the Gospel for which we, too, must repent. I am reminded of the apostle Paul, a deeply religious person who persecuted Christians in the name of God; even though he was convinced he was right, he was so very wrong that God literally knocked him off his horse! In the current cultural milieu, it seems essential for us to be clear that as members of the human race and as people of faith, violence against other human beings for any reason (esp. in the name of religion) is so very wrong, no matter what the religion is. As Dr. MLK, jr. stated so eloquently, we cannot sit idly by in one part of the world and not be concerned about what happens in other parts of our world. Speaking as a minister of the Gospel, Dr. King goes on to say that “Injustice (and I might add-violence) anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” I am grateful for the chance to dialogue about such important matters. Please extend my blessings to the president of your interfaith board; may we all go about doing good in and for our world.

  8. Mari Bickford on March 30, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    Then there are those being beaten and killed by Christian mobs in Uganda for the crime of being gay or lesbian. Christianity is a dirty word in large parts of the world because of the horrible actions of Christians, not because they follow Christ. If Christians hadn’t tortured and murdered Jews and Moslems and polytheists throughout history, taking up the cross of Christ would be a lot less complicated. To take up our cross, is first, to lay down anything that separates up from the heart of Christ — our prejudices, our fears, even our preferences — because to speak as Christians in the name of persecution and prejudice is to mock the teaching and person and message of Christ.

  9. Cynthia on March 30, 2015 at 9:29 am

    What a beautiful, thought-provoking article. Thank you for posting it and sharing with us. I wish so much I could walk the stations with you, but know that I will be walking them here in my town and will be one in spirit with you. Much love, Ruth.

  10. Ruth Barton on March 30, 2015 at 8:14 am

    I am so looking forward to walking and praying the Stations of the Cross with whoever can join us on Good Friday at the Loretto Center Chapel in Wheaton. Every year, Jesus has new things to teach me/us about the cruciform life as we walk the way of the cross together. Praying the stations of the cross is an act of love and discipleship–a very concrete practice in which we walk with Jesus to learn from Jesus how to be like Jesus.

  11. Erroll Mulder on March 30, 2015 at 6:05 am

    What a biblical and contemporary article, simply superb. What a challenge to us in the Western World!

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