Matthew 16: 21-28
Take a moment to be still and to pray ‘Come, Holy Spirit’ before reading the scriptures. If you are in the company of others, invite someone to read the text aloud.
If you are gathering with your family, invite someone to read this reflection aloud.
As Michelangelo chipped away at the stone block, David began to emerge. In the words of the sculptor, “David was always there in the marble. I just took away everything that was not David.”
Discipleship comes with a cost as we join Jesus in bearing a cross on our backs. While grace is freely given, it doesn’t come cheap. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say, “As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
In our ‘always be optimising’ age centred on living our best lives, Christ’s words are all too easily dismissed with its chat of denial and death. Yet as we will be reminded this day next week, in the flow of the paschal mystery, life follows death. When we follow Jesus’ pattern of denying ourselves, we won’t lose our life – instead, we will truly find it. As Thomas Merton would say, within each of us there is a true self; a Christlike character waiting to be carved out. In a subversion of what we expect, for ourselves to truly emerge, we are to deny ourselves and practice the Christ life in the Christ way by taking on the nature of a servant, humbling ourselves even when it hurts.
“Cross bearing is the long lesson of our mortal life. It is part of God’s salvation, called sanctification. It is a lesson set before us every moment of every day. If life were an art lesson, we could describe it as a process of finding out how to turn this mud into that porcelain, this ugly stone block into that statue, this tangle of thread into that tapestry. In fact, however, the stakes are higher than in any art lesson. It is in the school of sainthood that we find ourselves enrolled and the artefact that is being made is ourselves.”
You, the true you, will not emerge from the marble by addition, through the satisfaction of all your cravings, or by keeping up with [insert person you know or don’t know that you keep comparing yourself to]. It is only by walking the path of truth and life through the denial of self and service of others that you will truly appear. The way of the cross is to be our way of life, chipping away at everything that is not you.
As we look ahead to our story reaching its unending conclusion, Jesus will return and we will be like Him. But the end is where we start. With the Spirit as the sculptor, the art lesson has begun as we live open to formation into Christ nature; the stature of our truest selves.
Good Friday is one week away.
We can so easily narrow the cross down to make it all about one thing. As we prepare for the last leg of our lenten journey, may we widen our lens, seeing that the cross is kaleidoscopic, inexhaustibly rich. And may we heed the words of Christ, for our lives are not solely to be saved by the cross (of course they are), our lives are also to be shaped by it.
Depending on which time of day you are practicing this office, you can use the morning or evening prayer. All to pray the following words aloud.
Disturb us, O Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.
Disturb us, O Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
If you are gathering with your family, wait a moment and listen for the voice of God. Prayerfully share any words, pictures, encouragements or scriptures with each other by the laying on of hands.
Whether you are by yourself, or in the company of others, take time to pray for others that the Holy Spirit brings to mind, blessing them in His name.
Close your time by singing or saying aloud the Doxology.
“Fight back the dark with doxology. Doxology can detox the day.”
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Amen and Amen.