Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Mark 8:27-38
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. -Mark 8:34
The cross, an instrument of torture, represents shame, torture, death, and, paradoxically, transformation, triumph, and the throne of glory.
Desiring continual proximity to the sign, Christians wear crosses around their necks, and place them in houses and churches and gardens. This week’s meditation prompts offer ways to think about the sign of the cross – the meaning of its shape (Meditation One) and the cross as a kind of passport (Meditation Two). Then, of course, (Meditation Three) I can practice devotion to the sign of the cross as much as I want. But I have to leave my devotions, take up the cross and follow Jesus.
Meditation One (introit) the shape of the cross
The cross of Christ is like a well-cut diamond.Turn it in the sun and you get a variety of colors and sparkles.Among other things, it brings out the price of true love, the power of vulnerability to bring about community, the presence of God within human suffering, how death washes things clean, how death can be triumph, how one is tempted to cry out in despair just before triumph, and especially how God loves us unconditionally.
–Ron Rolheiser O.M.I. Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears, 2005
But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape.Because it has a paradox in its center it can grow without changing. .. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers.
-G.K.Chesterton 1874-1936 Orthodoxy
…the cross performs a function of synthesis and measurement.In it Heaven and Earth are conjoined…in it time and space are intermingled.The cross is the unbroken umbilical cord of the cosmos, linking it to the center from which it sprang.Of all symbols the cross is the most universal and all-embracing.It symbolizes intervention, mediation, the natural and permanent structure of the universe and communication between Heaven and Earth and Earth and Heaven.
Champeaux,G.de and Dom Sterckx, S. (O.S.B.) Introduction au monde des symboles, Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols
Devotional Image: The San Damiano Cross
St. Francis heard the call to "rebuild the church" while praying before this cross in the abandoned San Damiano church in Assisi in the12th century. The cross itself was probably created around 1100. The painting has a Serbian/Byzantine influence. The San Damiano Cross presently hangs in the basilica of Santa Chiara. Numerous websites guide the viewer through the meaning of the images on this icon cross. If you’d like to meditation on the images within the cross here’s one place to start:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Damiano_cross
Miscellany devotion to the cross
The cross is of course the symbol of Christianity par excellence, … the crucifixion of the man Jesus is only one (of these meanings); far more immediate is the fact that the cross represents the dimensions of time and space on which each of us is crucified. Time, which we experience in a linear, one-dimensional fashion, can be seen as the horizontal line, while the vertical line signifies the exact point in space in which we happen to find ourselves. Others say the vertical line represents the dimension of the sacred, which elevates us above the horizontal perspective of the world.
Richard Smoley Inner Christianity: A Guide to the Esoteric Tradition
The sign of the cross reminds us, with its suggestive inward direction, that we are internalizing the life of Jesus, his incarnation, passion, and resurrection. … The summation of the life of Jesus in the symbol and the sign of the cross is not meant so much as an act of “taking up” the cross, as it is of “taking the cross inside.” The direction of the sign of the cross is inward, which suggests embracing and internalizing the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, this inward direction suggests that, starting with the historical events of the life of Jesus, we live these events here and now, appropriating them outside time and space, as we become one with the timeless Christ.
- Andreas Andreopoulos The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, The Mystery, The History (p.95,97) 2006
When we cross ourselves, let it be with a real sign of the cross. Instead of a small cramped gesture that gives no notion of its meaning, let us make a large unhurried sign, from forehead to breast, from shoulder to shoulder, consciously feeling how it includes the whole of us, our thoughts, our attitudes, our body and soul, every part of us at once, how it consecrates and sanctifies us.
-Romano Guardini 1885-1968 Sacred Signs
Allegory of the Cross, Taddeo Gaddi, Fresco, 1330's, the tree of life, prophets & texts
Illustration: Monk meditating on the seven stages of the passion: Carrying the Cross. Unknown Illustrator of 'speculum humanae salvationis', Germany, c.1400-1500
The Good Thief, Moscow School, c.1560
Meditation Two (insight) the cross as passport
This scene takes place on Holy Saturday after the harrowing of hell when Jesus releases the dead into heaven, including the “good thief” who died on the cross next to Jesus, in this fourth century “Gospel.”
And as Enoch and Elias spake thus with the saints, behold there came another man of vile habit, bearing upon his shoulders the sign of the cross; whom when they beheld, all the saints said unto him: Who art thou? for thine appearance is as of a robber; and wherefore is it that thou bearest a sign upon thy shoulders? And he answered them and said: Ye have rightly said: for I was a robber, doing all manner of evil upon the earth. And (they) crucified me with Jesus, and I beheld the wonders in the creation which came to pass through the cross of Jesus when he was crucified, and I believed that he was the maker of all creatures and the almighty king, and I besought him, saying: Remember me, Lord, when thou comest into thy kingdom. And forthwith he received my prayer, and said unto me: Verily I say unto thee, this day shalt thou be with me in paradise: and he gave me the sign of the cross, saying: Bear this and go unto paradise, and if the angel that keepeth paradise suffer thee not to enter in, show him the sign of the cross; and thou shalt say unto him: Jesus Christ the Son of God who now is crucified hath sent me. And when I had so done, I spake all these things unto the angel that keepeth paradise; and when he heard this of me, forthwith he opened the door and brought me in and set me at the right hand of paradise …
The Gospel of Nicodemus, 4th century
Meditation Three (integration) let us go with him...
Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the authorities were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?" Jesus answered, "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them."
Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." -John 11:7-10, 16 (prelude to the raising of Lazarus)
The Last Word
Love does not snatch us from the pain of time, but takes the pain of the temporal upon itself. Hope makes us ready to bear the cross of the present.
-Jurgen Moltmann Theology of Hope, 1967
Thomas and Dismas
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? -Mark 8:34-37
“Let us also go, that we may die with him," said Thomas when Jesus decides to head into Judea to attend to Lazarus' death. The disciples protest and remind Jesus that the authorities want to stone him. (John 11:16)
I love Thomas. I can hear him. “Oh, hell, let's just go die with him,” he says with utter candor but not without thinking through the implications of his devotion. This moment presses itself into my mind like a dream that won't dissipate during the day - a dream I can taste, a dream pressing its images upon me again and again when I'm not looking directly at it. I see the moment in time, the disciples standing at a crossroad of intersecting paths leading to Galilee via Jericho or Samaria or any number of places safer than Judea.
Okay. Let's take up our crosses and follow the idiot. Well, maybe he didn't say “idiot.” Then, again, when you live closely with other people and don't always understand their motives for particular decisions which affect you, calling names under your breath can relieve a little tension. And facing the possibility of crucifixion surely offered some degree of stress.
The other person I thought about this week was Good Thief, known in the Western tradition as Dismas. (Luke 23:39-43) “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” says the thief dying alongside Jesus. Jesus replies, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
I have a distinct image of Dismas because of Christian iconography. He holds a cross and is often pictured accompanying Jesus in his descent to the dead, or standing alone at the last judgment.
Dismas takes up his cross after he is already crucified and dying upon it. And the Way opens to him during his impossible suffering.
When I can't bear looking directly at the cross itself, I look to Dismas and Thomas to help me come as close as I can. Thomas' deep love. Dismas' last moment conversion. They are tender companions to me now, just as they have been to other timid souls for two thousand years.
Jesus Brings the Good Thief Into Paradise, 17th century, Solovetsky Monastery