Humility and Sacrifice
Here is the 5th Lenten reading, centred around the St. Andrew's Cross, kindly passed to us by Rev. David Linde *
The X-shaped cross before us this morning is St. Andrew's cross, so named because tradition tells us that the Apostle Andrew met his death as a martyr on a cross like this. St. Andrew's cross is markedly different in shape than other symbolic crosses, and not without reason. According to tradition, Andrew, like his brother Peter, did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way that his Lord Jesus had been. So he asked for a cross of a different shape. Further, to express the great difference between himself and his Lord, he was crucified upside down (again like his brother Peter), and fastened to the cross with ropes rather than with nails. The consequence of this was the prolonging of a painful death. The giving up of his life was no small sacrifice.
So in the martyrdom of Andrew, preserved now in the cross that bears his name, we have an enduring reminder of two basic elements of what following Jesus is all about: humility and sacrifice.
In choosing a form of crucifixion different from his Lord's, Andrew was sharing in the very humility of his Lord. Scripture says that Jesus' followers should live with same humble outlook that Jesus had: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who ... [took] the very nature of a servant ... and ... humbled himself" (Phil. 2:5-7). And how far did Jesus' humility go? "He ... became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:8). Jesus' humility expressed itself in sacrifice - a sacrifice that went all the way to death, a death that went all the way to its lowest means: crucifixion of an outcast criminal.
We can talk about the cross, but do we embrace the humility and sacrifice it represents? Jesus calls us to nothing less than a cross-like humility that is willing to sacrifice position, reputation, ease, even life itself, for the sake of others.
We find this mix of humility and sacrifice in the most basic summons of Jesus to those who wish to be his followers. His is a call to a cross. He said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). Roman criminals carried their crosses to the site of execution. Their destination was death. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and die - that is, to say no to all that we think about life and how to live it, and to submit rather to Jesus' way of life. And in the paradoxical way that his kingdom works, it is precisely in dying that we will find life. This is what Jesus promised. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it" (Mark 8:35). This is the very reason Jesus calls us to take up the cross: it is there that we will find true life. Crucifixion leads to resurrection. The people most alive in this world - and the next - are those who embrace the humility and sacrifice in Jesus' call.
Of all the distinctive features that should characterize the people of God, two of the most precious and attractive are humility and sacrifice. But it seems they are in short supply in the churches these days. Is it because we have the cross too much in front of us and too little within us?
Let us pray:
Lord Jesus, your embracing of the cross and our resistance to the cross are so vastly different. Our pride and self-protection run deeper in our hearts than we realize. Keep saving us. Keep calling us. Keep beckoning us to trust your offer of true life in the pathway of the cross.