Jesus said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” – Mark 8:34 (NRSV)
One Sunday after worship I was talking with a busy young mother holding her squirmy toddler. As we were speaking, Thomas pointed to the wooden cross I was wearing with my vestments and asked what it was.
“It’s a cross,” I answered.
“Why?” he asked.
After a brief pause in which I considered how to explain the cross to a two-year-old, I said, “Because Jesus had a cross.”
“Why?” Thomas asked, his big brown eyes leaving me no exit.
“Um, well, to teach us how to live,” I stammered.
“Why?” he asked again.
It occurred to me that Thomas had reached toddlerhood’s “why” stage, and that just engaging in conversation with him probably meant more than what I said. Still, I was a little unnerved by his question, the same one that afflicts many of us, whether we’re 2 or 42 or 92:
“Why the cross?”
So I was more than a little relieved when, after several more rounds of whys and becauses, Thomas took my cross in his little hand, turned it sideways and, declaring it “a plane,” sent it flying. Whew!
But dispatching with Jesus is not so simple. As much as he wants us to know life abundant and the fullness of God’s grace, he also wants us to realize that following him will bring trials, trouble, and tears.
Jesus knows this is hard for us to hear. Jesus knows it is hard for us to bear. Jesus knows that, just like little Thomas, we will keep asking why. And that’s okay. The answer is less important than staying engaged in the conversation.
Holy God, I don’t always understand this cross business, but I believe that following Jesus will lead me to new life. Help me to stick with him even when the way is hard. Amen.