Bearing or burden?


"Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me. The consecrated cross I’ll bear ’til death shall set me free; and then go home, my crown to wear, for there’s a crown for me." (No. 424, The United Methodist Hymnal; words by Thomas Shepherd and others, 1855)

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

The cross symbol is highly popular and universally recognized. We wear it as jewelry around our necks and pinned to our lapels. We set it high above our places of worship, and we incorporate it in logos for Christian denominations around the world. Our United Methodist cross-and-flame is no exception.

But although the cross is one of the most prominent symbols in our time, it also is one of the most misunderstood.

In reality, the cross confounds us. It can frighten us. It mystifies us. Many Christians just don’t know much about it.

Originally conceived as an instrument of punishment during the Roman era, the cross has evolved into the sign that distinguishes people as followers of Jesus Christ. It is a visible badge that confirms allegiance to a set of beliefs, most notably that of resurrection.

The cross identifies us

When we wear symbols of the cross, we proclaim that we believe in the man called Jesus, and that we are committed to fostering his theme of loving one another. We acknowledge giving up self for the sake of a greater and higher good. Furthermore, wearing this symbol says that we forego the trappings of fame and pleasure to bear witness to the faith we hold dear.

I feel compelled to share this message with you because I sense the loss of the true meaning in this precious symbol. The cross is more than a piece of jewelry. It is more than a logo or an adornment for a steeple.

The cross symbolizes a way of life. It is a sign that has set us apart from the rest of the world for over two centuries.

The cross speaks to suffering, it understands loss, and it is our sign of victory over death. It is a symbol of safe harbor during times of storms.

Jesus used the illustration of a cross many times in his preaching. He spoke of a cross to bear for those who desire to be his followers, his disciples.

A cross or a burden?

What is the difference between bearing a cross and carrying a burden? This question often produces misunderstood answers.

The burdens of this world are the misfortunes and trials that each and every person encounters. When we see sickness, injury, or disease, we sometimes view that as a cross to bear. IT IS NOT! We are asked by God to endure such burdens as best we can, and we know God is with us in the midst of those unavoidable afflictions.

Bearing the cross is the voluntary acceptance of the Christian’s burden to share the Gospel.

Please note the big difference between these terms. A burden is what you carry because of the certainty of trials in your life. A cross is the weight of your voluntary commitment to do God’s will and to freely take on suffering for Christ’s sake.

When you voluntarily take up a more disciplined lifestyle, choose to deny yourself, and serve God in ways that can cause you to suffer for the sake of the Gospel and the Kingdom, then you are bearing your cross.

As you pray and fast during this 40-day period of Lent, re-examine your motives and your loyalties. Christians are required to turn away from the easy and wide road that leads to destruction and are invited into a more disciplined life. Christians are called to turn away from sin and allow the Spirit of the crucified Lord to take hold of each life.

In the Australian outback, there is a small town called Calvary. It is a major switching station for east-west trains. One day a stranger traveling west on a train was confused about what to do when he arrived in the tiny town. "Sir, I’m going beyond Calvary," he inquired of the conductor. "What must I do?"

With a gentle smile, the product of being asked that question for many years, the conductor said to the traveler, "Sir, everyone gets off at Calvary!"

Indeed, everyone who takes the cross seriously understands Calvary is where we claim the power of Christ.

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