Pick up your Cross

Mark 8: 31-38

According to tradition, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria was founded by St. Mark.  In the first centuries of the church, the church of Egypt made great contributions to the spiritual and theological life of the worldwide church.

In AD 639, Muslim armies invaded Egypt.  Christians were allowed to continue to worship as Christians but were subjected to higher taxes than Muslims.  As a result, by the twelfth century, Egypt was no longer a majority Christian country.  And the Christian minority in Egypt tended to live among the poorer sections of society.  It now makes up 15% of the total population of that country.

During Palm Sunday services last year, terrorist attacks on two churches killed 60 people and injured 120.  These are only the latest in a series of attacks on churches. 

It is easy to forget sitting here in a church that is part of the established church with bishops and archbishops sitting in the upper house of the legislature and state funded church schools all across our nation, it is easy to forget what it must be like for our brothers and sisters in parts of the world where the church lost its position of strength hundreds of years ago and today remains vulnerable to attacks from which it cannot protect itself.

Being in a permanent state of weakness in the conventional sense, that is the experience of the church in Egypt for over a thousand years.

But then, Jesus did tell them that is what would happen.  ‘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’.

At a conference two years ago, I heard a member of the Anglican clergy say that he doesn’t wear his clerical collar when he walks around the streets anymore because the clergy is no longer respected and he prefers not to face the disrespectful comments directed at him when he is identifiable as a member of the clergy.

The image of Simon of Cyrene is helpful here.  He was the man who carried the cross of Jesus for part of the way to Calvary. The man who was being executed was meant to carry the means of his own execution through the jeering crowds that thronged the streets.  But when this became impractical, the Roman soldiers went for the pragmatic next best alternative.  A random man in the crowd.  Or was it random?  Did they pick him because they saw a look of horror or anguish on Simon’s face?  However he was chosen, Simon was chosen to walk the walk of shame with Christ.

That is the way of the cross.  It is a walk of shame.  It is the path of those who are ridiculed and worse.  Those who come to church thinking they will earn respect in their community; they have come to the wrong place.  The church is at its best when it is vulnerable and powerless and knows what it is like for other people who are vulnerable and powerless, whatever collar they have on their shirt.

Our brothers and sisters in Egypt are gathering around the cross as we are today.  They will be fearful and yet they are there.  And that is their great strength.


Page last updated: 12th Jul 2018 12:40 PM