I walked into my office on Tuesday to find gifts and cards strewn over my desk. It was Pastor Appreciation Day. I had no idea. At a time when I’m feeling like I’m at the end of my rope – the layers of emotional and spiritual weariness I’ve been bearing since the deployment are myriad – this outpouring of care and support was an amazing gift. Thank you, dear people of New Joy. Thank you.
The Ministry Board gave me a beautiful, framed poster featuring the word PASTOR in photos, along with this verse:
And he said to them all. If any
man will come after me, let him deny
himself, and take up his cross
daily, and follow me.
And then below the Scripture quote, as if for emphasis, is printed:
daily, daily, daily
Jesus bids us to take up our cross daily, to deny ourselves daily, to follow him daily.
Martin Luther, riffing on Romans 6, taught that daily we die to sin and daily we rise to Christ.
Daily we are invited again into this calling.
What even does daily mean during this pandemic?
These pandemic days simultaneously blur together and plod along achingly for so many of us. Space and time are a muddled mess. The kids are at school some days but not on other days. Who can keep track? Weekends don’t look all that different than weekdays. Fewer meetings and gatherings mark our rhythms at church. With all this disruption, routine is out the window. When a kind of chaos swarms around us, and the familiar landmarks of calendar and schedule are uprooted, we are denied many of the things – for good or for ill – that help us make sense of our lives.
Deny yourself. Take up your cross daily. Follow me.
We have been denied so much in these past few months:
Denied the normalcy of school and work and social life as we once knew it.
Denied the familiar, robust fellowship of our Sunday morning gatherings.
Denied the opportunity to visit and hug loved ones.
Denied the time and space to celebrate what God had done with and through us – here in Indiana and overseas – last year.
Denied the opportunity to reconnect as pastor and congregation following 13 months of taking up our crosses in different ways to further the mission of the church.
Denied the time and space to consider how the Spirit is leading us into the future.
Denied opportunities to talk, pray, listen, deliberate together about
(Wow, writing that list was cathartic. We’ve been through a lot. We’ve lost a lot.)
The Way of the Cross
Denied all kinds of good things, meaningful things, hard things, healing things, hope-filled things, we are left with little other than the cross. Its death and horror, yes. But most certainly also its life and hope.
Deny yourself – and with that, be honest with yourself about all that which you’ve been denied over these past few months. Take up the cross, daily. And follow Jesus. For when everything else is a jumble, uncertain and unsteady – whether in a pandemic or in more “normal” times – the way of the cross is the only way for us Christians to live. Daily we die. Daily we rise. Broken, and made whole, by the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the sake of the world.
You’ve reminded me of my calling with that wonderful gift. Deny myself. Take up my cross. Follow Jesus. This is my calling. This is the way.
This is your calling, too. It’s not just for clergy, but for all Christians. This is our calling.
So, let’s go, dear friends. We’ve got a cross to carry and a Lord to follow. And as we carry, as we follow, perhaps – just perhaps – we can recoup some of which we’ve been denied these past few months, and – even more – gain something altogether unexpected in this new terrain of ministry. Gathering at the foot of the cross and the opening to the empty grave let us reconnect to one another, reimagine our response to the Gospel, and renew our holy calling. In the face of hardship and disruption, we live God’s promise of life, death, and resurrection. This is our calling. This is the way.
In Jesus’ name.