The 2nd Sunday in Lent 2015
One of the set books in English when I was at school was Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Our teacher encouraged us to act out scenes, improvising, 3 of us were chosen, I was to be Dracula! I bared my teeth, menacingly. The other two approached me, each clutching a cardboard crucifix.
“Oh dear,” one of them said rather, woodenly. “Here…is…Dracula.” “What shall I do?” cried the other, with just a little more realism. “Er… show him your cross?” So the other one shouted, “You stupid, brainless vampire!”
Perhaps only in English can “your cross” and “you are cross” sound the same. And does any other language use the same word for “angry” and for the symbol of our Christian faith?
Mark’s Gospel today contains both meanings of “cross”. Jesus gets very cross when Peter rebukes him for declaring that he must suffer and die, as he would do on the cross. Even though Peter has just recognised Jesus as the Messiah, he doesn’t believe what Jesus then goes on to tell him that this role entails. Jesus hears Peter’s protest, but recognises the source: tempting him again, just as he had in the forty days in the wilderness. “Get behind me, Satan.” we heard this morning, in Matthew’s version, Jesus even continues: “You are a stumbling block to me.” It wasn’t Peter he was angry with, but the temptation being thrown in his own path, to think in human terms rather than accept his divine task.
Sometimes the Gospel is difficult to believe. Too good to be true, that God should love us so much! In today’s other readings we hear of God’s promise to a 99-year-old Abraham and his elderly, barren wife Sarah, that they will have offspring, and their descendants will be whole nations of believers. What starts as one or two people believing can have huge results. In the Gospel, Jesus encourages his followers to believe. He needs their support for the hugely difficult task ahead of him. And he needs them to proclaim the Gospel after his death and resurrection. Otherwise, his sacrifice might all be in vain. No wonder he got cross!
For Jesus too needed to believe in his destiny, his task to reconcile people with God. On the cross, Jesus, both human and divine, would restore the balance of the universe, as sin was defeated by love. He would bring about the ultimate reconciliation, between the God who created the universe and the people God loves, made in God’s own image. But because Jesus was also human, it was a difficult cross to bear. Remember his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane? 'as he sweated drops of blood - take this cup away from me - but your will be done!
And because Jesus was human, he knew anger. He threw the money-lenders out of the temple, for using God’s house to drain money from those who could ill afford it. And he got very cross indeed with the hypocritical Pharisees, who claimed to serve God yet reduced faith to a list of rules and regulations.
Being angry is part of being human. And it isn’t necessarily wrong. It depends on what you’re angry about, and what you do with the anger. Rather than being angry with people, Jesus is angry with the evil they do. The evil we all do. And as Jesus prepares to carry his own cross, to the place of his execution, he tells his disciples, he tells us, who believe in him, to take up our cross, too. Surely this means following the example of Jesus, of self-sacrifice and total commitment, to set our minds on divine things as well as human ones: love God with all our heart, and love our neighbours as ourselves.
And once we take up our cross, we do get cross…about injustice, exploitation, war, poverty. It’s inevitable. Can we turn that anger into action, in the way that Jesus did? We can certainly pray, as Jesus did, that God’s kingdom may come, God’s will be done. Pray daily for peace, for justice.
But we can also give, as Jesus gave himself. “This is my body, given for you.” We too can give: money, perhaps, to the Church, to charities and relief organisations. But also time: to visit people who are lonely or unwell, work as a volunteer, write to newspapers or MPs, perhaps even attend protest marches. We must also give time to listen, to listen to those who think differently from us, who may even find it easier to believe in “undead” vampires than in the life-giving God.
In small ways and in big, we can turn righteous anger into action. Believing in Jesus, we can, we must work in his name towards a better world and it is no good saying that it starts with someone else - it begins with us. Part of this Lenten journey is about us reflecting on, thinking about, responding to, the demands of God's love for us
So… do not be afraid to showyou are cross with righteous anger! But always be ready show your cross! The cross you carry for Jesus.