As spiritual descendants of Abraham and Sarah and as followers of Jesus, we live within the holy space of covenant–of God’s promises to us and our promises to God. It might seem on the surface that this holy space of covenant is restrictive. We cannot step outside the boundary of the covenant. We must be careful of what we say, what we do.
But Paul argues in Romans that the covenant is actually spacious, freeing. When we live within the covenant, we live according to faith and not according to law. We live within the comfort of grace and not the fear of punishment. It is by our faith and through the grace of God that we claim our identity within the holy space of covenant.
Ours is a culture more accustomed to contracts than covenants. The covenant agreement most familiar to us is probably marriage. In the marriage covenant, both partners promise to be sexually faithful to each other, to care for each other, to love each other, to live life together. As anyone who has been through divorce knows, there is certainly a legal, contractual, aspect to marriage. But the heart of the marriage is in the promises that we make.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we receive the cross as the ultimate symbol of our covenant relationship with God. The cross marks the center of the holy space where we dwell within the promises God has made to us; where we are called to make promises in return. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection. This suffering and death are manifestations of God’s deep and abiding love for us; God’s passion for being in intimate relationship with us. The resurrection confirms God’s promise of eternal life.
Yes, taking up the cross does place some limits on what we will do. The cross does not fit through the threshold of selfish pursuits, hateful attitudes, destructive actions. If we want to go through certain doorways, we will have to lay the cross down.
Yet in picking up the cross, we follow the way of Jesus. We take life seriously and hold it loosely. We focus on other people, not just ourselves. We commit ourselves to truth, however inconvenient.
In taking up the cross, we make a deep promise to God, and in taking up the cross, we receive the promises of God: abiding love, divine relationship, abundant and eternal life. We stand, with our crosses, in a truly holy space of Divine covenant.