Prayers of Approach
God you call us to worship in spirit and in truth,
you call us to worship from whatever situation of life we are in, from deep sadness or indescribable hope.
We thank you, Lord,
that you do not call us to anything
without also giving us the resources to cope.
You do not ask us to go anywhere you haven’t been.
You call us to take up our cross,
and we come to you with fear and trembling,
but knowing that ultimately your way is the best.
Be with us, Lord, and help us to understand.
You invite us to come in and share your story.
We stand amazed in your presence, Lord.
We wait on you, lost in wonder
that the Son of Man is going to come
in his Father’s glory, with his angels.
And you want us, too.
We adore you, Lord above all.
Music: Jesus is Lord, creation’s voice proclaims it (R&S 268)
Reading: Matthew 16:21-28
In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading Jesus’ followers, and Peter in particular, declared him to be the king, or Messiah.
Now Jesus reveals what his kingship will consist of: suffering and death. He also tells his followers that if they are coming with him,
they too must take up a cross and follow him, and find life by losing it.
Music: From heaven you came, helpless babe (Servant King, R&S 522)
What do the words, “Take up your cross…” mean for you? To be honest if we are trying to attract people to Christianity it doesn’t sound such a good advertising slogan, does it? As a recruitment drive it fails to reach the parts that more glamorous ‘management opportunities’ would target. As a lifetime ambition, it offers little in the way of success. It’s no wonder that when Jesus starts to lay out unequivocally what is going to happen to him (before he even gets up to what he is asking of his followers) that Peter recoils, declaring “No Lord, this can never happen.” At this point, no doubt, Peter would have preferred another kind of saviour altogether. But what about us?
Facing the cross even we, with the benefit of knowing what comes after it in the story, would look for another way. Surely there must be a more attractive basis for faith? Are we sometimes guilty of playing down the suffering and the sacrifice, of turning our eyes away as we look towards the final victory, trying not to see how it was really achieved? Looking towards the glory, while ignoring the cost.
Jesus had previously told his disciples not to tell people who he was, probably because they would get the wrong idea. Even his closest disciples, like most Jews, were expecting a new ‘King David’ who would restore Israel as an earthly ‘superpower’. The ‘Son of Man’ however hasn’t come to build a more tyrannical empire like that of Rome. Now Jesus has to spell out what his coming does mean. ‘Taking up the cross’ means accepting the very worst, most degrading punishment the empire can inflict. For the people of Jesus’ time this is a literal threat, a real horror, not the figurative one we often view it as. What might a modern equivalent be for us today?
For many Christians around the world ‘taking up the cross’ does mean dying for their beliefs. For all Christians it means living counter-culturally, loving one another, showing hospitality to strangers, standing up against injustice, speaking out in the face of hostility, and living with a whole new set of priorities. Martin Luther King Jr wrote that if a person fails to stand up for what is right and just because he or she is afraid that their home might get bombed or they might get shot they might live on until they are 80 but that the end of life then is merely the belated announcement of the earlier death of the spirit. He said, “Man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.” Jesus put it like this, “whoever wants to save their own life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25).
There are so many opportunities for us to speak out, or reach out in the world today. How can we speak out effectively if we are bothered about the reaction we will get, how can we make our words count? If following the way of the cross is a bitter-sweet path how can we support one another in living the life that it entails?
Music: Brother, sister let me serve you (R&S 474)
Prayers of Intercession
you reproached Peter because he had only human concerns;
but Peter just wanted to protect the one he loved.
We pray for people the world over
who find themselves in difficult situations.
We pray that they would all have someone
to care for them and lift them before you.
hear our prayer.
We pray for all who are persecuted for their faith:
for all who are misunderstood,
for asylum seekers who flee real danger in their homeland.
We pray for those who work tirelessly to address wrongs.
hear our prayer.
We pray for people whose lives don’t always work out right,
through their fault, or through no fault of their own.
hear our prayer.
We pray for the people in our lives
who need your protection, Lord,
that we will always be faithful in prayer for them.
hear our prayer. Amen.
Music: Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim (R&S 422)
A sending out prayer
Lord God, you knew what was going to happen to you.
You didn’t flinch, or back away.
You calmly told the disciples – and us – what to expect.
As we go out now, remind us constantly to look to you in the good and the tough times.
Guide us and bless us as we go in your name.
Prayers adapted from ROOTS resources for the whole church. © ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.