A Palm Sunday Meditation: Take Up My Cross?

Palm Sunday raises at least two important spiritual questions for Christians: What does it mean to be like Jesus? And what does it mean to take up our crosses, just like he did?

First, you don't need to go looking for your cross. Life gives them to you. Whether it's an illness or a tough family relationship or trouble in school or problems on the job. The real cross is the one that you don't want.

Because it's hardly a cross if you want it.

Just like it was for Jesus.

Second, we are asked by Jesus to accept our crosses.

Now, what does that mean? Well, first it means accepting that suffering is a reality in your life, and being honest about it. Perhaps more importantly, it means not passing along the bitterness that you feel. That doesn't mean that when you're with friends or family members or counselors, you can't talk about it or complain about it or even cry about it. That's both healthy and natural.

But it does mean that if you're angry about your boss or about school or about your family, you don't pass along that anger or bitterness or meanness to others. If you have a lousy boss, does that mean that you should be mean to your family? If you have a difficult family situation, does that mean that you should be angry with your coworkers? If you are having problems at school, does that mean that you should be cruel to your family?

Your cross is your cross. It shouldn't become someone else's.

Third, wait for the resurrection. Because in every cross there will be some invitation to new life, to a new way of relating to God, and often in a way that may not be immediately apparent.

In other words, where is the new life that God is holding out for you? And how will it come? Is it in forgiving someone in your family? Moving away from an unhealthy work environment? Letting go of something that prevented you from being more loving? Trusting in yourself a little more?

Surrendering yourself to the future that God has in store for you?

God's gift of resurrection is usually a complete surprise, just like it was for the Apostles. And just as the Apostles discovered on Easter Sunday, the resurrection does not come when you expect it. It sometimes takes a long time to come at all.

And when it does come, it's often not what you would expect it to look like.

Most of all, it's often hard to describe, because it's personal -- it's your resurrection.

When I was a Jesuit novice, I worked in a hospital for seriously ill people, and every Friday we had a little discussion group. One young woman, who had been in a wheelchair for many years told me something that completely surprised me. She said that she used to think of her chair as a cross -- which would have been my reaction -- but lately, she said, she thought of it as her resurrection.

She said, "My wheelchair helps me get around. Without it, I wouldn't be able to do anything. It brings me life."

Despite our crosses, or maybe because of them, these resurrections in our lives do come. You have Jesus's word on that.

James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America and author of 'The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and My Life with the Saints.'