by Charles LaFond
Being Marked – “Stauros”
“…TAKE UP THEIR CROSS AND FOLLOW ME…” MARK 8:34
What does it mean to live into Easter? Do we, must we, drag that cross around over hill and dale? And if so, what is the point of the resurrection?
We are different now – changed. And our Christian community is different. If we proclaim Christ by how we live, then a starting point is knowing that we are marked to be different. Only then can we fully consider what that means to us as a community – how we live that truth out. Hoe many tribes of indigenous people are marked, on their body – branded, pierced, tattooed as a way to be a part of a group!?
Jesus was with his disciples on the road. Jesus asks them – asks us: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter speaks for all of us when he says “You are the messiah!” but of course he has the wrong idea of what Messiah means. He thinks messiah means a great worrier-king who will crush Rome. Jesus, perhaps tired but willing still to teach, again tries to explain the radical nature of our true self post resurrection.
In Mark 8:34 we read “He called the crowd with the disciples, and said to them, `If any want to become my followers, let them take up their cross and follow me.’”
Now, most people immediately jump to the conclusion that Jesus is a divine fortune teller, alluding to his death on the cross – all that hot mess we have just been slogging through all weekend. Most people think Jesus is talking about the “cross” of the crucifixion. Why take up our cross if Jesus just did the work of redemption?
If you have ever spent much time in the south you will have heard the old, passive-aggressive line: ”…poor Sarah, with that husband of hers, and those big hips…well, (sigh) I guess it’s just her cross to bear…Bless her heart…
The “cross we bear” is just a saying we use to be or to name victims, but it’s not at all what Jesus is saying.
When Jesus says “take up your cross” the word for cross he is using in Mark’s gospel is “stauros” which is the cross of the letter “T” (Tau) and not the word for the crucifixion-cross Jesus drags up to Golgotha. “Cross” or “stauros” in Mark’s gospel is not the crucifixion cross at all. Rather, Mark’s “cross” in this passage is a common symbol of a screaming-hot branding iron.
In the first century sheep, slaves and soldiers were branded with a mark to show that they were claimed by someone. Usually it was one of two symbols. The most common symbol was what we would call a “T”. It is the Greek letter “Tau” and the “T” branded on the skin, showed that a sheep or soldier or slave was not a free agent but was claimed by someone. When Jesus says “take up your cross” in this passage He is saying “take up your identifying mark.”
So truly, one could better translate this passage as “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up my identifying mark on them and follow me.”
So what does that have to do with Easter?
When do we get our identifying mark as Christians? We get it at Baptism. With this new understanding of Jesus’ call to take up our cross, the high moment of the Baptisms of The Great Easter Vigil ending the Triduum becomes crystal clear.
The person being baptized is lowered into the waters of Baptism or they are poured onto him, and after the Priest or Bishop dips her finger into the oil, she places it on their forehead and says “You are marked as Christ’s own forever. ” That ceremony is traced back to the second century of the Church. It is one of the oldest Christian ceremonies we still perform almost exactly as it was performed centuries ago. Each of us is marked with the sign of the cross in the same way that sheep, slaves, and soldiers were marked with the “Tau” fire-brand of ownership.
Later, after Jesus’ death, the “T” symbol became the symbol of the crucifixion cross.
We are marked with the brand of ownership and with the symbol of eternal life with God. We are “marked as Christ’s own forever.” Branded with water and oil and love. Now, our great work is simply to live that out!