Sermon – The Sunday Before the Elevation of the Holy Cross 2019
The Sunday before the Elevation of the Cross
By V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
September 8, 2019
Today there are two events that converge on our liturgical commemoration. First, it is the Feast of the birth (Nativity) of the Holy Theotokos, and second, this is the Sunday before the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Saturday, September 14); and the theme of today’s Gospel lesson since the Feast of our Lord takes precedence in the lesson.
The Feasts of the Holy Virgin are among the 12 Feasts of the Church (They are not “lesser” in their commemoration, except when they coincide with a Feast of our Lord on a Sunday). The Feasts of the Holy Virgin are important to us because they present us with the full picture, the complete image of family and holiness. Our families are broken, none are perfect, however the image presented to us is one of humility, faithfulness, and love – all of which were not without pain or suffering. Joachim & Anna and their daughter, the Holy Virgin, were not exempt from pain and suffering. Their lives testify to faith and love and the joy of the Cross.
Joachim and Anna, we are told, were barren, meaning that their mature marriage was without any conception for many years. In fact, we are told that their barrenness was considered a curse in their day. They were ridiculed and their union regarded as having no blessing, according to Judaic belief. There are many times that I have had to remind families that as Christians we do not function by Judaic beliefs. Our Christian teaching and practice has surpassed Judaic beliefs. In fact, Judaic belief in their day also ridiculed Joachim and Anna for not having a son, for having a boy meant eternal life to many. It meant that the linage would continue through a male child.
The Feast and message of the Holy Cross which is heard at this particular time together with the theme of the Nativity of the Theotokos and the Feast, along with the Feast of her parents, Joachim and Anna (commemorated on September 9), speak to us as parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers. They point to the many choices we face as children, young people, young adults, husbands, wives, parents, godparents; choices that always begin with parenting and the challenge to love with the sacrificial love of God. It is the same lesson heard in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism when Godparents are reminded of their commitment to Christ and their responsibility to teach their Godchildren. It is the same lesson heard in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony when a couple is challenged to love as Christ loved the church, “submitting to one another out of reverence of Christ.” It is the same lesson heard in the Sacrament of Healing, the symbol of which is also the cross.
With each Sacrament, the lesson remains the same: Love is never mastered. It is always tested. It is grounded in commitment and devotion. It is selfless and not proud, not rude or boastful, does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. It grows with patience and is never practiced in a vacuum. It is greater than faith and hope [see I Corinthians 13]. Love is eternal.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross will be commemorated this coming Saturday, September 14th. It is observed as a day of strict fasting when we are reminded of our Lord’s passion. Our Liturgy will take place on Saturday at 10 a.m. The Gospel reading for the Feast is of our Lord’s judgment and crucifixion, reminiscent of his saving work. It is the most important Feast of the fall season, celebrating the redeeming love of God and the power of spiritual renewal for our lives. We are reminded that the Holy Cross is called the “life-giving” Cross. A sign of hope, as Christ is seen not as a victim but victor: He who trampled down death by Death. It is a symbol of God’s unconditional love as we hear in today’s Gospel. The Feast of the Holy Cross is among several days in the Church calendar devoted to the theme of God’s unconditional love, His supreme sacrifice and what it means to committed to Christ. Finally, the Holy Cross is our “weapon of peace” and the symbol of deliverance and healing.
These very facts are heard in the content of today’s short and very concise Gospel lesson: “No one has ascended into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
God’s prophetic word is complete and there is no need for any new prophet. Most importantly, as Christians we must now be vigilant in knowing how to respond and not react to all that we see and hear around us. In every circumstance our response is in love. That love, however, is grounded in the truth. And our actions cannot be anything other than what is based upon that Christ has fulfilled and accomplished for us.