Sermon – Reflections on the Cross
Reflections on the Cross
At the heart of the Gospel lesson on the Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Cross we heard the great irony (as often heard in Christian teaching): "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:35-36). For fear that anyone of us may think that the phrase “whoever looses his life for for my sake…” in the passage means some kind of mindless choice—or a blind faith; not true! To “loose one’s life” for he sake of Christ and the Gospel is to consciously recognize that there is something more, something better, something far greater than what we often think and perceive really matters in life. Moreover following Christ is to gain everything; but to discover what it means to being God’s steward—His partner. That in and of itself may be part of our difficulty, we want things for ourselves and we want to do things as we choose.
So then how are we teaching our children to do this? Is it wrong to want our son or daughter to earn what they work for; not just to use things; to understand the value of things; and to know what it means to be responsible. Sure we do. Besides, who of us would want just anyone to dictate or control the lives of our children? So the real question is: Who do we trust besides ourselves for our children to learn by following? Who do we want our children to be taught by, to learn from, to model themselves after?
As baptized Christians who take seriously the Sacramental life of the Church, you and I in our human weakness are challenged to grow and thrive by overcoming every struggle and difficulty. However, until we see and understand that unless Christ is truly with us in the battle, and unless we truly know His purposes in facing that struggle or difficulty; it will be, regardless of the outcome, either our very own—or something that is achieved with Him and for His purpose—which is our salvation.
Each year, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross reminds us of Christ’s supreme sacrifice. It takes us back to Holy Week, lest we forget that this symbol and emblem is not just an object of veneration. Our salvation comes from He who endured its shame and bore our iniquities. This was first spoken of by Isaiah the Prophet who said (53:3f): "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, He has born our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
This passage clearly shows us that God did not only identify with us, His creation, He bore—took upon Himself, all human pain and suffering.
St. Paul reminds us in his epistle (Hebrews 4:14-16): "Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."
Do you have this confidence? If you do, how would you describe it? This kind of strength is known when when you and I not only identify with Christ, but when you and I believe that we are in fact one with Christ and understand what it means to be baptized in Him; when we believe what I just read: understanding that Christ has taken upon himself every temptation that you and I have faced, and that He has triumphed in overcoming sin and death for us.
When we truly believe this and take it to heart, then and only then can we begin to grasp and understand that Christ has truly overcome the world for us and, as the verse describes: approach the throne of grace with confidence in order that we might receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
So then, what is the price for you and me? Can we speak of it in terms of dollars and cents. Some do! However, at the heart of all of our struggles, all of our cares and anxiety, is the challenge to our pride. Now if pride is very important to you, then what today’s Gospel lesson is speaking about is nonsense and foolishness. For as the epistle lesson of the Feast describes (I Corinthians 1:18f): "…the word of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to [those of] us who are being saved it is the power of God."
Therefore, if God is glorified in all that you and I endure, and if we understand that there is indeed much more than we perceive and understand with our human eyes; and believe the Gospel message of the forgiveness of sins, then the Holy Cross for “we who are being saved,” will personally be transformative and redemptive; a joyful experience in knowing God’s love and compassion for others as you and I discover and known it for ourselves.
O Christ, our God, help each of us in our self sacrifice that we may have faith and courage to take up our cross and follow you. Strengthen us in our weakness and grant us your Spiritual power that in being ever mindful of your supreme sacrifice we may also do Thy will in all things. For blessed is Thy Name and glorified is Thy Kingdom: of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; now and ever, and unto ages of ages.