Sermon – The Third Sunday of Lent
by V. Rev. Timothy Baclig
March 31, 2019
On this day, the third Sunday in Great Lent, we venerate the precious and Life-giving Cross. It is a day of refreshment amidst the Lenten battlefield. This commemoration is linked to the historic event of the finding of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helen, the mother of the emperor Constantine, on March 6th, 326 AD.
The Synaxarion explains that this commemoration is celebrated on this Sunday, at the half-way point of the Great Fast, “with the purpose of providing refreshment, renewal, encouragement, and a vision of hope.” Our Christian symbolism is full of irony. The Cross is our hope and strength. The Cross is our prescription for healing. It is the means of our salvation! Seeing it we learn that it is a sign of triumph and victory because of who is crucified and for whom He died. The image is not of a “dead man” but as a God of love.
The meaning and significance of the cross is in the atoning sacrifice of Christ and His redemptive suffering. For the Christian, this is understood in a very personal way. Christ died for our sins. In Holy Baptism we believe that we were buried with Christ in death and raised in His Resurrection. And so, the life that we live today, and every day of our lives, is a life that is in Christ; a life that is renewed by Christ’s Death and Resurrection. Today’s Gospel lesson is a personal call by our Lord to the disciples. He said, If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (v. 34).
There are many ways to interpret what taking up our cross means. Most often we tend to think of our cross at that which involves our own personal sacrifice or suffering. From the perspective of our life today, it is not difficult to confuse what taking up our cross means.
Taking up our cross does not mean what might be personally inconvenient to us. Neither does taking up our cross mean something that we struggle to personally achieve for ourselves. By saying this I am not saying that Christ expects us not to seek what is our heart’s desire. However, all of our desires and what we focus and set our heart upon should be something that we are unashamed to have Him bless. Our choices should also be something that we assume to be responsible stewards.
Simply stated, taking up our cross means: a joyful sacrifice that is based upon our relationship to Christ. It also means identifying with Christ. St. Paul in writing the Hebrews stated: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him [patiently] endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God... [Hebrews 12:2b]. Love is patient and long-suffering. It endures. Our problem is we don’t like waiting.
If you ignore Great Lent or disregard gaining anything from what the church’s teaching of fasting, prayer and good works, Easter will be just another nice holiday; a beautiful holiday. Our spiritual tradition places importance and value in preparation. If every day is Easter then all of our trials and tribulations will be just that: trials and tribulations, with no purpose of meaning.
Who takes pleasure in suffering but a person who takes delights or enjoys inflicting pain on others? And for what purpose? …to talk about the mishap of others and feel good about himself; as one who is so fortunate and “blessed”? Or maybe to win an argument or be triumphant over a controversy? And what does winning an argument or saying that you know better mean to the person who is literally hungry or destitute; or maybe a victim of war, abuse or terror?
Who among us has the ability to guarantee anything? If we can, or even think that we can, it would only be for a very short time—a minuscule moment of our life. How easy it is to be delusional!
St. James helps to put this in perspective: He says, …See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the fall and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm… as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of the patience of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. (James 5:7ff)
Then we hear St. Paul speak from his experience: …we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us…
The hidden treasures and benefits of the spiritual life is not something that is easily handed to us. It is not even simply a cash inheritance from a long-term investment. It comes by considering every personal struggle, every personal challenge and yes, every personal pain, as an opportunity to learn how to draw nearer to Christ! It is identifying with Christ, to not only dedicate one’s life but to be totally committed to Him and who, as a follower of Him is (as today’s Gospel declares: is unashamed of [Him] and His words in this adulterous and sinful generation! [Now if our Lord described the generation of His day “adulterous and sinful,” what would He say of our time, and of our generation?]
And just in case we miss what might be overlooked, let us not forget the very last sentence of today’s lesson: Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power.”
There will always be some who will not be convinced of anything until they see it or experience it for themselves. Well, if you are a Christian, and if you have a doubt about anything that you have heard; about one, two, or maybe three things… there is hope! But if your entire hope rests solely upon what you expect to see, you may never see it; and if you do, it may be too late.
In the Sunday morning hymn we hear: …Thy Cross do we adore, O Christ, and Thy Holy Resurrection we praise and glorify, for Thou art our God, we are Thy people and we call upon Thy name… lo through the Cross joy has come into all the world. Ever blessing the Lord let us sing His Resurrection…
For the Christian the Cross is not a considered a burden; for the Lord said, my yoke is easy and my burden is light... Moreover, the Cross, our cross, is the sign of triumph and victory. Christ is not the victim. He is the victor and we share in His victory and triumph. In our church there is no image or hymnology of the Cross that does not at the same time reveals or glorifies the Resurrection.
While our church places a great deal of focus upon the meaning of the Cross, and the sacrificial love of God’s Son who was crucified for us, the ceremonial procession and the hymn sung on this day points to the Cross as our emblem of victory and not an image of death. The Cross is the symbol of triumph and not one of defeat. Christ is the victor as He appears as a victim of sin. We hear St. Paul’s letter to the Church of Corinth, …God made Him who had no sin to be sin (a sin offering) for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.
Today, the Church presents the image of the Holy Cross to us in order that we might not loose sight or misunderstand its true meaning. For while in seeing Christ crucified on the Cross we are moved with the remembrance of our sins, something we continue to do throughout the entire period of the fast, today we venerate the Cross because of God’s gift of love and the forgiveness of sins. We venerate the Cross mindful of the hope it brings. We venerate the Cross because it is our prescription for healing. We venerate the Cross because we are thankful for what Christ’s sacrifice has accomplished for us. We venerate the Cross because it is our salvation. And finally, we today we venerate the Cross because we believe as we have heard from the scriptures: …while the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to those who are being saved it is the power of God” (I Corinthians 1:18).
O Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. O Thou who takes away the sin of the world receive our prayer. O Thou who sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us. For Thou only art holy, Thou only art the Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father. A-men.