1 Corinthians 1:18-24
Holy Cross & Baptism, September 13, 2020
St. Martin North Vancouver
“The Life of the Cross”
“Most High glorious God, bring light to the darkness of my heart. Give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity, insight and wisdom, so I can always observe Thy holy and true command. Amen.”
In the crumbling church of San Damiano outside a small town in Italy called Assisi, Francis prayed these words. He was looking at a painted cross that showed Jesus surrounded by witnesses to his crucifixion. The icon spoke directly to his heart in these words: “Go repair my church, which as you see is falling in ruin.” Francis thought that this was a command to fix the physical building in which he was seeking God’s guidance. As he grew in faith, hope, and charity, he recognized the call as directed to the people of God, the body of Christ we call the Church. The act of gazing on the image of a dying man inspired him to live as he never had before: with simplicity, humility, and joy. The cross became for him the way to life.
This central symbol of our faith, which we celebrate today in what is called the Feast of the Holy Cross, is not something we worship in itself. There is no image that captures the holiness and majesty and compassion of God. It is an icon, a window through which we can recognize who God is, when we let our eyes and hearts ponder on the mystery of love.
To many in the world, this is foolish or simply repulsive. How can an instrument of death be the object of such devotion? Followers of Jesus wear crosses around their necks and inscribe them on their bodies. We paint and carve them in our sacred spaces and place them on the graves of believers. Even for Christians, though, some find it easier to accept the form of an empty cross, signifying the risen Christ, than to contemplate a crucifix on which the body of Jesus is shown in suffering love. There are some very realistic portrayals that may shock as much as move one to tears. To those outside the faith, these images can be alike to a corporation using a noose or a guillotine as a logo! But if the cross itself is disturbing, the message that it carries is even more puzzling to many.
How can there be a God that loves us so much that God is willing to endure suffering and death on our behalf? How can the person of Jesus encompass the whole of God’s being in human form in order to bring this about? And how does our sin and brokenness get wiped out by this act, so that we too can rise to a new life? Each of us makes our own journey to try and accept that this is possible. More than possible- a promise that is signified when we first receive water on our foreheads and are signed with the sign of the cross. As we step into the way of the cross, we find it is the way of life, not death.
The way is hard. Life doesn’t magically get easier or better when we decide to commit to the Christian way. But when we embrace the cross, God embraces us and gives us the strength to stand. Think of a crossbeam in a house. The point where two planks of wood meet gives strength to the structure. Or the mast and boom of a ship, which hold the sail in place so it moves over the water. The cross is our support for life. When we are stretched thin in trying to reach out to others, when our abilities and resources are pushed and pulled: God secures our foundation. We can reach up in prayer and supplication and draw on the source of life.
The way of the cross is not a solitary life. It is found in community. Just as Jesus was surrounded by those who witnessed and proclaimed his crucifixion and resurrection, so we too are surrounded by others who remind us of the true message of the cross. The Church is built not of stones or mortar, but of the people of God. And those who model the compassion, justice, and love of Christ help to strengthen and enlarge its mission.
Today we welcome a fellow Christian, to walk alongside us on the way of the cross. We will learn from each other in service to be helpers and believers. We are called to weep and to laugh with her, to mourn and to rejoice, to relax and to sacrifice. Together, we are the signs of the message of the cross. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood. Amen.