Sep. 10, 2017 – Holy Cross Day – sermon

Posted by on Sun, Sep 10, 2017 in Feast Days, Season after Pentecost, Sermons

Holy Cross Day

September 10, 2017

Something very powerful happens when we process in following the cross. I say ‘we’ because our procession through the people gathered is not just to cue you about when to stand, it’s done on behalf of the whole assembly. It symbolically draws us all together into worship, so as far as is possible the procession will include all of the orders of the church; lay members, religious orders, deacons, priests, and bishops – at our annual convention each year it’s quite a sight! Being led into worship with the cross is not an accident, it is symbolic of our coming together to pray as people who seek to follow Christ, and our prayers and intentions are thus focused.

This morning we are celebrating Holy Cross Day, as such we reflect on all it means for us, be it as the cross of crucifixion or the cross of resurrection. Sometimes it’s bare or may have a circle signifying eternal life in Christ, and sometimes it is a Christus Rex (Christ the King) or Christ exalted. Others are ‘crucifixes’ depicting Jesus’ body hanging on the cross. We know the cross as a powerful symbol in each form, inviting our connection to him in different ways. Sometimes we truly do need the crucifix with Jesus’ body, the wounds evident, and the reminder of his sacrifice and love great enough to die. I always wear one during Holy Week, and at other times I’m feeling the tension between love and sacrifice. Episcopal Churches most often have a Resurrection cross like ours, or with the risen Christ, reminding us of love so great it surpassed even death and the grave. Our faith finds hope in his resurrection and his promise to us of life eternal, no matter what pain or evil or ‘crucifying’ we might experience. At times crosses have arms that are of equal length, suggestive of the four directions and the spread of the gospel to all ‘the corners of the earth. Mine today has 12 ‘buds’ or fleur de lis on it and is sometimes called an Apostolic cross. Ask Priscilla about her St. Brigid’s cross sometime, it’s story is lovely. I’m afraid I could go on almost endlessly about the variety of crosses and ways they symbolize faith.

Before the cross was a symbol of Christian faith, it was a moment in time—a moment in the journey of the disciples’ lives as well as in Jesus’ life. A moment when their paths were anything but clear, when they weren’t sure where Jesus’ death left them or where God was leading them. It was an ending of him as they knew him, and it was also the beginning of how they would believe.

Jesus seems to elude to the cross when he says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Jesus and the disciples would have known that those authorities whom his message had angered and threatened would seek to end his life in this public way. Crucifixion would make his death a clear defeat of what he stood for, for all to see. Here he’s addressing the crowds as well, and pointing them to what is greater than his expected public execution, he’s pointing them back to his message; When they ask, “Who is this Son of Man?” his response is not to explain, but to tell them to place their lives in the light. “The light is with you for a little longer.” He says, “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Each of the four Gospels has a moment when Jesus acknowledges his coming death and points them towards how their life can be transformed. This is such a moment in John’s gospel, and when Jesus speaks of being lifted high it isn’t only about being lifted to his death, it’s about his being lifted to the cross drawing all people to himself, about our becoming children of light. Is this when the cross began to change for people who followed Jesus? He is telling them what is coming and that they have a choice to make. He’s calling them to choose light, and stand against those powers of darkness looming ever closer. He’s changing the cross from an instrument of death and sign of failure, to a way of love and light.

We have that invitation to walk in the light of Christ too, to be drawn to him through the cross as more than an abstract symbol. When the life you once thought you wanted becomes less important than the life you are being called to, the life God has offered you. That is where you find light. Every week we hear both Jesus’ words in scripture—and what the world says to us. We hear the horrible things going on and want to pull the covers up over our heads. We see people being targets of the sort of hate Jesus went to his death to cry out against. We see fear and defensiveness around the world more often than love and generosity, and Jesus says we get to chose. His ardent invitation is to “Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you.”

I don’t doubt they were worried and confused, I’m not sure they knew they were at such a crossroads in their lives—at times we have such choices before us and don’t recognize the power of that decision either. When they asked who the Son of Man was, and he told them to believe in the light, so that they become children of light, did they know it was about their identity and not his? We may have that 20-20 hindsight available to us, and I wonder, are we courageous enough to be people of the light when the world’s darkness threatens to overtake us? Can we choose it often enough that we recognize it readily?

The cross is a symbol of our Christianity, but we don’t undertake this call from Jesus because the jewelry is pretty. It is a reminder of our identity, of our powerful choice to follow Christ, even when we are faced with the darkest inclinations of the world around us. We know the cross is about salvation, even if they intended it for condemnation. That cross is what happens when the power of evil is crossed and when we choose to bring into the world a Christ-centered expression of power instead. The world needs us to live that gospel message of light. Our collect prays we have the grace to take up our cross and follow him, and we do it by standing firm against powers that oppress and disregard and hate. We do it by standing up for those the world would crucify, by having courage to speak truth in love—not as a weapon. We do it by standing with those who build up community, who lift up people in need or in trouble, by being a blessing to them and to our families and friends. By standing so we see the light of the cross and not it’s shadow.

One of my favorite crosses is that of the Order of St. Benedict at St. John’s Monastery in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is of local wood, with four equal-length arms, and one hangs in each guest room and classroom. What is unique is that it has a metal point coming from the bottom. It seemed a little dangerous to me, until one of the brothers explained it is symbolic of how all crosses are meant to be carried out into the world, as if a processional cross ready to be affixed to a pole and carried forth. We began our worship this morning with the processional cross leading us into prayer. At the end of the service, we will follow it out. When we see that cross processing out the doors again it symbolizes taking it out into the world with us. In many churches, it is the tradition to turn and follow the cross as it moves out of the worship space and shows the way into the world. I’d like us to do that today, and perhaps it will be the start of a new spiritual practice here at St. Michaels. When we follow that cross, remember that it is us who carry it into the world, with our actions, our choices, our hearts and prayers. It is not the end of the service, it is the beginning of our service each week. When you leave today, you are invited to take up a cross. The greeters have baskets for you to choose one. They come from the Holy Land where Jesus was crucified, and where he was lifted up to draw all people to himself. Take it with you; to work or school, in your car or your gym bag, your laptop case or your pocket—process it out into our world, and be reminded of the choice you make to follow our Lord, and to walk in His Light.

Amen.

© 2017 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.

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