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Sermon for the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

13th Sep 2020


Sermon for Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross 2020

 

“We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it”. Ephesians 2.10.

 

 

Schoolchildren from Argyle School have regularly visited this Church to learn about The Christian Faith. and they happen to be almost entirely Muslim. In this context it’s telling that our dedication to Christ’s Holy Cross is really so visible and emphatic. For the Cross is the one place, the one meaning and the one significance that separates Muslim and indeed Jewish understanding from the Christian one. The Cross of Christ is not saving for Jews and it’s scandalous for Muslims. Why after all should one who is proclaimed as Son of God die so ignominiously; what kind of a God is that? What can all this mean?

 

One boy some years ago looked up at the huge cross above me and very directly “How did he get there?!” We might reply, “Good question… “Yes… and why did it have to be like this?” The victory of the Cross is for Christians a strange victory that takes us into deep spiritual waters. For what is being proclaimed in the Cross is not so obvious to most of us. For many it shows the contradictory nature of the ‘good’ God. This brings us to the idea of the Cross as a kind of scandal : Whoever won a victory by such suffering and death? In order to respond to such a question we can follow the Bible passages set for us this morning and then by them, piece together an understanding. We will be following a route that encircles and embraces Christ’s own via dolorosa, his sorrowful way…A route that will show us why St Paul can say that we are ‘created in Christ’.

 

In our Old Testament reading we journey in the desert with the people of the Exodus, with Moses as their leader. The people have lost patience, even though God had promised through Moses that he would be faithful. God is not only interested in their fate, he is also engaged in it. But they are disgruntled and are given the sign of the fiery serpent set on a stand. A banner to lead them and to be with them, A sign of divine assurance and of healing against all evils. This same standard, the serpent entwined around a vertical staff, with the Cross of Jerusalem, attaches itself to the name badge of the St John’s Ambulance and is seen on our ambulances. The Cross is the preeminent sign for Christians, not just as emblematic of The Church but the sign which communicates the idea of the crucified Christ in one profound spiritual message – that you now have to lose your life in order to find it. To lose your life is in contradictory fashion to embrace those things which you cannot have or possess, especially immediate gratification and quick fixing. That your own suffering and failure, the holding on while so much remains unresolved or incomplete is a vital part of your spiritual journey and key to your spiritual maturing in Christ. The Jesus who laid down his life on the Cross gives us the living sign. It is to be etched into the Christian psyche and given expression in word and deed. This sign is the one given at Baptism. It is to be given expression in confidence and steadfastness;  in the Christian ‘holding on’. This poem, in our website from a former parish priest Fr John Ball, who was also a great poet. This is a poem asking God to help him keep going:

 

 

Orison

 

It is the holding together that is hard –
The resisting of the centrifugal forces
Acting on mind and heart
That break the tenuous links of thought and feeling.
And then there is the fear (which on black days
Transmutes itself into a dark seducer
Parodying hope) that the next revolution of the hand
Upon the sadly common clock
Will bring the final, the inoperable rupture,
and burst the dams of past
And present
And future pains.
It is the holding you must help us in:
We cannot enter heaven in fragments
The gates will not allow of that.
And you must give the means to keep it 
If you love us, as I fear you do.

 

Father John Ball, 
Parish Priest, Holy Cross Church,
1969-1977
.

 

 

The Cross helps us to hold on to those things which are vital for us just as Christ Himself held on to the very end. In this spiritual holding on we are embracing a more profound set of realities. We are living within the circumference of Christ’s deep, brave hope. 

 

St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians reminds the people that they were once without God and without hope. But he does not despair of them and declares before the Ephesian people that “we are God’s work of art” The Cross too is God’s work of art. Like many works of art it confronts us and it questions us. It will not always comfort us. It is not a work we would automatically place above ‘the mantlepiece of our minds’, but it does speak of those things which compose our own uncomfortable ‘facts of live’  which may confound and disturb us. St Paul is a passionate believer in the possibilities inherent in human nature  and he speaks against what my old spiritual director used to term ‘splitting’ - of human lives split off from their real source and so unable to thrive. He challenges them ‘…to live the good life as from the beginning as God had meant us to live it’. The Cross for Paul is life, hope and refreshment because it takes us to the place of our own true indwelling and healing. The Cross is past, present and future. We embrace the life of which it speaks even as St Paul now invites us into God’s household of faith and trust; a household we have in fact already come to inhabit.

 

Finally, our Gospel reading points us to the fact of the Cross as being the one sustained communication of the identity and purposes of God. Look at the Cross and you find that the God of love is the One who imparts that love from a place of necessary trial and suffering. This is the kind of love which takes us to the heart of our human being as we begin to recognise a way of knowing God in and with the trials we too must suffer. “We all have our crosses to bear” said one woman “And none of them are little ones”. The loving, willing compassionate sharing of pain and suffering proves healing and enables new life to emerge as if from nowhere. This is a profound mystery. If you and I are the sum total of all the loves we have shared and received, so too in Christ we are the sum total of all that that we have bravely born, of all that we have given and not known, of all that we have been - perhaps unrecognised by ourselves. In this lies the willingness to realise the creative potential of our vulnerability. This is to own ‘Christ in us; the hope of glory”. Col.1.27.

 

This Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross joyfully celebrates the Cross. We at Holy Cross are proud of our dedication; arguably the most  godly dedication of them all. The scandalous Cross has the power to hold us fast. Jesus Christ holds us fast as we trace the pattern of his life and suffering in our own lives and in the lives of others, for as St Paul reminds us “If we have become one with him in a death life his, we will surely become one in a Resurrection like his”.  Romans 6.3         

 

Amen.