The Cross: Symbol of Life – Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Cross

The resurrection wasn’t business as usual. In fact, the resurrection was the last thing anyone expected—even though Jesus had foretold it to his disciples on numerous occasions. Throughout history, God has consistently chosen to act in ways that people didn’t expect. That’s God’s preferred way of acting, it would seem. In part, the reason God chooses to act in unexpected ways is to demonstrate to us that no matter what we think, God will prevail for good. Nothing is impossible for God. And so when we remember that, even when God once again surprises us by behaving in a way we don’t expect, we should find a certain amount comfort. It’s always darkest before dawn, and we remember that it was under the shadow of night, before dawn, that the women went to the tomb and found it empty. God does great things, just rarely, if ever, how we’d expect. Keep that in mind as we go forward today.

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

For Devon’s first communion, his grandma gave him a silver cross on a chain. Throughout the next summer, Devon wore his cross with pride. But, on the first day of school, some other kids made fun of him for wearing a necklace and for being a little goody two-shoes for wearing a cross. So that afternoon, Devon put his silver cross necklace in his top draw along with the other special things he collected. He slowly forgot about the gift. The years passed. Devon went to high school. One day, his mother received a phone call. Devon knew something was wrong when the tears began building around his mother’s eyes. After she hung up, she grabbed Devon and hugged him hard. “Grandma died,” was all she said before bursting out crying. Devon stood for a moment stunned. Then the reality of the loss and his mother’s emotion hit him. He, too, began to cry. He felt bad for his mother. And he really began to miss his Grandma.

We Christians love symbols. These symbols are meant to remind us of deeper things, things beyond the symbols themselves. No symbol for us, though, has greater meaning than the cross. The cross—even saying “the cross” is a linguistic symbol that means more than those two words—reminds us, fundamentally, of God’s love for us in Jesus. But it goes further than that that. The cross symbolizes for us that love embodied in the most radical of terms—terms that tell us nothing will stand in the way of God’s love for us, not even death, even a violent, suffering, excruciating death. God will stop at nothing to be in loving relationship us.

The cross reminds us of this—because the cross is the place where God died. Yet death wasn’t the end. The cross was the forerunner to a glorious resurrection that once and for all shows us that God’s love for us is limitless. When we speak of “the cross,” we mean all this. This is what the cross symbolizes. Because of the cross, because of what happened on the cross, we most definitely will live a full, abundant, boundless life with God for all eternity. God will raise us up again on the last day. Just as God promised and raised Jesus to new life, he promises us that we this will enjoy the same resurrection. God who is true to his word will do this, and do it for us. The cross symbolizes this promise for us…

But like so many symbols, the meaning of the cross can become confused or forgotten or misunderstood. Many, many people use the cross without reflection of what it truly means. And many, many people have come to associate the cross as a symbol for something it’s not at all meant to symbolize. The cross as the symbol with the greatest meaning for Christians has come to be associated with all manner of ills committed by Christians down through the ages. Atrocities have been committed under the symbol of the cross, in the name of Christ, and to this day, many have no desire whatsoever to be associated with the cross, with us who claim the name of Christ, or with Christ himself—because of those evils done under the cross.

To this day, many want nothing to do with the church, with Christians, or with a relationship with God because of many who, under the cross, advocate for a return to backward simplicity and voluntary ignorance; many who, under the cross, devalue, push down, and exploit women; many who, under the cross, hold up prosperity and wealth as blessings, but only for the worthy; many who, under the cross, are cruel toward and actively campaign against people whose love, by their own understanding, they deem ungodly; many who, under the cross, have no regard for the earth and its natural resources and generations to come; many who, under the cross, consider themselves blessed for where they happened to be born, with no regard for the blessing God pours on all people, regardless of color, language, or culture. To this day, many want nothing to do with the church, with Christians, or with God because of these evils and many others, done under the cross. For many the cross is a symbol for those who care more about their own life after death than what happens in this world, the world God so loves, in this life.

And that association with the cross is a shame. It’s a shame because it’s not what the cross symbolizes. The cross symbolizes the very opposite. The cross most definitely is a symbol of God’s promise to us for victory over death, but it’s also a symbol for this very moment in our lives as well, a symbol for us who, like the one who died for us, don’t put ourselves first but live our lives in loving devotion to the needs of others and the rest of life that God has put under our care. The cross is a symbol of one who will give up everything, even life itself, for the sake of something far greater. The cross is a symbol that eternal life—full, abundant, boundless life with God—is something we live now.

We Christians seek justice that values the inherent goodness of people, a peace that celebrates diversity as a reflection of God’s boundlessness, a harmonious way of life that welcomes, not shuns, love in all its manifestations. We Christians are people of the cross—precisely because the cross is a symbol for us that we go out of our way to serve others, not ourselves. We listen. We console. We build up. We are patient. We don’t insist on our way or understanding. We are kind. We are self controlled. We open wide our arms and embrace everyone, even those society would call unworthy of our attention—and we afford them the same grace and love God affords us in Jesus. The cross is the symbol of our own way of life—a life modelled on the godly life of Jesus, lived and given us in loving obedience to God’s will for full, abundant, boundless life for us and for all creation.

The day after his grandma died, Devon stayed home from school. His parents were busy making travel arrangements for the funeral. And, he wanted to stay home to be close to them. While they were making plans, something drew Devon to his top drawer. He started rummaging through it. He picked up some Pokemon cards and a few rocks. Then, behind the box that held some coins from different countries, he found the silver cross.

He looked at it for a few moments. He remembered how excited he was, how proud he was to receive communion and how his grandma’s face beamed when he returned to his seat. “I pray for you every day, Devon,” she whispered in his ear. And he believed her. Then, he remembered how she’d given him a little box with the red bow. “Open it,” she said. Then added, “Your life is inside.” Devon always thought that was a strange thing to say. Devon looked in the mirror and put the chain that held the cross around his neck. He straightened the cross on the chain. He wondered why his grandma said this was his life. Then, another thought crossed his mind. “Is Grandma really dead?” “Well, no,” he said in a low tone to answer his own question. That much he knew, but it was still strange.

Then, he looked in the mirror at his cross hanging around his neck again. The cross was the only way to make sense of it. “We’re all alive, everyone, because of Jesus,” he said quietly. With his death, Jesus opened life to all who believed in him. Grandma. Devon. His parents. Friends at school. People everywhere. And some day, because of Jesus, all things would be together in a truly glorious life that no one could fully understand now. Somehow, he felt his grandma was close at that moment. From that day forward, Devon wore his silver cross proudly, confident in his belief that Grandma was really alive, and because of Jesus he was still connected with her. Now he knew what Grandma meant when she said this was his life. It’s everyone and everything’s life.

The cross is a symbol of life—but not only life, but life and death. That is to say, the cross reminds us that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us. The worst thing that can happen is what so many allow to happen, to themselves or to others. They lead lifeless lives now, dead in sinfulness, dead in lives consumed with suspicion, fear, anxiety, worry, bitterness, regret, resentment, in anything that removes them from the life God wants for everything…But the cross demonstrates to us God’s love for us is limitless, and nothing will get in its way. The cross is, in fact, a testament to God’s dogged desire, will, and power to let nothing stand in the way of full, abundant, boundless life for us and for all creation.

But we must live through death to understand this, to begin to fully comprehend God’s power. We must die in order to fully live. We who have experienced death—the death of a loved one, of a friend—or we who have experienced struggles, sickness, doubts—we know the freedom that comes from having gone through all those things, and know that God has seen us through them, especially in the face of each other who know God and his promise. Death, in all its various forms, has taught us a new appreciation for life, and because we’ve experienced it, we know the true power of life, the power of God’s life. We understand that the worst thing isn’t struggle, isn’t sickness, isn’t death—but the worst thing is leading a lifeless life, a life that perseverates on the bad and forgets the good.

Yet for us who are being saved, we who have been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, all bane and blessing are understood differently in light of cross. Death is no longer something to fear, but something that becomes yet one more instrument of God’s peace. Death no longer has power of over us, and for that, we rejoice. For by the cross, by death itself, God grants us newness of life, and opens to us the gate of eternal heaven—even now. We live, truly live, because of Jesus and what he did for us on the cross. Let us proudly glory in what God has done for us and does through us in cross.

In the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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