2nd Sunday of Lent - Homily
Imagine that you are coming to St Andrew’s Church for the first time. And, imagine that you don’t know anything about Christianity. You come into the Church, and begin to check out your surroundings. You try to make sense of the scenes on the windows, see the statues, and then the gold box and lit candle next to it. And, then…you look up (at the Cross). You think to yourself, ‘that is huge. What is that? It looks like a man who has died on some kind of a cross. What is that all about? What is this Church all about?’
St Paul says that, to the world, the cross is “foolishness” and “folly”. It appears to be a sign of weakness and defeat. So, why is the Cross that we have here so big and in such a prominent place in our Church? Why is the Cross the sign of our Christian faith?
In the second reading from his letter to the Phillipians, chapter 3, St Paul refers to the “enemies of the cross”. Of whom is he speaking? Is he speaking of those in the world who refer to the cross as foolishness? Or, is he talking about the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers who persecuted and ridiculed Jesus during his Passion and Death? Or, is he referring to those of us who don’t like to take up our crosses, especially the fasts during Lent?
Scholars suggest that St Paul is referring to some of the early Christian converts from Christianity. They were strict Jews…strict observers of the Law. But, they focused on the external things that had to do with rules and regulations. The Law hadn’t entered their hearts. So, Christ hadn’t entered their hearts. The Cross hadn’t entered their hearts.
Now, the Cross is a challenge to us. It is a challenge to know why it is the symbol of our Christian faith. It look like a sign of weakness. But, ultimately the Cross is a sign of victory. It is a sign of glory. It is a sign of Heaven. How? The Cross is a sign of victory because Jesus wins victory over sin and death through the Cross. He never sinned; and yet, he became sin for us. He gave his life so that sins might be forgiven. It is really sin that is sacrificed on the Cross. The Cross brings the forgiveness of sins; we’ll hear in a few minutes that he shed his blood “so that sins may be forgiven”. He wins victory over sin and death by dying on the Cross and rising from the dead.
The Cross is a sign of glory. Jesus says a few times, “whoever is humbled will be exalted”. Whenever we share in the Cross of Christ, we share in his glory. More on that in a minute. The Cross is a sign of Heaven. In his human nature, Christ suffered tremendously. He went through Calvary to get to Paradise. Christ’s path to Heaven went through the Cross. Our path is no different; our path to Paradise goes through Calvary.
Elsewhere in St. Paul’s letters, he makes a very jarring statement. He says in his letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 24, “I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ”. What could be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? This is the sacrifice of the Son of God…it is the “perfect offering” to the Father? How could anything be lacking? It is a perfect sacrifice, but it’s not complete. Who completes Christ’s sufferings? We do. We all make up his Body, the Church. We are the members of his body, and we are called to share in his cross. When we unite our sufferings to his, we complete his sacrifice.
We are all called to carry our cross. Jesus says it’s one of the first conditions of discipleship: “if you wish to follow me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross, , and come follow me”. If we share in his sufferings, we will share in his glory. “He will take our lowly bodies and transform them into glorified bodies”. The Gospel is all about Christ’s glory. The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the glory of Christ in Heaven. If we live with Christ, take up our cross, die with Christ, then we will rise with Him in glory. Every single person here is carrying a cross – some big, some small. But, we all have the opportunity to share in Christ’s cross, and share in his glory.
Finally, this Cross is an extremely important symbol; every one of our homes should have a crucifix in a prominent place. And yet, it is only a symbol. In a few minutes, I will consecrate and elevate the sign which is living: the Eucharist. It is the Real Presence of Jesus under the signs of bread and wine. It is the risen body and blood of Christ. While it is the same flesh and blood that was shed on the Cross, what has happened since Good Friday? The Resurrection. So, it is the risen flesh and blood that comes to us in Holy Communion by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we receive this Eucharist today, may we be living signs of Christ’s love as we go forth from here. May the grace of this sacrament help us to carry our crosses during this holy season of Lent. When we take up our Cross, we unite our sufferings to Christ. We unite ourselves to his love, to his life, and to his heavenly glory.