Lift High the Cross

September 24, 2016 Length: 9:22

Fr. Gregory Hallam gives the sermon on the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

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We pause today in our busy lives to remember and exalt the Holy and Life-Giving Cross of Christ. The word “exalt” is from the Latin words exaltare, meaning “to raise,” and altus meaning “high.” It is appropriate to ask a difficult question: why was Christ raised up on high on the Cross for each of us and for all of humanity? To exalt God is to praise Him highly; and that is what we do today—we praise God for the existence of His Son, for the birth and life and death and Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ. Those are the six key modes—the primary ways of living—that Christ brings to each of us—His existence before Creation, His Incarnation, His life on earth, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection and His Ascension to heaven.

Now, when we reflect and pray about five of these aspects of Christ—His existence before the Creation, His birth, His life on earth, His Resurrection and His Ascension—we experience a strong feeling of peace and happiness—a deep awareness that Christ loves and protects and guides each of us. However, when we consider the Cross of Christ, we are usually not so happy, because of the pain that Jesus Christ experienced on the Cross.  Yet the Crucifixion was just as important a part of God’s plan for our lives as the other ways of living that Christ brings to us.

All six of the acts of Christ, united together, bring us, in the words of St Paul in Philippians chapter 4, verse 7 “the peace of God which passes all understanding [and] keep [our] hearts and [our] minds in Christ Jesus.” As St Paul continues in verses 16 and 17 of Philippians chapter 4, it is that “peace of God which passes all understanding” that teaches each of us how to live “in any and all circumstances.” Once we experience that “peace of God which passes all understanding” we can say with St Paul, “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.”

Personally, as I seek “the peace of God which passes all understanding,” I tend to think of the Crucifixion as an event in the past which happened two thousand years ago. However, St John of San Francisco, who died in 1966, has reflected, the Crucifixion is not only about the personal, past suffering of Christ, but,

the painful wounds of sin which afflict mankind. . . . [Christ] sees, in the words of Isaiah, chapter 6, verse 9 that ‘people have blinded their eyes so as not to see, and that they do not want to hear with their ears and to turn to Him to be healed.’

St John understands, and I quote, that “Christ sees that even now the whole world is turning away from God, who has come to it in the form of a man.” St John of San Francisco is offering to us a profound understanding of the Crucifixion and the Incarnation as events that transcend time. Two thousand years after the Incarnation and Crucifixion of Christ, the whole world continues to turn “away from God, who has come to it in the form of a man.” However, we who have the evidence of the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ have an opportunity to encourage others to join us now in a firm commitment to the Crucified Christ and His Church.

In addition to the Exaltation of the Holy and Life-Giving Cross we also remember today the repose of one of the great fourth century Church leaders and preachers, St John Chrysostom. Here was a person who knew the Cross of Christ. He was fearless in condemning both heresy within the Church and immorality in the state, leading his enemies to banish him from the see of Constantinople. He suffered exile and on the way was deliberately killed by a forced march on foot in severe weather.

In the reading from the first chapter of First Corinthians that the Church has chosen today, St Paul insists that “we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ [is] the power and wisdom of God.” Preaching on this passage, St John Chrysostom stressed that Christ, and I quote, “did not descend from the Cross, not because He could not, but because He would not.” During the Holy Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, written by St John Chrysostom, stress is placed not on those who betrayed Christ, but rather that Christ Himself “gave Himself up for the life of the world.”

The Gospel today from St John chapter 19 records the death of Christ on the Cross and concludes:

One of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen [this, that is, St John} has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.

The blood and water that came forth from the side of Christ was a sign of His death. Reflecting on this Gospel, the third century Palestinian Biblical commentator Hippolytus, wrote:

The Lord’s body furnished both sacred blood and holy water to the world. . . This body, clinically dead, still has a great power of life in it. For what (normally) does not flow from dead bodies flowed from this one, that is, blood and water. This happened so that we might know the great power for life possessed by the power that inhabited this body that, even while dead, was able to pour forth to us the causes of life.

In keeping with the reflection of Hippolytus, St John Chrysostom preached that when blood and water came forth from Christ on the cross:

These fountains [of blood and water] came forth … because by means of these two together, the Church consists. And the initiated know it [that is, those who are baptised know it], being regenerated by water, and nourished by the Blood and the Flesh. From this, the Mysteries take their beginning; so when you approach that awesome cup, you may so approach [it] as drinking from the very side [of Christ].

Let us then today truly exalt the Cross of Christ, as we drink of His Body and Blood from His very side.