Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Holy Cross
September 14, 2012, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 14th September 2012

This festival is, in a sense, “Passiontide in Autumn”: a reminder, half a year on, of the truths and mysteries we celebrated at Eastertide. There can be a certain triumphalism in the way we speak of the Cross: “in this sign, conquer,” the first Christian Emperor, Constantine, was told, according to legend. We speak of the victory of the Cross, but when we do so we need to remember that we are being deliberately paradoxical. The Cross, in itself, did not and does not look like a sign of victory, but of defeat. If we are truly to celebrate it, we need to understand how defeat can be victory.

When God became man, he “took our nature upon him,” as we say at Christmas. He became fully human, accepting all the limitations of natural human life. The ultimate limit of natural life is, of course, death. In Adam, in natural humanity, all die. So in joining the human race, as it actually is, Jesus became mortal, became bound to die.

But not everyone dies as Jesus did. In fact, Jesus died a particularly painful and shameful death, executed by public authority in a most barbarous way as a criminal. It was this as much as anything that made it hard for both Jews and non-Jews to accept him as having been an emissary of God. “I preached a crucified Messiah,” wrote Paul, “to the Jews a stumbling block, to the Gentiles utter folly.”

The Cross, of its very nature, stands in opposition to human ways of thinking. It represents the Divine “No!” to our worldly values. Human ambitions tend to be for power and position, wealth and influence, or at the very least comfort and a quiet life. The Cross contradicts all those things, embodying weakness and poverty and pain.

Jesus said that those who want to be his disciples must take up their own cross and follow him. We too must say “No!” to worldly values; not because weakness and poverty and pain are in themselves good things. They are not. But worldly power, worldly wealth and worldly pleasures so easily become false gods, in opposition to the true and only God. In pursuing them we risk not so much the death of the body- that will happen anyway- but the death of the soul, the death of our humanity. To worship power is to become less human; to worship wealth is to become less human; to worship pleasure is to become less human.

In dying as he did, our Lord showed that even the most wretched human death can be the gateway to true life. And every time we give ourselves, give a little of our lives, to others, we are following Jesus on the way to life. The choice each of us must make is between selfishness and self-giving. Christianity is not about “self-fulfilment” but self-denial. If we deny ourselves, take up our Cross (in whatever form it comes), and follow Jesus, he will see to whatever fulfilment we need.


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