September 12, 2021, The Feast of the Holy Cross

The Feast of the Holy Cross – September 12, 2021
The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin
Readings: Isaiah 45:21-25; Psalm 98; Philippians 2:5-11; John 12:31-36a

From the Gospel according to St. John, “(Jesus said), If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.  

     Yesterday, our nation observed the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorism attacks on America. No doubt, each one of us here this morning has a story to tell about that day: Where we were, what we were doing, how we coped and so on. And each story recalls the images of what we saw, what we heard, and what we feared. That day changed all of us just as it also changed our country. It actually brought our nation together in prayer and resolve, and united us in ways not seen for generations. Nevertheless, 9/11 is still spoken of by many with a sense of hurt and with tears.

   For me, among all the images of 9/11’s carnage, the lives crushed, the knee-deep dust covered streets and buildings, the expressions of bewilderment on the faces of those present, there emerged one striking symbol of hope miraculously found right at ground zero. In a most bizarre occurrence, some would say of divine origin, a section of steel from one of the collapsing Towers plummeted to the earth and impaled itself into the ground with a portion of its crossbeam still intact. Incredibly, it formed a cross – battered and rugged in every way. And there it stood in the midst of all that destruction, stood firm as a remarkable symbol of hope. A reminder of yet another cross from over two thousand years ago raised on a day of equal infamy. A cross that brought not death as on 9/11, but rather, new life marked by redemption, forgiveness, hope, wholeness, and grace. Calvary’s cross changed lives then just as it should, it must, and it can change our lives today and every day.

     This morning, we observe the Feast of the Holy Cross – our parish’s “Feast of Title.” It is a day of celebration for us as we look to the fall season with all its events and potential opportunities for witness, ministry, and service to Christ. And like the events of 9/11, Holy Cross Sunday offers both hope and challenges for our particular community of faith and all such communities.

   I say challenges because it seems that each year, this 2nd Sunday in September reminds us that the Valle Country Fair is only a few weeks away and there is so much work still to do. This day also confronts us with the reality of just how fast-paced life in this parish truly is with meetings, continuing and newly discerned mission and service efforts, educational opportunities, choir rehearsals, liturgy planning, potlucks, ECW and Men’s Night Out gatherings to name just a few, just as this day also confronts us with the stress such a full calendar brings to our lives. This is a challenging time because in the midst of so much activity often with overlapping responsibilities and tasks, people’s dark sides start to emerge, we misunderstand one another, wound hearts and minds in our retorts, step on toes, or just forget who we are and how much we truly need one another. It is easy to forget what this Cross calls us to be in this world and why we are called. And therein lies the hope of this day.

     The Prophet Isaiah appeared during Israel’s horrific exile in Babylon. Those were dark days for Israel as God’s people faced an uncertain future. Isaiah arrived proclaiming that Babylon’s days are numbered, that Israel will once again be free. Yet, Isaiah’s message went beyond Israel’s destiny. In today’s reading, the prophet foretells the destiny of the entire world, that someday, every knee shall bow, that every tongue shall swear (or affirm) the grace, wholeness and goodness of the God of Israel, our God, our Redeemer. And this moment of the world’s destiny, this opportunity to walk in God’s light instead of human darkness will come to pass on a Good Friday long ago. That day when a wooden cross – an instrument of extreme torture and death became a Holy cross of new life, of redemption, a chance to start over, and eternal hope not because of what it was, or what the cross still is, but because of him who was hung upon it. 

    St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says that while the cross is, indeed, a symbol or reminder of our redemption and hope, the real proof of its transforming power goes beyond mere symbolism. Paul writes, “Have thismind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” That mind marked by humility and grace. A mind that emptied itself in order that we might have life eternal. Yes, the cross is a symbol of our hope but the cross in itself doesn’t save us. Its power, its grace, its redemption lies in him who was nailed to it; it lies in and with him who offers to continue to change our lives, how we think, how we speak, how we act because he lives within us. The cross, Paul says, reminds us to empty ourown selves just like Jesus did in order that others might have life, might know God’s grace and mercy.

     Jesus, reminds his followers in today’s gospel reading that lives marked by wholeness, grace, redemption, forgiveness, and mercy, are lives that have chosen not to simply wear the cross as a piece of jewelry, or carry it in their pocket like a lucky rabbit’s foot, but who have chosen to embrace the cross and all that it means, chosen to walk in the light of God rather than darkness. Jesus states the obvious, “if you walk in the darkness you don’t know where you’re going.” Well, there’s nothing profound there in that statement. But what is profound is his urging, “While you have light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” It is not the cross that changes us, but him who embraced it and shed his blood upon it.  The cross simply reminds us that our redemption came at a great price: the price of God’s own son’s life.

     You know, on 9/11 darkness created by dust clouds and fire engulfed not only New York City, and Washington, DC, but engulfed the hearts and minds of the entire nation. In essence, that day left many walking and groping in darkness then, and many still walk in darkness today: the darkness of vengeance, of hatred and malice; the darkness of blindness to systemic racism and the blaming of others for every problem facing our nation, and perhaps, even more honestly, the darkness of bewilderment, despair, and fear for the future: a darkness that threatens to swallow up any sense of dignity, of value, that our lives matter to God and to one another. In many ways, for these past 18 months, we have been experiencing another 9/11 called the Covid-19 pandemic. A pandemic that rather than unifying communities, has set neighbor against neighbor; a pandemic politized and “religionized” – pitting people of faith against one another screaming about 1st amendment personal liberties while forgetting our responsibility for the health and welfare of others.

   It is into all of this darkness, beloved, whatever that darkness, your darkness, may be –the Holy Cross bursts forthwith its hope. For the cross symbolizes him whom we call Lord. It recalls for us that in baptism we are forever marked as Christ’s own. The cross reminds us of why we are here in this valley. We are here to preach Christ - Christ crucified, to be as Christ to our neighbors loving them as God in Christ has loved and continues to love us, to invite all people to this table to taste and see God’s goodness in Christ Jesus who gave his life for us on a cross.

   And that is the hope and challenge for us as members and friends of the Church of the Holy Cross. It is a challenge because in the words of this morning’s collect it would be too easy to simply carry the cross and forget what it truly means to follow Christ. Yet, the Holy Cross is also our hope because it reminds us that in Christ, (and Christ alone), we can always find redemption, wholeness, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. We can be changed over and over and over, again.

     Friends, the cross simply symbolizes who we already are and whom we are becoming: Christians, Christ’s own, continuously empowered to be Christ in and to our communities and to the world. And that, is the challenge, that is the hope, that is the power of the cross. Because he who lay upon it continues to call the whole world out of darkness into the light of God’s grace and mercy offered to all who will believe in Him. And for the holy cross’ reminder of allthese things, let this parish, let us, forever shout, “Thanks be to God!” Amen.