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Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Cross: More Questions that Answers

Today is the Third Sunday of Great Lent, the Adoration of the Holy Cross. Today's message is in keeping with the Lenten theme for 2010, "For All Things We Know and For All Things We Do Not Know." This theme is taken from our Eucharistic liturgy, and recalls for us that we may trust and thank God for what we know in this life, and for things we simply can't or don't know.

Gospel: Mark 8:31-9:1

When I was a boy, I went to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Elyria, Ohio. It is one of those downtown Churches that sits on the courthouse square. As a boy, I thought the steeple was the tallest structure I had ever seen. Atop the steeple is a gold cross.

I remember asking my grandfather how on earth they kept that cross so shiny. I remember being a persistent questioner when I was little and my grandfather was an ornery answerer. He told me that the Church had a monkey that had been trained to polish the cross each week. The priest would put the monkey on his leash and let him climb to the top of the steeple to do his duty.

(Deep down, I still believe this story.)

Having questions about the Cross is the beginning of understanding the reality of the Cross.

There are "physical questions" about the Cross:
* How tall was the Cross? * Where was the Cross? * How common was crucifixion? * Why was Jesus nailed and the others tied to the Cross? * How could this have happened to Jesus Christ, Who was so good?

There are "intellectual questions" about the Cross. Many have seen detailed descriptions of crucifixion that are popular this time of year. Movies like The Passion provide depictions of crucifixion in graphic detail. People raise the issue of Jesus Christ’s ‘unfair’ trial.

There are "emotional questions" we ask. Why would God require the Cross of His own Son? How could they have been so mean to Christ Who was so good? Wasn’t there another way besides His death?

I imagine these are the sorts of questions Jesus Christ and the Apostles were discussing in Mark 8:31-32: "He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him."

We may find ourselves in the place of St. Peter. He knew that “for all the things he knew” he didn’t want those things to happen to Jesus Christ. Why? Because Jesus Christ was his friend, his co-worker, his mentor. He loved Him. Why would anyone want to see terrible things happen to anyone they are close to?

When facing a trial in our own lives, how often do we react like St. Peter? We don't want the pain. We don't want the suffering. We don't want the cross.

Jesus Christ rebuked his friend in verse 33: "Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

St. Peter encountered what he did not know.
- The Cross and its consequent salvation are God’s matters to provide.
- The Cross and its affect are matters of “mystery,” and we don't usually like mystery.
- The way of the Cross is not a matter of human will, but of Divine purpose.

The Lord knew that St. Peter is very much like ourselves. We want to provide our own way of salvation. We want to work it own in a manner that suits us. We don’t like ‘mystery’: we want reality, we want answers. We like the Divine purpose as long as it doesn’t run against our own purposes and directions.

For all the questions St. Peter and the other Apostles had, Jesus Christ answered the questions they didn’t ask – the Spiritual questions about the Cross.

"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me and for the Gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?"

The Lord clarifies for St. Peter, the other Apostles, and for his other hearers that following Him is a matter of taking up your own cross. Your cross may be a life experience that is hard to bear, the results of a poor decision you made that has long-term effects, or even a condition that you had nothing to do with.

What Jesus Christ is saying is that following Him is a matter of losing your life in order to gain it. There are many people who spend their whole lives trying to gain success, material wealth, and pushing their way to "the top" who end up lonely and spiritually destitute.

He underscores the fact that following Him may bring on shame in this life, but reward in the next. We have little to be ashamed of as Christians in this country. There is no arm in wearing a cross here. But think of the Christians in Tehran, or Beijing, or Darfur, or any of the Moslem nations where Christianity is illegal. Those saints have learned what it is to bear the Cross in the face of shame.

This Sunday of Adoration of the Holy Cross, what questions of do you have? Take a moment with your own cross in your hand and reflect on these ideas:
+ What is the cross you are carrying?
+ Have you truly lost your life – or have you simply let God borrow it for a while?
+ Has the Cross been an issue of shame or embarrassment to you? Why or why not?

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