The Holy Cross

This sermon was preached by Bishop David Moyer this past Sunday at the Fellowship of Blessed John Henry Newman.

September 18, 2011

+In the Name…

“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Colossians 6:14). Or as another translation has it, “God forbid that I should glory…”

Two events in church history influenced the establishment the Feast of the Holy Cross (the Solemnity of which we keep today) on the Calendar of the Church. The first was the dedication in 335 of the basilica built by the Emperor Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulcher; and the second was the exposition of the supposed true Cross of Christ at Jerusalem in 629 by the Emperor Heraclius after its recovery from the Persians who had taken it in 617.

Just as the Church established the Feast of Corpus Christi as a day of joy and thanksgiving for the Lord’s gift of the Eucharist, because the day of its Institution (Maundy Thursday) is dominated with great sadness because of what was soon to come upon Jesus, so the Feast of the Holy Cross (also known as the Exaltation of the Cross) is to be a day of joy and thanksgiving for the Cross of Christ because the saddest day of the Christian year is Good Friday when Jesus suffered and died on the Cross.

We live as Christians because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the Resurrection, we wouldn’t be here this morning. We sing our hearts out during Eastertide in joy and thanksgiving for the Resurrection. But before the Resurrection was the Cross, and we are to glory in nothing except His Cross, as the Apostle Paul teaches. We celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord, but we glory in His Cross. To “glory” in something means to take all of its truth into ourselves, to identity with the truth, to manifest the truth, to be shaped and characterized by the truth.

Christ is Risen! Jesus lives! In countless churches and cathedrals throughout the world that are wedded to the Catholic Faith, it is the cross and crucifix that dominate the particular space.

Even with the artistic representation of Jesus as Christ the King – the Christus Rex – the wounds of His hands and feet are evident, and His throne as King is the throne of the Cross.

Such artistic symbolism states the truth of what St. Paul wrote to the Philippians, “…being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (2:8-9).

Christ is our highly exalted Risen Lord, with the name which is above every name as the result of His obedience (the “Therefore”) to the vocation of the Cross. He freely submitted His human will to the divine will of His Father. He could say, “Lo, I am with you always,” because He went first to the Cross. We partake of His Body and His Blood that was broken and shed on the Cross because He went to the Cross. He is with us, within us, behind us, above us, beside us, beneath us, above us in quiet and in danger to restore and comfort us, because He went to the Cross. No Cross, no crown. No death, no Resurrection. No death of Christ, no living Christ with us always.

On the Feast of the Natvity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at his Installation as Archbishop of Philadelphia, Abp. Charles Chaput called the huge gathering in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul to think upon this passage from the Gospels:

Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

We have all heard those verses so many times, but the way that Abp. Chaput put them before us and asked us to appropriate them, was riveting.

We are all to “come after” Jesus. We are all to follow Him. But who among us is dying to deny himself and take up the Cross daily? We want to be saved, but who among us enthusiastically embraces the teaching of Jesus: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it”? Of course we don’t, and God knows that, but we are to accept its truth and live accordingly.

Coming after Jesus means denying ourselves for His sake. It means putting Him first in our minds, actions, and decisions. It means taking up the Cross, which means (as He did) being obedient to the will of the Father which is a call to be totally about the benefit of others. For Jesus, it required suffering and death as the sacrifice sacrifice for sin. For us, it requires being pulled out of ourselves, spiritually stretched for others, and being made like unto Him – made more and more daily into His image of mind and heart being fashioned by “Thy will be done.”

It is wise for us to remember that Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Jesus did that, and He calls us to do the same to find life’s true meaning. Aren’t we all touched in the depths of our souls when we see or learn of someone who has given themselves completely (possibly to the point of dying) for others? Last Sunday, when we were all taken back to September 11, 2001, aren’t we all so deeply touched when we remember the young firemen who gave their lives to save others and who died in so doing: or when we remember the brave men who stormed the cockpit of the airplane bound for either the Capitol or the White House that crashed in western Pennsylvania; or when we think of the men and women who have died and will die in service to their country in the fight against terrorism? Such sacrifice and heroism stirs us to know that life is enriched and life is found in such acts which reflect what Jesus did and what He calls to do daily, in whatever way it is to be done.

I think that I have watched the movie Saving Private Ryan at least ten times and especially have focused on the opening scene of the first landing barges hitting the beaches in Normandy on D Day. You might think that this is rather strange, and that I have an unhealthy fascination with blood and horror. No, that is not why I do this. I do this because I need to see what sacrifice looks like, and realize how many people have embraced it.

We will do the thing of coming after, following, denying ourselves, taking up the Cross daily, and losing our lives (which does require sacrificing our lives for others, but which is fundamentally giving up the control we try to assert over our own lives and those of others) when we think deeply about who He is and what He has done, as we surrender our lives to Him for His purposes

This is the just requirement for Christian discipleship. When we call him “Lord,” it means imitation of the Lord and obedience to the Lord who gave His all for higher purposes.

It was Justin Martyr in the second century who first taught Christians to make the sign of the Cross on their bodies. Second century. Not the Middles Ages. Not something Roman Catholic.

Making the sign of the Cross at different times and in different circumstances is what we call a “sacramental.” It is something we do with our bodies and upon our bodies to remind ourselves (to impress upon and within ourselves) what Jesus did for us. He took our place on the Cross and suffered punishment for our sin as the perfect sacrifice for sin offered to God the Father to satisfy the justice of God in order that man is returned to union with God.

The Cross traced upon us reminds us of who we are and what our calling is. It reminds us to stay on the path that leads to new life, hope, and peace. It reminds us that the victory over self-will and self-determination is found when the Cross of Christ is our chart and compass. For what Christ did on the Cross, and what the way of the Cross gave to him, St. Paul exclaimed, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

St. Paul tells of his spiritual transformation in his letter to the Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (2:20).

We heard Jesus say in the Gospel today, “…and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” St. John, the writer of the Gospel, tells us in the very next verse, “He said this to show by what death he was to die.”

Jesus boldly stated that the Cross would draw all men to Himself because the Cross is the proof of the love of God for man that it is so deep, so broad, and so high that the Father asks his Son to die for others for the sake of the Father’s love for others. The Cross demonstrates and proclaims what the cost and the degree of the Father’s love for us is, and what the cost and degree of the Son’s love for the Father and for us is.

Yes, the world needs to know such love; and it is found first and foremost in history’s greatest love story – the love of God for man. This story is believed and appropriated as THE story for all people and times when we in the Body of Christ manifest the life of the Cross as our response to the love of God in Christ Jesus. The world needs to see the Cross impressed upon those who call themselves Christian, so that they see the Christian’s willingness to lay down his life for the benefit of others.

We sing it during Ascentiontide, and may what we sing then be the truth that drives us today and tomorrow:

“The cross he bore is life and health,
Though shame and death to him:
His people’s hope, His people’s wealth,
Their everlasting theme.”

Author: Fr. Christopher Phillips

Fr. Christopher G. Phillips is the pastor of Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he has served for the past twenty-eight years. He is the founding pastor of the first Anglican Use parish, erected in 1983 under the terms of the Pastoral Provision. Fr. Phillips was ordained as an Anglican for the Diocese of Bristol, England, in 1975. After serving as Curate for three years at St. Stephen Southmead, he returned to the United States and served in two Episcopal parishes in the Diocese of Rhode Island. In 1981 he left the Episcopal Church and moved with his family to Texas, where he was subsequently ordained as a Catholic priest in 1983. Fr. Phillips and his wife, JoAnn, have been married for forty years. They have five children, all grown and married, and three grandchildren.

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