3rd Sunday of Lent – Veneration of the Cross
(Heb. 4:14 – 5:6)
We have come now to the third Sunday of Great Lent… midway on our journey toward the radiant feast of Pascha. On this day the Holy Church brings before us the cross of our Lord. Why is it that on this day, at this particular time on our Lenten journey, why is it significant that we venerate the cross at this time? What does the cross mean to us as Orthodox Christians? And what should be our response to the cross?
Why do we venerate the Cross on this third Sunday of Lent? I would imagine that we’ve all had the experience of setting off on a journey and our initial preparation gives us great confidence in the direction we are heading. But somewhere along the way, we might wonder if we’ve made a wrong turn or missed a sign and our confidence plummets and we begin to feel lost. Suddenly, up ahead, you see a sign… and as the sign comes into view you see that it confirms that your destination is directly ahead and that you are indeed on the right road. A feeling of great relief and encouragement comes over you and you are refreshed by a renewed burst of energy to travel those final miles to your goal.
This is precisely the wisdom the Holy Church provides for us at this, our midway point on the journey of Great Lent. In bringing the Cross out to the center of the church for veneration on this day, the Holy Church puts before us a reminder and a source of encouragement.
In reflecting upon what the Cross means to us as Orthodox Christians, let us listen to the words of Apostle Paul in today’s Epistle reading. We read, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
The cross serves to remind us of what Christ endured for our sake. Our God is a God Who can sympathize with our sufferings, because He has suffered. Our God can understand what it means to be tempted, because He was subjected to temptation – though He never succumbed to temptation and He did not sin. We can come boldly to the throne of grace, seeking mercy and finding grace to help in time of need. We can come boldly to our Savior, knowing that He can sympathize with us in our sorrows, because He suffered sorrow. When our Lord hung upon the cross, he took upon Himself the sins, the sorrows, the sufferings, all the pain, the injustice, the misery of mankind. We have to realize this… it is important for us to remember that we are not alone in our sorrows and in our sufferings. There is nothing that should separate us from the long-suffering love of our Lord and God Jesus Christ! Seeing the cross before us, we must realize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and we must never fall prey to the devil’s suggestions that we are alone and isolated in our times of trouble.
But the cross does not just bring to our attention the sufferings of Christ. The cross has been transformed from a symbol of torture and defeat into a symbol of endurance and victory! It is the victory of Christ on the cross that allows us to come boldly before the throne of God, seeking mercy and grace in time of need.
It is so often the case that we question God in times of suffering… We don’t understand why God would allow certain things to happen. We might even think that God is uncaring… removed from our sorrows and always at arm’s length from our sufferings. The cross reminds us that this is not true. There is no sorrow that we might have that God has not born upon himself. There is no pain, no loneliness, no anguish that God did not suffer through for our sake.
This is the miracle of the cross… it is the miracle of divine love. A love that would condescend to take on our sufferings, to take on our pain in order to transform it into something victorious.
The cross gives us hope to endure our sufferings. The cross reminds us that we are not alone. The cross reminds us of the victory of Jesus Christ!
The cross is brought before us at this time to both convict us and to encourage us.
When we see the cross before us, we should realize the extent of the love which God has shown toward us, and we should then consider to what extent have we shown our love for God? Seeing the cross here before us today, we may be convicted to confess our failure to live up to our spiritual potential, to live up to being the person which God calls us to be. We should repent of our failings and, recalling the sufferings of our Lord, we should renew our efforts to exert ourselves on our Lenten path of repentance and improvement.
And while we may feel sorrow for our failings as we gaze upon the cross, we should also take heart… for the Lord is with us in our sufferings and He has been victorious. The cross is brought before us at this midway point in Lent in order to remind us of our greatest hope, to point the way toward the joy of Pascha.
May the cross of our Lord inspire us to renew our efforts and to draw strength from the knowledge that we are not alone, that God is with us in our joys and in our sorrows. By the life-giving power of the cross, may the remaining weeks of Great Lent be a source of spiritual renewal for us all.