Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Cross
Today is the Sunday following the Exaltation of the Cross and it is also the commemoration of the holy martyrs Sophia and her daughters Faith, Hope, and Love.
We heard in today’s Gospel reading the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.’
This is the fundamental paradox of the Gospel… it is in denying our self that we might be fulfilled, it is in taking up our cross that we might find true joy, and it is in following and surrendering to Christ that we might find true freedom.
On the feast this past Thursday, I quoted St John Chrysostom, who said regarding the Cross that: ‘Christ endured all of His sufferings, that we may follow in His footsteps.’
Let us think about that statement for a moment… ‘Christ endured all of His sufferings, that we may follow in His footsteps.’ Does that mean that we will follow in the footsteps of His suffering? Yes, this is inevitably true…
But I so often run into the contrary sentiment that would express itself that: ‘Christ endured all His sufferings so that I never have to!’
And the natural consequence of this misunderstanding is that when sufferings and problems arise in our life, we think that something must be wrong… either with us, with our spiritual life, or maybe even with God.
It is true that Christ took upon Himself the sins of mankind and that He suffered and died and rose again for our sake. But this accomplishment of our Lord is not so much done instead of us as it is done for us. Perhaps that sounds like a very subtle difference, but it is a very important distinction and understanding.
There is a pervasive Protestant interpretation of the Cross that teaches that Christ suffered all that He suffered as a substitution for us. That God required a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind and only the Son of God, the perfect and unblemished Lamb, could suffice to appease the wrath of an offended God. In this teaching, Christ is slain instead of us, and we no longer face the consequences of sin because Christ has already paid the price.
This is a distorted view of the Scriptures which essentially would have it that Christ is indeed our Savior… but that He came to save us from the vengeance of God!
This is not the teaching of the Church, this is not the teaching of the Scriptures, this is not reflective of the unchanging nature of the goodness of God.
Let me repeat what was said earlier… The accomplishment of the sufferings of our Lord upon the Cross, of His death and resurrection, are not done instead of us, they are done for us.
Only Christ, the Son of God, that perfect and unblemished Lamb, could bear the sins and suffering of mankind upon His shoulders. And only Christ could suffer through the weight and consequence of that sin, and by His divinity could trample down death by death. And only Christ, the Son of God, could burst apart the gates of Hades and three days later burst forth from the tomb in His risen glory!
In doing so He clears the path for our salvation. To quote St John Chrysostom again: ‘Christ endured all of His sufferings, that we may follow in His footsteps.’ Those footsteps lead us through suffering, through death, and to the light of resurrection. But that way has been cleared, redeemed and sanctified by the sacrificial love of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Mankind absolutely needed and needs salvation. But from what? From a vengeful God Who seeks our well-deserved destruction? No, our salvation is from the disease and consequences of sin, which separates us and alienates us from God. A God Who loves us, Who created us to be in communion with Him, Who cares so much for us that, even when we were indeed alienated and estranged from Him by our sins, He chose to become one of us in order to sanctify and reestablish our path homeward to Him.
This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the wisdom of the Cross, which remains foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. This is the wisdom which gives birth to faith, hope, and love in the heart of everyone who believes in Him.
Let us not be afraid to take up our Cross, to deny ourselves, and to follow after our Lord.
We shall surely endure sufferings along this path… for it is the path of self-sacrificing love.
Anyone who has loved, who has truly loved another, knows that with love comes pain of heart. We no longer live for ourselves and for the pursuit of our own pleasures. We live for another… we long for their presence, we co-suffer with them in whatever tribulations they may encounter, we would willingly sacrifice all that we have for their good.
This is the way of the Cross. This is what the Cross stands for. ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friend’. Christ has called us His friends and He laid down His life for us.
This is why we glorify the Cross! It is the symbol and the reality of the love of God. It is the signpost pointing us to the way upon which we should walk. It is our hope and our joy.