October 30, 2016
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“The Cross of Christ”
The greatest symbol of Christianity is without doubt the Cross! This is quite a statement, for there are many fabulous symbols teaching us of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost... and their incredible purposes for this world and for redeemed mankind! But the Cross of Jesus Christ stands over them all, communicating volumes in an instant! Sacrifice... Suffering... Forgiveness... Discipleship!
St. Paul sadly informed the Christians at Philippi of the worldlings all around them, who served only themselves – and their fallen natures. Hedonists they were, seeking only their pleasure... and unafraid of shame. Their destruction, he said, was assured.
He reminded them that just as the citizens of Philippi made up a Roman colony in the midst of a Greek world – so, too, they as Christians made up an Heavenly colony – indeed, an embassy – in the midst of a humanistic world! Caesar was not their Savior... for Caesar could not save them! Caesar could not save Rome! Caesar could not even save himself! But Jesus Christ – King of kings and Lord of lords – could! And He would soon subdue their corrupt worldview and disintegrating culture. Which He did!
In the midst of these verses, dear old and weathered St. Paul – under house arrest in Rome – employs a phrase that is most captivating. And once we discover it, it is hard to turn away from it! He tells his hearers that those around them had become enemies of the Cross of Christ.
For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ...
Now, he could have said enemies of the Faith! He could have said enemies of Christianity! He could have said enemies of the truth! Or enemies of decency... But he did not! He said enemies of the Cross of Christ! Why?
He was referring to the key symbol of Christianity – the Cross. Enemies of the Cross of Jesus Christ! I am sad to say that in our generation, the Cross has its own enemies once more! And all too many are located in His Church.
Under their leadership, much of the meaning of the Cross -- and in some areas almost all of its meaning – has altogether disappeared in many churches. Churches are often “decorated” with globes of this world reminding us of our mission. And that is not bad, per se! Churches are often decorated with pictures of people from all ethnic backgrounds, reminding us of the fields white unto harvest! And that is not evil, per se! In some quarters, churches are decorated with labyrinths! But it seems rare, indeed, to find anywhere the simple, humble, cross of our Lord in the front of a church!
It was not all that long ago (for I remember such days when I was a young boy) that public emergency vehicles – police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, and the like – had crosses on them as part of their municipal decal or county emblem. The symbol of Arizona includes the words Ditat Deus... which means God enriches! But the constant barrage of lawsuits by the leaders of our brave new world has taken its intended toll! And we all start to learn what St. Paul meant when he wrote of the “enemies of the Cross” – who want to silence its message and wipe it clean off the earth!
But to do so, they would have to change the names of many cities – such as Santa Cruz, for example – in order to totally eradicate it from our midst! Many have forgotten what Santa Cruz means – Holy Cross!
There is a powerful and mysterious element in Christ’s Cross which will never disappear, however, among the thinking and contemplative humble ones of this earth!
Even 17th century John Milton – acclaimed by many the “greatest of English poets and writers” – stood helpless in capturing its essence… helpless in describing its fundamental meaning. He once wrote a beautiful ode (or poem) entitled On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity to celebrate the Birth of Christ. But when later he attempted to compose a companion piece on the crucifixion, he found himself unable to express it in words! In Milton’s published works, one finds the beginning of his poem, but with it a note that apologizes for its incompleteness – saying that he could not capture a worthy manner of expression!
At its elementary level, the Cross was simply the tool of Roman torture and dominion – Roman threats and punishment -- by which Jesus died for the sins of mankind. But as to its true and full meaning, it is an absolutely baffling mystery beyond the description of human words! Shades and hues of its greatness can be felt and detected at times, but it evades any comprehensive expression!
Poets have made some progress in putting its power into words. One of the most famous calls the Cross the place where Heaven and earth meet – the gateway through which His people must pass, and be refined, as they transition from one realm to the other!
Yet others have called it the instrument of death which in God’s Hand was made an instrument of life for His people! It has been termed that instrument which (like Moses’ rod of old) parted the waters of history.
Still others note its vertical member speaks of the reconciliation of man with God – while its horizontal member speaks of the reconciliation of man with man!
But this morning, I submit to you that this world – and Christ’s Church, in particular – which have lost much of the meaning of the Cross in our day can regain it with God’s help! Those who still possess a faint recollection of what it once meant, cannot enter a room where it is present without acknowledging it... even if almost imperceptibly, with a reverent nod of the head!
How did the Early Church understand, preserve, and defend the Cross of Christ? In A.D. 200, the Church Father, Tertullian, recorded for us the practice of the Early Church as far as the signing of the Cross was concerned. I quote…
“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our forehead with the sign of the cross.” This is called “Sacred Tradition.”
The advanced meaning of the Cross for you and me implies the willing death of our old natures. The advanced meaning of the Cross for you and me implies our willing death to the slavery this world would impose upon us!
What does the Cross mean to you? May it be central in your walk of Faith. May the Cross be central to us as a Church Family. May the Cross once again be important to all of Christ’s Church – and to all of our land.
“For many…” wrote St. Paul with weeping, “are the enemies of the cross of Christ.”
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Tow-‘ring o’er the wrecks of time;
All the light of sa-cred story
Gath-ers round its head sublime.
World without end. Amen.