The Cross! It takes our guilt away; it holds the fainting spirit up; it cheers with hope the gloomy day, and sweetens every bitter cup.
Jesus crucified is in our midst – the source of forgiveness, upholding, good cheer and transformation that the hymn speaks of. We are the dying and rising people of a dying and rising Lord.
“J shaped people” as someone put it – and if you see a J as an “I” pushed down ready to spring up you’ll get the idea of that. To live as a society of the holy cross is to live with the sanctification of passion, of pain and suffering. You can’t put a Christian down because the things that bring people down are endured with Jesus who cheers with hope the gloomy day, and sweetens every bitter cup.
There is passion – suffering – and there is sacred passion. Or, as a typing error reminded me once, there is scared passion and sacred passion.
The making of a woman or man is suffering and how we bear it. Is it taken fearfully or as part of sanctification? The Cross makes the coward spirit brave, and nerves the feeble arm for fight; It takes its terror from the grave, and gilds the bed of death with light.
You know I’m always quoting books and here’s another, W.H.Vanstone’s The Stature of Waiting. I see it as an antidote to some over simple forms of Christian enthusiasm – I speak as former diocesan mission and renewal adviser! There is Christianity around that somehow goes unmarked by the sign of the Cross.
This book illuminates from the example of Our Lord the stature of things that the world or even the church, alas, is uncomfortable with nowadays – the deep significance of our waiting and our dependence. These are consequences of Jesus living in us with his life, his passion and his resurrection. In Mark’s Gospel, Vanstone reminds us, a half of the Gospel is all action but the last half of that Gospel – Holy Week – has Jesus not acting but being acted upon as he waits and as he depends upon others.
How much of that quality do we share as a congregation, dear friends? I counted 47 organisations on page 23 of the Village Magazine excluding the Church. Though in some ways we’re central to the life of Balcombe we’re also on the periphery waiting and depending on others. Horsted Keynes where I was Rector is similar. The church is central in one way but in other ways an awkward reality within the village. Sometimes we feel pushed out. Other times when there is grief and pain to be shared people look to us to help lift their burden.
What a fruitful thing, though, to be one in this with Jesus as his society of the holy cross. One with the one who promises Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). It’s a countercultural thing to be one with Jesus who is one with suffering humanity but is also something freeing since by his cross he lifts our burdens day by day!
Has humanity ever known more of suffering? Has this country ever had less inclination to seek through prayer to address that suffering and make it holy?
What I mean is how without precedent television and social media bring images of pain day by day into our homes and you wonder how people deal with this. In our living room, we have the Cross looking down on the TV. This is potentially a grace since we can choose to look up to the Lord in prayer as we hear and see the suffering of fellow human beings. The Cross over our television does something to lift minds and hearts burdened by the world’s agony to the Lord who sees all and loves all.
Holy Cross Day celebrates the symbol of our faith. It is a reminder to honour that symbol by living it as a society that’s one with the holy cross. One with Jesus crucified and risen. The history of this Feast is associated with the establishment of Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine.
It was his mother, Helena that uncovered the True Cross and lifted it up for the veneration of the faithful.
So must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life we heard in the gospel (John 3v13-17).
To live as the church is to live as the society that lifts up Jesus: in his word, in the Blessed Sacrament and in the hearts of all his faithful people. In the eucharist we lift up the consecrated Bread and Wine and we lift up the Gospel book. Such liftings place us with Mary and John looking up from the foot of the Cross to the breadth and length and height and depth and … the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3v18b).
As Christians we grow closer to Christ through his surprising gifts and through suffering. There’s a sermon of Austin Farrer that recalls a sign outside a florist entitled crosses and wreathes made to order. The Lord orders our circumstances to be filled with his gifts from on high given from his left hand as well as his right hand.
I thought of that quote from Farrer crosses and wreathes made to order when I read of this year’s harvest celebration on 6 October. It will use our gifts to serve those in need through the auction in the Half Moon pub. This will hopefully touch the generosity of villagers to serve those at the sharp end of things through the agency of our church and school. What distinguishes any society of the cross is such service to the suffering and marginalised that’s true to Jesus.
Such ministry can be acknowledged at a more profound level.
People who give allegiance to Christianity in this or any day seem to do so when they encounter Christian communities like our own that have intrigued them, communities that have something in their soul that is of Jesus and against or beyond what’s the cultural norm.
Pachomius, a fourth century founder of Christian monasticism, came to faith as an army conscript. He had pagan parents and no foundation in Christianity at all, but as a soldier he was intrigued by a group of people who freely gave food to the troops. Who are these people? He asked. Oh they are Christians and Christians do that sort of thing he was told. He went on to investigate what it was that led these Christians to go out of their way in the service of strangers. He found the dying and rising people of a dying and rising Lord.
How impressive it must have been in the early church to find people so fearless of death that they would care for the sick risking disease themselves, for this is the origin of our hospitals.
The church as the society of the holy cross is also the society of the resurrection for the two cannot be separated. “J shaped people” with the “I” pushed down ready to spring up as surely as Christ is risen! For if we have been united with Jesus in a death like his Paul writes to the Romans (6v5, 8) we will certainly be united in a resurrection like his…if we have died with Christ we believe we will also live with him.
My friends, sisters - and brothers - of the society of the holy cross Jesus does not ask us more than to come close to him in his passion so that our waiting and our dependence on others becomes invested with his presence, the presence that draws the whole world.
It is into that presence that we now enter in this Holy Eucharist.