Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 2009 Parish Letter

“Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for Holy Cross Day]

In the listing of Church Festivals, Holy Cross Day is one of the oldest, but also one of the most neglected. It is easy to understand why Holy Cross Day may be neglected, even though it is a red-letter day. The festival commemorates an historical event in AD 320 when Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, discovered the original cross of Jesus in Jerusalem. But days which commemorate discoveries often go by the wayside as individuals become accustomed to what has been discovered. We can think of how Columbus Day on our secular calendar often goes unnoticed, unless the Post Office is closed or children have the day off from school.

Though we might neglect Holy Cross Day, the importance of Christ’s crucifixion is not forgotten by us, His disciples. Its importance is recognized year round, not just on Good Friday or Holy Cross Day. The Apostle Paul writes of the centrality of the cross to the Corinthian Christians, as is found in the Epistle Reading for September 14: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”(1Cor 1:18, 21-24)

Paul’s words are meant for us, as well as for the Corinthian Christians. What we hold true regarding the crucifixion of Christ is foolishness to the world. We believe that salvation does not come to us through signs or mystical contemplation or logical reasoning, as much as such things might impress the world. No, we believe that our salvation comes from the Creator of all things’ taking on human nature and dying while suspended from a wooden beam. The world may cry out: “You fools!” But we point to the evident weakness of Jesus in crucifixion and say, “Because of that act, I am entitled to forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.”

John’s Gospel which is read on September 14 also shows the incompatibility of human wisdom with the wisdom of God seen in Christ’s crucifixion. John records the words of Jesus and the Eternal Father as they speak on Palm Sunday about the crucifixion: “Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. . . . Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? “Father, save Me from this hour”? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’”(John 12:23, 27-28)

Nothing about a crucified man appears glorious to the eyes. It is a gruesome spectacle of pain, gore, and torture. In total humiliation, the beaten and abused victim is put on display as he slowly succumbs to death. Yet, Jesus says that it is the hour of His glorification. The Father confirms that He is glorifying His name through it. And for us, the recipients of what Christ’s crucifixion accomplishes, it is the hour of our Lord’s glory and our own glory.

What Jesus says about His crucifixion includes its effects: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”(John 12:31-32) Our oppressor is vanquished by Christ’s death; our tyrant is overthrown by His crucifixion. And all who believe the acts of Jesus are drawn to Him, drawn to the forgiveness, life, and salvation that He brings through His sacrifice. Christ’s cross is the divine answer to our cries for deliverance from sin, death, and Satan.

As people who have received Holy Baptism, we have been “baptized into [Christ’s] death.” We live in the new reality that Christ’s death and resurrection have brought to us, as Paul writes to the Roman Christians: “Our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. . . . Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with Him.” (Rom 6:6, 8) Holy Cross Day is September 14, but we can say that every day of our lives is a day of the holy cross.

So let us never forget the importance of Christ’s cross for us. Even if the sanctuary isn’t adorned with red paraments or Helena’s discovery is discussed, the centrality of the Holy Cross is recognized in our lives. As our sins are crucified again by hearing God’s Law, the remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice will be made. The retracing of the cross on our head and hearts marked on us in Holy Baptism brings it to remembrance. The proclamation of Christ’s crucifixion will be found on our lips, as we confess our faith. For then it will be as the psalmist says: “I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation; behold, I have not restrained my lips, as You know, O Lord. I have not hidden Your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness from the great congregation.” (Ps 40:9-10)

~Pastor Zimmerman T

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