“If I Am Lifted Up…”

images-28September 14 marks the commemoration of the rediscovery of the Cross of Christ in Jerusalem in the fourth century. This feast day is known as the Elevation of the Precious and Life Giving Cross in the Orthodox Church. For the Christian, the Cross of Christ is always and every day to be understood as precious and life giving. As it was elevated in Jerusalem by the city’s patriarch, St. Marcarius, so today’s 21st century Christian is to elevate the Cross in his or her consciousness. Further, the Cross is not to comfort, but to challenge, to alarm, and even offend — even more, to bring about death. St. Paul writes of this: “The message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but for those who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1: 18).

Both the epistle and gospel readings set for the Sunday before this feast day direct our minds to Jesus’ Cross. The gospel reading comes from St. John’s Gospel:

And no one has ascended into heaven except the one who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, likewise the Son of Man is to be lifted up, in order that the one believing in him might have eternal life. In this manner God loved the world:  that he gave his only begotten son, in order that every one who believes in him might not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world that he might condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3: 13 — 17).

The passage is his prophecy of his upcoming death, and its method: being lifted up on a cross by crucifixion. Moving to the days immediately before his crucifixion, Greeks came to Jerusalem to pray. They approach Phillip asking to see Jesus. Phillip brings the request to Andrew, then Jesus is informed of the news and states, “…the hour has come in order that the Son of Man might be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat that falls into the earth might die, it remains alone, but if it should die — it bears much fruit” (John 12: 23 — 24).  It will be shocking to many that his hideous, painful, and degrading death by crucifixion brings about his greatest, most glorious moment.

I return to St. Paul whose words are also presented this Sunday. He also writes frequently of the Cross. In his letter to the Galatians he declares that he will only boast in the Cross of Christ, “through which the world might be crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6: 14). St. Paul’s thought parallels St. John’s quite perfectly. With the following, St. John records Jesus’ words:

The one loving his life in this world will loose it, and the one hating his life in this world will keep it to eternal life. If someone might serve me, let him follow me, and where I am there also my servant shall be. If someone might serve me the Father shall honor him (John 12: 25 — 26).

Thus, putting all of this together, as we come to the Cross we are to die to our lives in the world — better the world system.  We are to die to pride, impatience, insisting on our own way, selfishness, prejudice, and all else that the world system values and promotes. In contrast we are to look to Jesus’ ways of mercy, humility, patience, peace, and self-giving to all, and to all of creation. Thus, the Beatitudes stand as our way of life. And, our Lord commands us, “take up your cross and follow me.”

black-budded-cardecalflyerWith this saying of Christ in our minds, we often make the mistake of thinking only of BIG crosses: those troubles and challenges that rock our lives to the core. These do come our way, but I believe that it is the daily, little crosses that will truly allow us to die to the world and ourselves, and bring more of the light and life of Christ into our lives. These little crosses are the mundane difficulties of each day. These are the frustrations of the commute, the checkout line, the child, the spouse, the parent, the co-worker, and every challenge that offers us the opportunity to grow the self in the ways of the world, or die to self and give ourselves to prayer, mercy, and thanksgiving.

From this let me put forward that every act of giving thanks (think Eucharist) for the little crosses that are presented to us, we die to ourselves. By our dying on these daily crosses the life and light of Christ are poured into us. By such crosses we die to the world system, and by such dying we have Christ formed more fully in our lives.

I conclude with the words of the vision of the Cross given to St. Constantine: “By this sign, conquer!”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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