The way of Christ, the way of the cross, is the pattern, the blueprint for our truly human lives and the pattern, the blueprint for the life of the whole cosmos.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Holy Cross Day
Texts: John 3:13-17; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 (also with reference to John 1, other parts of John 3, and Philippians 2)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In the middle ages many important churches had an ornate, precious box with a splinter inside.
It was believed to be a piece of Jesus’ actual cross. In the 380s, the pilgrim Egeria saw the whole cross at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It was encased in silver to prevent pilgrims who came to venerate the cross from biting out pieces to carry away. Somehow churches in Europe still often ended up having tiny pieces of wood reverently coffined for pilgrim prayer and adoration. Some suggest that if every piece on display in those churches were brought together, you’d have enough wood for Noah’s Ark.
We might chuckle at such naiveté to trust the holy origins of one’s special toothpick. But we might have similar problems with our view of the cross.
Having a relic suggests a value in the past, that clinging to a physical piece of history connects one to that history. Is that different from a theology of the cross that focuses only on the past? Many of our hymns that speak of the cross could lead one to assume that our focus on Christ’s cross is that of a remembered history, a past event that secures our place in heaven. We might not cherish tiny bits of wood, but if the cross is only a history to us, confirming a promise of heaven when we die, we’re not very different from our medieval forebears.
But if we read John’s witness, we see the grace of a cosmic, present, eternal, and transformative view of the cross that shapes not just our lives but the life of the universe.
John teaches us that the way of the cross, the way of Christ, is also the way of all things.
The Son whose death on the cross is the heart of John 3 is also the Logos, the Word of God present at creation in John 1, now enfleshed as one of us. As John uses Logos, it carries the meaning of pattern or blueprint. So God’s Blueprint present at the creation, God’s Blueprint who is also God, is now Jesus, the Christ, the human. So the way of Christ, what we see in Jesus, must also be the pattern, the blueprint for the Creation.
That means the blueprint of the universe is that power is only found in weakness, in letting go. The blueprint of the universe is that beauty is found in what is broken. The blueprint of the universe is that wisdom is found in what looks foolish. The blueprint of the universe is that life is found in dying.
Had Jesus lived another time, the symbol of this pattern might not have been a cross. But John claims that the deeper pattern is always God’s sacrificial love for creation. This is God’s heart John says the Son of God reveals for us, so this self-giving, dying, powerless, broken love is also the way the world is meant to work.
And who are we to deny this?
Every evil done since time began has been done by power, violence, domination. By people seeking their own good above others, forcing others into their way. And every good ever done since time began arose out of love, and true love is always self-giving. Everything holy and good has come from people offering themselves to others for hope and life.
Paul agrees that this pattern is not only God’s way. In Philippians he explicitly says it is our blueprint, too. To have the same mind and heart as Christ Jesus and empty ourselves out of love for the other, love for the world. This is how God means the world to work.
We can’t say God’s wrong until we start to live this path ourselves. Allow our world view of might makes right, be in control, take charge, all that pattern, to fall away, and open ourselves to the pattern of losing to win, dying to live. The Son of God went to the cross to prove this is God’s path and our path for the life of all things.
And it is all things John is talking about. Everything is part of this pattern. So everything is part of God’s love.
John’s Gospel claims that the cross is the sign of the heart of God for the whole universe.
Much like our theology of the cross is often too narrow, so often is our view of John 3:16. Painted on signs at sports venues, plastered on car bumpers, this verse has become an invitation to a personal view of salvation. “God so loved you,” not “God so loved the world.”
But John actually says “God so loved the cosmos” here. It means what you think. John 3:16 is about God’s love for all the universe. John declares that in the cross of Christ we see God’s love for the whole of creation, all galaxies and stars, all cells and mitochondria, all things. The cross proves God’s love for everything God has made.
So not only is God’s self-giving love the pattern for how the universe works, it’s the heart of God for all things. Any view of the cross and resurrection that doesn’t account for God redeeming the entire creation in all its breadth and depth is just not big enough. It’s like having a piece of wood in a fancy box, instead of living in a healed creation, now and forever.
Paul figured this out. And he knew it would meet resistance.
The world’s ways of power and exclusion and control can’t cope with an all-powerful God who gives up power, a God of life who offers to die to show the universe its pattern and hope.
Some will call it foolishness, Paul says. Others will trip over this, and won’t accept it.
But we are gathered tonight to remember that the Triune God who made all things took on our bodies and carried such self-giving, foolish love to death on the cross. We celebrate a meal based on that death, certain that this same Son of God is risen, thus proving that this pattern of the cross brings eternal and present life.
We might fear it’s foolish. We might stumble over it. But we’re here. Because we know it’s true.
And so tonight, we ask only to be shaped to this pattern.
We seek the Spirit’s new birth, also promised in John 3, to make us new beings formed to God’s blueprint of self-giving love.
Because when we’re lined up to God’s pattern, we’re in harmony with the pattern of the universe. And our lives begin to vibrate and sing the song of the undying sacrificial love of the Creator who turns every worldly expectation upside down because we’ve actually been upside down all along and want to be turned back to God’s way.
So we remember our Lord’s death tonight, as we do each Eucharist. We make the sign of the cross tonight, as we do each Eucharist. We do it to remember God’s blueprint, the pattern of the Christ, the pattern of the universe, the pattern of abundant life that God wants all to know.
And that’s a pretty good reason to celebrate the feast day of the Holy Cross, come to think of it.
In the name of Jesus. Amen