Sunday sermon on the meaning of the Cross as we approach the mid-point of Lent.
Now an audio of the sermon is also available. Click below to listen:
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
This third Sunday of Lent marks the halfway point of our Lenten journey. Three weeks have gone, three more to go. We are not counting the Holy Week here. It is a special period, set apart from Lent because of its intensity and significance. That’s why we call it Great and Holy Week.
But right in the middle of Lent is the Cross. The Cross is a reminder and an anticipation of the endpoint of our journey with Christ to Jerusalem.
The Cross is also something we have become desensitized to. “Whoever desires to become My follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” We have 2000 years of history of looking at the Cross as the sign of victory, as the symbol of our faith, with which we adore our temples and the temple of our body.
But, when Christ was telling His disciples to pick up their cross, they saw something completely different, and horrifying. Cross and crucifixion were some of the worst types of torture and execution in the ancient world. Perhaps the closest analogy to the Cross today would be the electric chair.
A person going to the electric chair is going to a certain pain, some mockery, and death. A person going to crucifixion in those days, was going to the same end, but they also carried the beam of the cross, as an extra sign of torture and mockery.
Whoever desires to become Christ’s follower is to do this – to go to the end, if necessary, through pain and mockery, and to a certain death.
It may be hard to wrap our head around all of this. We have been very fortunate, perhaps even spoiled. Most of us were born in this country, the rest of us moved here; and we have lived a rather free and untroubled life. More or less.
We haven’t had to make the serious decision between being a Christian or keeping our job. Or, being a Christian or remaining alive. This choice has not been presented to us.
There is some movement, however. As recently as 20 years ago, being a faithful person and a churchgoer was seen as a good trait, today it is increasingly being seen as a threat to progress.
(As a side note, as I noted in a sermon a few weeks ago, it’s hard to say what progress everyone is so excited about, since we, as a society, are going back to the sexually immoral ways of the ancient pagans. We are going backwards, we are regressing, not progressing.)
So, something is changing, and that change does not seem to be good. I am not good at reading tea leaves. And we are not meant to discern the signs of the times. The Lord never said, “Figure out who the enemy is and where he is coming from.” He said, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
And in any case, we know who the enemy is; we’ve known all along. It’s not a political party (they are all the same, and they are all useless, if we attempt to put our hope in them), it’s not some billionaire who wields more power than we can imagine, it is not any human being at all.
Our prayers very often speak of “the enemy,” but this language never refers to another person. We never call another human being our enemy.
The enemy, in fact, is satan. In the original Hebrew, from where we get this word, satan means “the accuser” or “the adversary.” Another word for the adversary is “the enemy.”
Times are changing because evil is active. Sometimes evil forces may be behind other people, and sometimes people may even surrender themselves to evil (God forbid!), but people are never our enemies.
And one thing evil cannot stand is when we desire to carry our crosses, living our life with a purpose of following Jesus Christ. This determination to remain the disciple of Christ has always been tested by the enemy. And the testing is often in the form of mockery, suppression, and persecution.
If you think that nothing of the sort of violent persecution can ever happen in our great and free nation, then think again. If we were to travel back in time, to say 1910 Russia (a little more than a hundred years ago), before the Revolution; and if we were to tell them that in 10 years they will be persecuted and killed for being a Christian, their reaction most likely would’ve been, “What are you talking about? This is the Holy Russia! We are a Christian Empire!”
These things happen unannounced. We can’t predict them, and we can’t prevent them. The pain, the mockery, and the death that the carrying of the cross symbolizes applies to us because it could end up being our reality too.
If we are not willing to lose some business, to risk a career, to be unpopular, to be laughed at, to not be one of the cool kids on the block, then we can’t be followers of Christ. Because being a Christian could cost us all that and more.
(And let me be clear, I am not saying we have to give up these things now. Rather, we have to be willing and ready, in case we are given a choice between Christ or anything else that is not Christ.)
We need to be ready and we need to prepare our children and future generations for this. Giving up sports to be in church for Vespers on Saturday and Liturgy on Sunday and other holy-days will be the least that Christians, followers of Christ, will have to give up.
There are now and will be careers that Christians in good conscience will not be able to take up. There are now and will be subjects and topics in the education system that Christian parents in good conscience will not be willing to expose their children to. There are now and will be entertainment and popular culture influences that Christian young adults in good conscience will not be able to participate in.
Being a Christian involves a sacrifice. This is what the Lord did with His Cross – He made a sacrifice on behalf of us and for us. And frankly, we haven’t had an opportunity to make our own sacrifice. We are not used of thinking that we need to give up life in the world, change our lifestyles, in favor of Christ and His Church.
The Cross is the reminder that we need to start thinking this way, discipline ourselves, change our mentality.
The Cross is in the middle of our Lenten journey, but it’s also in the middle of our life journey. It is what we walk towards, it is what we carry, it is what gives us purpose, and it is what enables us to see the Kingdom of God come in power.
Sorry for being a little darker than usual with today’s sermon. God willing, we and the future generations of Christians will not have to face the choice between following Christ or remaining alive.
Yet, we cannot risk a chance and assume that we are safe here. Let us make our faith real, grow and mature in it. Let us not be ashamed to take up our cross and follow Christ, prepared for all the struggles that might come, but also knowing that this is the only path to the fullness of life.