St Paul's Cathedral, Springfield--Galatians 6:14-18, John 12:31-36a
“Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
I find myself grateful for the peculiar circumstances under which we are celebrating this feast day of the Holy Cross. There’s something about celebrating a new shared ministry between a particular priest and a particular congregation in a particular diocese, all under the sign of the cross of Christ, that is quite compelling. Of course, we already get the chance to focus attention on the cross of Christ during Holy Week, but it’s different then. On Palm Sunday and Good Friday, when we read the narrative of our Lord’s passion and death, and on Maundy Thursday, when we’re with him in the Garden of Gethsemane anticipating that suffering, we are very much in the moment. The cross is so close to us that it dominates our field of view; we can see little else. Moreover, under those circumstances, it’s difficult to escape being overwhelmed by the sheer horror of it all.
Yet, there are aspects of the cross’s meaning and significance and mystery that cannot be clearly viewed close up. We need to step back and get a little bit of distance—away from the immediacy of the stripping and nailing and bleeding and dying—in order to view and appreciate them. Today’s celebration, as we mark a new chapter in the long and venerable life of this cathedral parish, offers us just that amount of distance. We can see the cross from the perspective of what was accomplished there, from the perspective of the Christ who was not only crucified, but risen, ascended, glorified, and continually making intercession on our behalf. We can see the cross, not as a symbol of shame, but as an emblem of victory; not as a token of defeat, but as a sign of triumph. Because of the cross, human suffering—every grief, every sorrow, every petty annoyance—is redeemed and transformed. Because of the cross, death itself is transformed, and becomes the gateway to true and unending life in Christ. So we glory in the cross of Christ, and lift high the cross, knowing it to be the very means of life and health.
Now, I could probably quit right there, and know that I have duly proclaimed good news on this occasion. But as you might guess, I’m not going to, because, somewhere between the extreme close-up view of Good Friday, and the cosmic view of the Celestial Banquet, is the daily view of ordinary life. Practically in the same breath with which he glories in the cross of Christ, St Paul, writing to the Galatians, tells us that, by the cross, we are crucified to the world, and the world to us. There’s something in this notion of being crucified to the world and the world to us that suggests that the route from Calvary to the Celestial City is more than just a series of victory laps.
Allowing ourselves to be crucified to the world is, I would suggest, the hardest part of discipleship, the hardest part of responding to our Lord’s invitation to take up our cross daily and follow him, and the most challenging part, I would say, of life in a church community, of life in a web of ordered relationships, under the leadership of a particular pastor and priest. “Crucified to the world.” The world is where we live. We have a place in the world. The world tells us who we are ethnically. It says, “You’re African, or European, or Asian.” The world tells us who we are politically: “You’re American, or British, or Brazilian.” The world tells us who we are economically: “You’re affluent, or poor, or middle class.” And although we don’t often think of it this way, it’s the world that tells us who we are religiously: “You’re from Pakistan? You must be Muslim. You’re from Utah? You must be Mormon. You’re from Cambodia? You must be Buddhist. You’re from Ireland? You must be Roman Catholic. You’re from Tennessee? You must be Southern Baptist.” The world gives us our sense of identity, the world gives us our sense of worth, the world gives us our sense of security.
So, to hear that we should be crucified to the world, and the world to us, might make us feel a bit like refugees. And so it might be appropriate to observe that there is a long tradition of thinking of church buildings as places of sanctuary, places of refuge. This cathedral church symbolizes both the parish community of St Paul’s and the larger community of the Diocese of Springfield—communities that aspire to be safe places, places of refuge from a world that wants to define people in every conceivable way. But I don’t mean “safe place” in the sense of merely making us comfortable, reinforcing our predispositions and prejudices. Rather, the community of the church helps us safely negotiate our interaction with reality but providing a way for us to face reality honestly and with some degree of hope. It is in the “realness” of life together in church community that we grow as disciples by being conformed to the shape of the cross. We bring our brokenness here to be healed, not merely to be anesthetized. This is the challenge for Fr Roderick and the people of St Paul’s—to be authentic, real, to have a tolerance for the pain that is associated with healing and growing and becoming something we are not yet.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all go out and find some trouble to get into. Trouble has a way of finding us soon enough. We don’t have to buy suffering; it comes free. The invitation in front of us on this celebration of the Feast of the Holy Cross is to become more fully what we are, to live more and more into the identity we know we have. We who are in Christ have been crucified to the world and the world to us. If we are sick, or otherwise impaired physically, that doesn’t define us, because sickness is of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are whole because we are in Christ. If we lack the financial means to buy the necessities of life, that doesn’t define us. Money is of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are rich, because we are in Christ, to whom all of heaven and of earth belong. What is his is ours. If we are drowning in shame and regret because of our own sin and foolishness, that doesn’t define us. Shame and regret are of the world, and we have been crucified to the world. We are ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven because we are in Christ. If we imprisoned by addiction to alcohol or drugs or gambling or sex, that does not define us. Addiction is of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. We who are in Christ find perfect freedom in serving him. If we are paralyzed by fear, that fear does not define us. Fear is oh-so-much of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. We who are in Christ have been swallowed up by the overwhelming love of God that casts out all fear. And we who are mortal—there’s no “if” here because we’re all mortal—we who are mortal are not defined by our mortality. Death is of this world, and we have been crucified to the world. I’m delighted that it is the custom in this cathedral to sing this ancient chant during the celebration of Easter: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and bestowing life to those who dwell in the tomb.” As St Paul, the patron of this church, urges us, “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection, through him we are saved and made free.”
Alleluia and Amen.