Posted by: Fr Chris | September 14, 2022

The Life-Giving Cross: A paradox

If you watched anything of the transfer of the body of Queen Elizabeth II this week, there was an interesting element that affirmed her deep Christian faith. Both in Scotland and England the royal crowns of those countries were brought out and put on top of the coffin. The crowns are of course covered in jewels and elaborate silver and gold, but each one is topped by a cross. The cross is supreme, the cross is the actual crown. The monarch is supposed to rule in the  spirit of Jesus Christ, exemplifying both the qualities of Jesus as a ruler but also be willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the nation.

Jesus sacrificed himself on the  cross not for the Jewish nation, but for the entire human nation – He willingly ascended the cross so as to reopen the closed gates of heaven, closed since original sin ruptured the bond between God and Humanity, and He willingly gave His life, pouring out His precious blood, so as to save souls. In this self-giving, this self-emptying, the cross of death became the life-giving cross.

And of course, the lifting up of the cross back at the time of Saint Helena was because they had applied the cross to sick people who  were instantly cured and to the body of a dead man, who was brought back to life.

It is the great paradox of Christianity – the instrument of Jesus’ death is the tool of salvation for the entire human race. Jesus Himself refers to the cross and His future death on it as being like the staff of Moses with the bronze serpent on it. The Israelites had rejected God once again and he sent in poisonous snakes as punishment. But those who looked on the bronze serpent held up by Moses were cured. We have been bitten by original sin and are bitten over and over by the devil but are redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice.

Christ was seen by the early Church and the Fathers as the new Moses. Moses had led the Israelites out of the darkness of slavery in Egypt to freedom and from the darkness of idol-worship to knowing the one true God. Jesus leads us out of the darkness of sin and into lives rooted in Him, through the mystery of the life-giving cross, which is the gate to holiness.

Moses used his wooden staff to open the waters of the Red Sea, so that the Israelites could be saved from the Egyptian army. The Cross opened the closed gates of heaven. Moses used the staff later to strike the rock which gushed out water, which saved the lives of the Israelites and their animals; Jesus’ cross is the source of life for us. Moses stood on the cliff with his arms out in the shape of the cross and the pagan Amalekites were defeated; the devils themselves run from the cross.

So, when we say that the wood of the cross brings life, we are not saying something trite but it is a profound truth that Israel was slowly prepared for over the centuries. Once Jesus died on the cross, the temple had fulfilled its purpose – there was no more need for sacrificing animals.

Jesus’ Blood is the ultimate sacrifice, the blood literally of the new covenant as he said at the last supper, as we are going to say up here at the altar soon so that the Holy Spirit will descend and change the wine into Christ’s precious blood.

The cross is the emblem of the courage to change; the cross is the confrontation of our spiritual destiny, and the point at which a decision must be made to stand with or against the Kingship of God. Do I follow the Lord or the fallen world? Do I strive to be holy  and to transform that fallen world, or do I add to the power of sin? Does my life bring about transformation of myself, of those around me, indeed of the entire world, or do I go in the opposite direction and drag down others with me?

We wear the cross, we kiss the cross, we put the cross on the walls of our homes, it crowns the top of church towers, it is even on top of royal crowns, precisely because it calls us to remember Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s self-gift, Christ’s life, Christ’s giving of  life to us. We put it in so many places precisely because it calls us to decisions: Jesus as our king, opting for grace from God so as to resist sin, Christ as the true final answer.

Ave crux, spes unica! Hail, O Cross, our only hope! It is one of the most ancient little prayers of Christendom, but it encapsulates everything I’ve said tonight. Hail O Cross, our only hope. It would seem that the Cross would frighten people, but instead it  invites people to come to it, to find hope, to find comfort, to find great joy, to realize the enormity of Jesus’ love for us. And to realize that through the cross, and only through the cross, only through accepting the hardship of the cross, can I find true freedom in Christ Jesus as my true Lord.

By honoring the Cross, accepting the cross, we are able to move forward spiritually. Doing only what I want will get me nowhere. Following Christ, and Christ alone, that will get me to where I am supposed to be. May we be brave enough to follow Christ, and to go forward with the life-giving Cross in confidence to change our lives.


Responses

  1. Very well stated.


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