Look at the cross.

Homily 429 – 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
September 13, 2020
Epistle: (215) Galatians 6:11-18 (Sunday Before) and (170) 2 Corinthians 1:21-2:4 (Resurrection) and (307) Hebrews 3:1-4 (Founding)
Gospel: (9) John 3:13-17 (Sunday Before) (89) Matthew 22:1-14 (Resurrection) and (67) Matthew 16:13-18 (Founding)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Today, we prepare for the exaltation of the Holy Cross, the finding of the blessed wood which Christ climbed upon to reunite humanity and God. There are a couple of things to point out.

One is the essential voluntary nature of the act of Christ – the continuation of His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

See, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ undid what was done in the Garden of Eden, the paradise of the original creation. In the original garden, humanity rejected God and set himself up as the only wisdom to be followed. We broke our communion with God.

In the second Garden, things came full circle – Christ prayed that while it was humanly His desire to avoid the path of the cross, that most important word: nevertheless. Nevertheless, God’s will, not human will, be done. Just like we pray – God’s will be done, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Christ followed through on that promise. Allowing Himself to be taken, allowing Himself to be abused, ridiculed, accused, and allowing Himself to be judged by the very ones that He created! Ultimately allowing Himself to be sacrificed.

We find a precursor to the cross in the Old Testament, in a couple of places. We see one in the hymns (stichera) at the Lord, I call … at vespers tonight: The battle the Israelites had with Amalek, described in Exodus 17.

Amalek’s descendants and tribe went to war with the Israelites, led by Joshua. Moses stood to the side, upon a high place, and when his arms were stretched out – like on a cross – the Israelites prevailed, but when Moses got tired and his arms fell, they faltered.

Moses even had assistance in holding his arms up. And when the victory for Israel was secured, Moses built an altar and called it “The Lord is my Banner” in remembrance of their prevailing with God’s help.

The Lord is my banner. The Cross is our banner – the cross that Constantine saw as he went into conflict with those who opposed the nation.

The other Old Testament parallel also involves Moses and is found in the book of Numbers, chapter 21. The Israelites were, as humans are want to do, complaining about God’s leadership.

So, God sent fiery serpents to remind the Israelites that things could be much, much worse. At least, that is my interpretation – feel free to disagree with that reasoning.

God then directed Moses to make a representation of a serpent and put it on a pole, and anyone who saw it would recover. It didn’t relieve the suffering, but it enabled people to survive it.

The parallel to the Cross of Our Lord is hopefully obvious. The Cross does not obliterate suffering – but the Cross allows us to survive it.

There is a little-known additional aspect to this brass serpent. At least it was little known to me. The brass serpent continued to be held in Israel long after the arrival and settlement in Cana’an.

A thousand years later, King Hezekiah ordered the brass serpent destroyed. It was called Ne-hush-tan. The children of Israel burned incense to it They thought the power, the salvation, was in the object itself, not the One who gave it. The good, holy, righteous thing by which God provided salvation, over the millennia, had the “God” part removed.

We don’t look at the cross in and of itself as having power. The hymns of the Church are clear – it is Christ on the cross that is the power. In fact, when the cross was discovered by St. Helena, there were three crosses found, Christ, and the thieves on either side, along with a new plant of rare beauty and fragrance. What was called “basil” – meaning, “of the King”.

They weren’t interested in the other two – only the Cross which bore our savior, and so a dying woman kissed all three, and the third one she was made well. Further, a funeral procession was passing, and the body of the deceased was placed on the three crosses, and the cross that healed the woman, raised the dead man to life.

The life-giving cross – which is, as we know, not a function of any cross, because the other two crosses were powerless. It is the one crucified upon it that works through it.

I think a question we all need to ask ourselves today is “what do I see when I see the Cross?”

Do I see a talisman, designed to be used to my benefit and according to my will, designed to corral the power of the Creator for my purpose?

Do I see a reminder of the One who ascended it, and His willingness to lay aside all earthly care for the benefit of others? For the benefit of me?

Do I see an expression, visible, tangible, of God’s love? For me, but also for those who reject Christ, and who live opposite to a pious and godly life?

What do we see? What can we see?

Our answer to that question should direct our lives. At least, the right answer to that question should direct our lives.

For what we see is nothing less than the Love of God the Creator of all, including me, and the self-less example of Christ.

An example that I, an unworthy sinner, am called to emulate.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!