The true Cross.

Homily 589 – 3 GL
St. Andrew Orthodox Church, Woodway, Texas
April 7, 2024
Epistle:  (311) Hebrews 4:14-5:6
Gospel:  (37) Mark 8:34-9:1

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

Thank you for allowing me to offer some words this morning that will, God willing, be a life-changing blessing for us all.  That is what repentance is – life-changing!

It is a special day for certain when we can look at the cross, and think about the cross, and try to understand what God tells us.  We think of the cross, and we think about the commandment of Our Lord, and for some of us – and by that I mean for me – I have to think about what it means to take up my cross – to bear the burdens of not just ourselves, but of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Some, when they hear of the Cross, and bearing the Cross, imagine the wood that Christ bore.  But that obviously isn’t the cross that we are asked to bear.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve not seen anybody walking around WalMart or H•E•B carrying 4×4 posts nailed to their wrists.

This cross, we think, isn’t literal.  It can’t be literal, right?

Well, maybe the wood of the cross that Jesus carried isn’t the essence of what the Cross really is.  Maybe the literal cross that Jesus carried isn’t the point.

That’s not intended to scandalize us, but it is worth considering.  Have we gotten the Cross all wrong?  Are the Latin Catholics and the protestants right that the Cross was simply an element by which Jesus was tortured instead of us?

See, I don’t think so.  But, I have to admit, if that isn’t what the Cross is about, then what is the Cross about?  Why does Jesus undergo that punishment?  And why do we, as Orthodox, sing about the Cross as being life-giving and blessed?  It seems a little inconsistent, right?

I think, though, that there is a different understanding of the Cross that can provide us with insight into its purpose, and how it may apply to us.  So, if I may ask, set aside the notions and ideas and understanding we may already have, and let’s take a fresh look at the blessed, and life-giving, Cross.

Let’s start at the very beginning – Genesis 3.  We all know the story, right?  The crafty serpent tricked poor Eve into eating the forbidden fruit, and ever-obedient Adam said “Yes dear” and ate also.  For that taste of fruit, we – all of us – are being punished.

But look closer:  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

When we read that, we think about the end – they ate.  Everything before that was the lead up to the important part, right?  But!  Maybe not.  Maybe it is the lead up itself that is important.

What Adam and Eve did was not complicated.  Through their examination of the situation, their evaluation of the data, and their own ambition, set aside God’s warning.

In essence, they told God that they didn’t need Him any more – that they, Adam and Eve, would decide what was good and what was to be avoided.

Kinda like toddlers – we tell them don’t touch the stove, it’s hot.  And what do they do?  Touch the stove!  Or if we tell them that we’ll take care of something – “No!  I’ll do it!  I’ll do it!”  We even talk about this common trait of humanity – Oh well, we say, they have to figure it out for themselves.

And that is the essence of the problem.  That is the substance of the fall of humanity.  We put ourselves in charge of us.  This God can’t be the boss of us!

To use a bit different language we allow our ego to take over.  We let our ego govern our behavior, our thoughts, our desires – and not God.  You may have heard the word “nous” before – that is the part of us that connects to God.  That used to rule us.  Everything we were – our intellect, our flesh, our ego – was subservient to the nous.

At the fall, we took our ego and placed it squarely between the nous and God.  No longer could we fellowship with God, no longer would we be bothered by God.

OK – so this is the problem of humanity now.  What does this have to do with the Cross?  To understand more, let’s look at Jesus, just prior to the crucifixion itself, before He was betrayed.

The Gospel of St. Mark, chapter 14, verse 32.  Having celebrated the first Eucharist with the Apostles and Disciples, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John, and they go to the Garden of Gethsemane.  The fact that they go to a Garden is significant – where were Adam and Eve at the fall?  The Garden of Paradise, the Garden of Eden.

Jesus prays three times, with such intensity that He sweats blood.  That prayer, that “if it was possible, the hour might pass from Him.”  He tells the Father directly – “All things are possible for You.  Remove this cup from Me.  Yet,” he says.  In some translations, “nevertheless,” he prays, not what I will, but what You will.”

Not what Jesus wants – but what the Father wants.  He does the opposite of what Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  He – and please, hear this if you hear nothing else this morning – Jesus set aside His human ego.  And accepted the Father’s will.  And, in that Garden, Christ restored humanity to it’s God-created glory.

Brothers and sisters, this is the Cross that Christ picked up that evening.  Our Lord agreed, voluntarily, to renounce, to crucify, His ego in favor of God.  That is the Cross.  Crucifixion of His ego is the Cross that Christ picked up, and the same cross is what we must pick up.

We must deny ourselves, that is to say, we must crucify our own ego, our own desire, in everything we do, and follow Christ.  Christ followed through by doing what He didn’t want, but committed to do – He gave up His human life.

And Christ did Himself what He asks of us.  Deny ourselves.  Take up the crucifixion of our ego – our intellect, our logic, our meaning and purpose.

Because that is how we follow Him.  That is repentance.  That is how we obtain eternal life.  We simply choose to follow God, and not ourselves.

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