O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
In our epistle reading this morning, Paul told the Corinthians that his message to them was about the crucified Christ. He termed it “the word of the Cross,” a message that was then and is now “foolishness to those who are perishing; but to (those) who are being saved it is the power of God… and the wisdom of God.” He wrote to the Galatians, “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).
We worship the crucified One Who is “risen indeed,” as we will say throughout Eastertide in our Easter acclamation. But the Cross comes first, and it’s the crucified Christ that we preach and Whose symbol we bear. There is no Resurrection without the Cross and there is no redemption without it.
The Cross remains at the very center of our faith, whether we like it or not. Christianity without the Cross is heretically incomplete. We may have pure motives in trying to sanitize our faith and make it less repugnant to those who find our religion too bloody, too sacrificial, too costly, too frightening. But Christianity is indeed all of those things and much more. Anything less is no longer Christianity, even if it is made to seem more appealing and less “foolish,” to use Paul’s word.
We are followers of the Cross of Christ and the Christ of the Cross, and, as we heard last Sunday, Christ Himself told us that if we would come after Him we must first take up the Cross ourselves and follow Him; apart from that, He said, we are none of His. He bore the Cross for us, and we must bear the Cross if we are to participate in His sufferings and His redeeming grace.
Martin Luther wrote: "The Cross alone is our theology." According to Andrew Trotter in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “The importance of the Cross as a theological motif in the New Testament is impossible to overestimate.” Not only that, but Trotter adds, “the Cross is as central to living the Christian life as it is to entering into it.” Paul wrote to the Colossians (1:19-20) that “it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in (His Son), and, through Him to reconcile all things to Himself… making peace by the blood of his Cross.” God’s will to “reconcile all things” is part of a continuous, eternal divine plan that triumphs over sin, death, and Satan, while at the same time passes judgment on all of them. The Apostle John makes this clear when in Revelation 13:8 he refers to “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” As John Stott noted, “John is telling us nothing less than that from an eternity of the past to an eternity of the future, the center of the stage is occupied by the Lamb of God Who was slain” (The Cross of Christ, pp. 44, 45).
I want us to look briefly at the crosses that are before us today. I’m wearing two crosses: the one you see is a gift from Gayle, a simple but exceptionally beautiful one. Underneath it I’m wearing a Jerusalem cross from Dawn Margaret, one that belonged to Father Joel, her late husband, a priest in God’s one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a cross that she purchased for him in Jerusalem.
Above our altar is a crucifix, one on which hangs our Savior’s lifeless body, sacrificed for us. Next to the altar is our processional cross, a very simple one, a gift from friends in the Bishop Butler Society in Rochester, NY. And on the altar rests a cross that was there for the first time last Sunday, a special sort of cross known as the “Budded Cross.”
The “Budded Cross” is reminiscent of Aaron’s rod that budded (Numbers 17:2,5,8). Later on Aaron’s rod was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies along with some manna and the tablets of the Law given to Moses. It’s interesting that the oldest word in English for the Cross was “rood,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “rod.” The “Budded Cross” also reminds us of the Resurrection life that blooms from the Cross itself. The Holy Trinity is represented by the three buds in each of the 4 “arms” of the Cross. The “Budded Cross” also came to be called the “Apostles’ Cross” because there are 4 three-budded flowers making up a total of 12 buds.
At the center of the transept are the letters IHS, Greek capitals for the first three letters in the name of Jesus (ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, Iesous). In the Middle Ages this abbreviation came to replace the Chi-Rho symbol ⳩ (χριστός, Christos) that had become the dominant Christian symbol after the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity (c. 320).
Perhaps you will see this cross differently now that you know its special meaning. It also sits on the altar itself as a constant reminder that here we meet with our risen Savior “Who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life-gate that all may go in.”
Why did Paul say that he wished to share in Christ’s sufferings, even to “fill them up?” (Col. 1:24). Clearly Paul did not skip the Cross and jump directly to the empty tomb to suggest that he worshiped only the resurrected Christ. Quite the contrary, Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul worshiped the Christ Who died for him, Who died for us, Whose Cross becomes our cross.
And so Paul wrote that the Word of the Cross in itself is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” God’s power was not displayed only in the Resurrection: it was displayed first in the Cross, the instrument of torture, the instrument of shame and pain, because it was to become the symbol of victory over sin and death. For, as the author of Hebrews wrote, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin.”
We don’t naturally like blood. In fact, most of us dislike it. We want to ask why it could not have been otherwise, why God did not devise some other more aesthetically pleasing way to cover sin. Of course we can say that God, being God, could have come up with a more appealing and equally satisfactory Plan B. But He did not, and that’s all we need to know - all that any of us needs to know. Our faith begins with a Cross, the Cross of Jesus. And Paul was right: that very Cross “is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
A faith without the Cross is powerless. It’s powerless to save. Our very life is in the blood: it’s our life source, our life-stream. And in it lies the power of God to cleanse us from all sin, the sin that every one of us bears. It becomes for us the cleansing stream. And what did Jesus say? “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no part in Me.” That blood was shed at the Cross, not in the empty tomb.
Never make the mistake of believing that the empty tomb somehow eliminates the Cross from being the primary symbol of our faith. There can be no triumphant resurrection faith that does not first embrace the death of Christ on the Cross. Without the Cross there is no redemption, no remission, no atonement, no salvation. Ours is an Easter faith only because it is first of all a Good Friday faith. John Stott wrote, “the only authentic Jesus is the Jesus Who died on the Cross” (op. cit., p. 50).
Whether you prefer an empty Cross or a Crucifix with a Corpus* is among the hairsplitting diversions that keep separating us from each other and from the core of our faith. The Cross started out with a Body on it: the Body of the Son of God. It became empty after He died on it, and His lifeless Body was removed by the few believers who remained at the foot of the Cross. They laid it in the tomb of one Joseph of Arimathea, someone whose name was immortalized by this one act of compassionate love. Little did he know how short a time his tomb would be occupied by the body of Jesus.
The Resurrection proved the victory of the Cross, validated the Redemption that it provided, showed it to have been an oblation sufficient for the sins of the world, a sacrifice acceptable to a Holy God Whose justice required the Cross, the Cross of Christ in which we glory as it towers over the wrecks of time.
“Never shall the Cross forsake me. Lo! it glows with peace and joy.” Those are words from a hymn that was written nearly 200 years ago (1825) and, sadly, we have drifted far away from that very Biblical and very Pauline focus on the Cross as the foremost symbol of what it means to be a Christian, both in our salvation and in our sanctification as we strive to become more Christlike. Again, as Trotter wrote, “the Cross is as central to living the Christian life as it is to entering into it.”
In his book De Corona, written in 204, Tertullian tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross. He wrote, "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, sit on a couch or a seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace the sign" of the Cross (De Corona, chapter 3). If the early Christians were so fastidious in identifying with their Savior, thereby sanctifying even the most mundane functions of daily life, we never should be reluctant to make the sign of the Cross when we’re gathered together in corporate worship.
Yes, Paul, that Word of the Cross is what we preach: Christ crucified (vs. 23). And if we have in our day a power shortage, if not a power outage, it may be traced back in large measure to our having abandoned the message of the Cross, the wisdom of the Cross and the power of the Cross. May that not be said of us, neither in an abstract theological sense nor, much less, in a daily practical sense. May we take our stand “beneath the Cross of Jesus” in the very “shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land.” “I take, O Cross, Thy shadow for my abiding place. I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face. Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss; my sinful self my only shame, my glory all: the Cross.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.