The Sunday of the Elevation of the Cross
Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 14, 2003
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
The message of the Cross is foolishness, writes St. Paul, to those who are perishing, but to those who believe, it is the power of God.
I do not know why anyone would dream up such a tale – an incarnate God crucified.
It appears, at best, crazy and irrational. Even the apostles resisted when Jesus told them plainly that he would suffer and die on a Cross. A God incarnate was hard enough for anyone to swallow, but a God incarnate dying on a Cross was impossible to imagine. Belief in this demanded a leap into a theology unknown at the time to Jews and pagans alike: an All-Powerful, All-Knowing God who was also loving and humble who would voluntarily give himself over to the most intense and hideous form of torture known to man in order to save the world. No one could have imagined such a thing unless it had actually happened. The Cross reveals the most unimaginable things about the One, True God. Such a leap is still demanded of us today.
I spoke at the Islamic Center in Wayland this week on the anniversary of 9/11/2001 along with a Jewish Rabbi, a Roman Catholic priest, a Muslim Imam, Methodist, Unitarian and Congregationalist ministers. I steered clear of politics because, as I explained, present circumstances inflame me too much. I tried rather to put the terrible events into an Orthodox theological perspective. The only other speaker to offer a theological explanation was the President of the Mosque who greeted us in opening remarks, a beautiful and humble man, who simply explained that God was in control of everything that occurred on that day and every day.
I politely disagreed. That explanation is too easy and, in the Light of the Cross, absurd. If that explanation is true, then God is a monster and human beings are merely pawns whose decisions mean nothing. I do not think there is anything more opposed to the theology of the Cross.
In my short talk I simply explained that the terrorists did not do the will of God on September 11, they did their own will and then tried, as all fundamentalists do, to put their own faces on the face of God. We believe the opposite: that God has put on our face to put a stop to the evil that has visited us by enduring His own suffering. God’s will and his foreknowledge are two different things. Because God knows something does not mean he has also willed it to be. There is no greater evidence of this than the Cross where the Loving God has willingly died to bring life to the world because humanity, with its God-given freedom has messed things up royally. If God were in complete control, there never would have been a fall, there would not be sin, there would not be death, human beings would not relish war and there would be no need for the Cross. At the end of the evening a young woman ran up to me and said, “I was impressed with what you said. It really is all about love, isn’t it?”
What then do we say about the Greatness of God? In what way is His Omnipotence manifested to us? We say with St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, If I had committed all possible crimes, I should feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water in a blazing furnace and we see His Greatness echoed in the words of St. Isaac of Syria As a handful of sand in the boundless ocean, so are the sins of the flesh in comparison with God’s providence and mercy…so the Creator’s compassion cannot be conquered by the wickedness of creatures (Clemenr, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, pg. 306). And we look to the Cross where He died and watch as He bears in Himself all of creation’s anguish and wraps it all in His loving embrace.
Without the Cross there is no hope, there is no light, there is no knowledge. Our adoration of the Cross makes all the sense in the world if God is love.