Ash Wednesday: "Liturgical"
Week 2: "catholic"
Week 3: "evangelical"
Week 4: "orthodox"
Week 5: "confessional"
Week 6: "apostolic"
Holy Thursday: "Sacramental"
Good Friday: "Cruciform"
Easter Sunday: "The One Holy Church"
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The Church is cruciform. It is cross-shaped or shaped by the cross. The cross, an instrument of death and torture, is Her symbol. A sign of death, of shame, of judgment. This is our shape, our form. I don’t mean that church buildings must be built like crosses, though many churches have been. I mean that we are an object of scorn in this world. We are marked by that cross. And it is foolishness to many, a stumbling block of weakness. And yet we cling to that cross. We are shaped by that cross. For it is our life and salvation. It is God’s love for us.
Even now in heaven His body is forever marked by the cross. He still bears those scars of the cross, in His hands, His feet, His side, the marks of the thorns in His brow, and the stripes of the whips that tore His back. All those scars are born by Him still, in His perfect, glorious, heavenly, resurrected body. Yet He gladly bares those marks for they are His glory! They are our glory. It is how He has marked you on the palm of His hand so that He will never forget you. By them you are healed. So the cross and its suffering is what we are.
We could say much about those scars individually and their meaning, and how His suffering redeems us from the curses of sin. But I will ponder only one of them: the crown of thorns. One of the curses of sin is that the natural world no longer provides our physical needs without heavy labour. The natural course of things runs amuck. Weeds and thorns, useless plants instead of life giving plants now abound. We no longer eat except by the sweat of our brow.
On the night in which He was betrayed Our Lord prayed for us and Himself. The burden of His coming suffering weighed on Him so heavily that the capillaries in His forehead broke, as can happen in situations of extreme stress, and He sweat a bloody sweat. This Second Adam, this perfect man, was later crowned with the very thorns caused by sin. Those thorns pierced His brow, so that more blood rolled down his forehead, reminding us that we do not eat the food of heaven except by His labour of love on the cross which has paid for and reversed the thorns. That reversal only shows up on this side of heaven in specific places: at altars where in His Holy Supper of His body and blood broken and shed on cross gives us a foretaste of that feast to come. That feast of victory. That feast of joy when we are returned to paradise, where the tree of the cross becomes a new tree of life which provides all our needs.
For the Church is fed from the cross. It is shaped by the cross. It is what we are. The cross is why we are still here and not in heaven already. For our purpose while on this side of heaven is to proclaim that cross, to lift it high, to let the world know about it with our voices and our lives. For we preach Christ and Him crucified. It is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to many. But to we who are being saved it is the power of God, the wisdom of God. It is the sum total of what we are. So that if we stop speaking of the cross especially here at church, but even in our daily lives to ourselves, our loved ones, and to the world, if we forget who we are, we cease to be what we are here for. And such forgetting is dire, for by it faith slumbers and falls asleep, it lays down His cross, it ceases to delight in the cross, and n longer delighting in the cross is the first step to the death of your faith, and exiling yourself from the Church.
Our lives on this side of heaven is marked by His suffering. His suffering becomes our own as we seek to proclaim Him. For many in our world don’t want to hear this message. And some will react simply because you go to Church, and especially because of what you believe many will shun you and mock you in big ways and small. So to have His cross in your life, to be His, to belong to His Church is to be a cross bearer. It is to suffer for Christ as He suffered for you. For His cross invites the scorn of unbelievers. It invites the abuse of the powerful. For no one carries a cross in order to gain power in this world. Rather one carries a cross because they have been judged by the world. For a cross is an instrument of torture used by the powerful, it is not a pathway to worldly success. Yet, we carry this cross. We suffer its shame for the joy of what Christ our Lord has won for us through it.
And so we gather here today. We gather annually to mark this cross. To mark our Lord’s suffering. To marvel at His love for us and agonize over our sin and the labour it took Him to conquer sin and death. And in faith this day, this reminder, this word of the cross renews us to carry our crosses, to be His people, to be cross shaped. For we know He feeds us from His cross; He strengthens us by putting to death our sinfulness and giving us His life; He redeems our suffering on this side of heaven and will bring forth a bounty of heavenly joy, instead of the weeds of sin. He does all this through His cross of sorrow.
And one day He will take us from this veil of tears and feed us with that heavenly banquet of the sweetest of meats and finest of wines, served to us from His new tree of life, His cross.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON