Tonight, in keeping with the calendar of our church we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Cross.
This is a celebration of the veneration of the cross on which Jesus died and it’s actually one of our oldest celebrations in the church.
The story of how this came to be goes something like this:
Roman emperor Constantine, who ruled from about 306 to 337AD, took the Christian church under his protection and he decided to build a grand church. The site he decided to build was on Gol’gotha, which of course was the spot where according to scripture, Jesus was hung and died.
It is said that during the excavation of the site, pieces of the actual cross where found and pieces of it have been taken and of course enshrined near the altar of the new church. We are told that the church was dedicated on September 14th in 335AD and since that day, Christians have been celebrating this feast.
The church is called the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and it is now shared by 5 worshiping Christian communities in Jerusalem and visitors can go and see it.
I have never been to Jerusalem. I have travelled, but not there and it is something to imagine standing in that church, a building that is that ancient, with that much history.
Maybe you’ve been – maybe you know, but it sounds remarkable.
But tonight, we remember it from here and because of this feast day, we are thinking about the cross on whose spot that Church marks.
The cross: this symbol of our faith that has a variety of meanings for each of us – a symbol of death and torture, a symbol of our lives following Jesus. It is a symbol by which we are recognized by others, found in our buildings, it influences the architecture of our churches. The cross is easily at the centre of who we are and what we do.
The cross in the Jesus story marks the turning point in life and ministry of Jesus and in our faith. It is the point at which we move from listening to the teachings of Jesus Christ among his friends and the healing that he offered while he was alive to the story of the resurrection.
Peter Elliott offered the following in this mornings sermon, “the Christian world view is in the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this story is revealed this simple but profound truth that the cross symbolizes: that we move from death to new life. Not only that, the story of the dying and rising of Jesus tells us something even more important, even more relevant in its revelation that God is not a deity to be appeased, rather God is the energy of love that seeks to reach us.”
It is a deeply political symbol.
So let’s have a look at our Gospel reading from John as we think about this.
John here reminds us that the ‘Son of Man’ must be lifted up in the same way that the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the wilderness to save the people from the venomous snakes that God put there in the first place to attack them because the people had spoken against God. Remember from the first reading? They were in the desert feeling a little forsaken – they were hungry, and the food wasn’t very good, so they complained about it and God sent snakes.
Then Moses prays to God and God tells them to build a snake out of bronze and stick in on a pole and then anyone who looks at it after they have been bitten, will live.
So Jesus is like that, John says. Like the bronze snake.
Except, according to John, whoever looks to Jesus, will have eternal life.
But we don’t seem to be talking about living forever here – none of us actually does that. We are talking about salvation.
And that is a tricky word: Salvation.
Because saved from what, we might ask.
Well, let’s come back to that.
Let’s say with the reading for a minute more, because now we get to the part where John reminds us that God have their only son for us, so that we could be saved through him (there’s that word again) and again, so that everyone who believes in [him] Jesus might have eternal life and what are we talking about here? Again, likely salvation.
Well according to this reading, we are in deep trouble and in dire need of saving, because John says it many times, just in that one reading. And you know what? I don’t think John is wrong.
We do need saving – mostly from ourselves and from forgetting about the God who seeks us and to bring us back to love.
And looking to Jesus does help us so that we don’t have to succumb to the bites of the snakes around us – those snakes that slide around us and help us to forget that God is with us, that we are not alone, that even in hard and disorienting times, God is right here, we have not been forsaken and there is always the possibility of life. But we have to choose it.
Those snakes that include self-doubt, believing that we are not good enough, the consumer culture that is the air we breath that tells us we must buy more or be left out, the suggestion that we might debate climate change as though it weren’t a fact, judgment of others, gossip: you get the picture.
And snakes are getting a bad wrap here, I’m sure they have some redeeming qualities – but it is a helpful image for me to imagine them slithering around me with those titles on their backs.
And I like that I might look to Jesus to help me hold them back or recover from their bite.
That I might be restored to healing and wholeness through what Jesus teaches me about myself, others and the world.
And so this is where the cross comes in. That cross that symbolizes for us, for me, our willingness to push those teachings aside and turn my back on what I know is true – because it’s easier, I feel overwhelmed, it’s hard to stand up sometimes.
That cross on which Jesus hung because we could not say no to the snakes – who were louder.
That cross which killed his bodily form, but we know that was not the end.
Jesus had to go there, we had to see how bad it could get, because really that’s how we are. We seem to need to see how bad things can get before we are willing to turn them around.
And we need only look at it – at the cross, to be reminded.
But we know that Jesus death wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus did not cease to remind us of what is possible because his physical body died. He continues to show up for us, even today, to remind us of what is possible.
We continue to gather at the table to remind us of the feast he shared with his friends those last days at which he reminded them of their chosenness and his love for them – we continue to be reminded of our own chosenness by God and by each other, of what is possible, that we can find salvation in community and in love and in caring for each other and the earth.
Those snakes do not have the last word.
So we celebrate the cross for what it is, a reminder of how bad it can get and that death, or violence, or voices that say we aren’t enough, or condemnation of each other – do not have the last word.
There is beauty and mystery now found on the site where the cross that held Jesus once hung.
There is possibility all around us and the potential to work for more.
We are saved from having to listen to those voices or from allowing the evil that is present in the world, overwhelm us – because we can look to the cross – we can remember and we know that God is with us now. That God is seeking us now to bring us back to love.