Readings: Numbers 21:4-9 / 1 Corinthinians 1:18-25 / John 12:20-33
"And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
"It is indeed meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again, and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You and saying..." (LSB Preface for Holy Week)
Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle;
Sing the ending of the fray.
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the loud triumphant lay;
Tell how Christ, the world's redeemer,
As a victim won the day.
Faithful cross, true sign of triumph,
Be for all the noblest tree:
None in foliage, none in blossom,
None in fruit thine equal be;
Symbol of the world's redemption,
For the weight that hung on thee! (LSB #454, 1, 4 - by Fortunatus, c. 530-609)
Today we celebrate the Cross. Today we celebrate the power of weakness, the wisdom of folly, the glory of disaster, the everlasting joy that has come into the world through suffering and death. The mystery and the majesty of the Cross.
What do we mean by singling out the holy cross? St. Paul gives the lead. Just a few verses after our second reading, he makes the bold declaration: “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” Similarly to the Galatians, Paul says: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” And as we heard today in the Alleluia verse: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.” In all his preaching, in all his teaching, the Apostle Paul (and all the Apostles) strove to do nothing else than to hold up before the people a verbal picture of the Son of God dying on the tree for the forgiveness of the world. Were they in danger of over-simplifying things? I don’t think so.
To recognize in Christ on the cross the sum and substance of the Gospel is not to slight any of the other events of our Redemption. It only means that you haven’t seen what they are all about until you have seen how they are connected to the cross. Take the incarnation, the enfleshment of our God. What is its connection to the cross? This is how Saint Athanasius put it: “For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all… It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and a sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren, by offering of the equivalent.” In short, God who cannot die became a human being precisely in order to be able to die for us. Athanasius saw in the manger already the shadow of the cross.
In just the same way, we must see the cross in the resurrection to understand what Jesus’ rising from the dead means. You see, the big deal about the resurrection is not merely that a man was raised from the dead. That had happened before--even under the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The big deal about the Resurrection of Jesus is that the One crucified for the sins of the world was raised to life again in a body that is incorruptible – thus becoming the source of eternal life. All those others were raised to die again, but the Crucified One was raised never to die again. Rather, by the grace of God, He tasted death for everyone so that He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery! (Heb 2:9, 14,15)
St. Paul calls the crucifixion the folly of God. That’s because it looks so ridiculous to those on the road to ruin. They cannot, they will not, see that the suffering and death of one innocent man has turned aside forever the wrath of God for all who believe. They cannot, they will not see that hidden under that battered, bruised, broken piece of flesh nailed to the tree is God the Almighty, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, through whom all things were made, destroying death by enduring it. They cannot, they will not see that God loves us so much that He himself would become a human being to give His very life in exchange for our own, that our bodies might be freed from death to live with Him forever.
The cross, though it appears to be God’s folly, is in fact the revelation of God’s wisdom. How else could he show us how wrong we are about every notion we have of power and wisdom? The cross of Jesus Christ is the message, written in God’s own blood, proclaiming that there is no wisdom wiser than love and no power greater than love. Behold, then, God’s wisdom! Human wisdom thinks nothing could look less like God than Jesus writhing in agony and shame on the cross. But that is where he reveals to us the very heart of the Father. It is the hour of glory that the Son of Man had prayed for, the hour of judgment, the hour of the casting down of the ruler of this world, the hour when Christ is lifted up to draw all people to Himself.
Lift up your eyes to the tree and see! In the horror of our death and abandonment, there is God! He is there for you. He thought you were worth that – worth the agony, worth the dying. He values you that much.
Look at him as his heart is revealed. A spear tears open the side and out flow water and blood. Look up at him and let them splash you clean. The water of His baptism, the blood of His Eucharist. There is not a soul here for whom that heart holds anything but love and the desire for healing. He wills eternal life for all those whose sins He bore and He bore the sins of all. Just look up and see! Believe and be healed!
But then don’t forget to look beside you! Over here and over there! You are surrounded by people who are equally so loved. Equally so valued. Each one loved for the individual that they are and yet each one loved the same way: by bearing the sin of all and dying the death of all, to give pardon and life eternal to all.
Though those on the road to destruction will always judge it a foolish message, the message of the Cross is the only message we have and by it we know the love God has for us, for them, for all. People loved by God, let us rejoice to lift high the cross and the love of Christ proclaim till all adore His sacred name! Amen.