SERMON PREACHED BY THE REV’D ALLAN B. WARREN III AT THE CHURCH OF THE ADVENT,
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 2015, THE SOLEMNITY OF THE FEAST OF THE HOLY CROSS
From the Gospel this morning:
“Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out.”
There is great diversity in what we call the New Testament, and the reason for this is simple. It’s not one book, but, as we all know, it is a collection of writings - written at different times, in different places, by different persons, for different reasons. There are the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - which present events in the life of Jesus. They are placed at the beginning, but were probably the last to be written. There are the various epistles which are the earliest writings. These are letters of exhortation and instruction to members of the Church in various cities - most are by the Apostle Paul. Others bear the name of John, Peter, James or Jude. There is one, Hebrews, whose author, it has been said, is known only to God. Acts tells the story of the Apostolic Church, and finally there is that strange and fascinating book, the Revelation or the Apocalypse, which is a vision and a hymn and a promise and a warning. All these were written down over a period of less than a hundred years, but it was not until the middle of the third century or even later that they were brought together to become the New Testament as we know it and read it today.
With this in mind, we should not be surprised to learn that there are different and, occasionally, even contradictory points of view in the New Testament. Jesus, as Matthew presents him, is very different from the Jesus of the Gospel of John. Paul’s understanding of Christianity emphasizes things which the Epistle to the Hebrews completely ignores. All bear witness to the event and the significance of Jesus, but each views this from a different perspective, from a different angle, through a different lens, so to speak.
And so, the thought and the teaching of the New Testament are multi-faceted and rich - each author presents us with a unique way of understanding that which the writer believes to be the central and most important event in the history of the world.
This morning I want us to think about one particular theme, one facet of New Testament theology. It is not peculiar to any one writer, but is used by several, again in different ways. Nor is the theme I want us to think about a consistent theory; it is rather an image, a picture, a paradox which is intended to guide our thought and devotion, and, indeed, our life. It has to do with the feast we are celebrating today - the Feast of the Holy Cross. And the image is this: the Cross as a battlefield and our Lord Jesus as a warrior, as, in fact, the Victor in that battle. Let me say that again: the Cross as a battlefield and our Lord Jesus as God’s warrior, as, in fact, God’s Victor in that battle. And the implication for us is this: that to those who give their allegiance to Jesus as their Lord, his Victory, is also their Victory.
This is an unusual idea, and certainly to people outside the Church and the Faith it is a puzzling, if not ridiculous idea. How can the Cross be a battle? It’s an execution. And that death in Jerusalem so long ago - how can it have been a victory? Moreover, how can that possibly have anything to do with us today?
It looks like nothing more than tragedy - just another obscene injustice, just another notch in the tally of human perfidy. There was nothing new then about a good and innocent man being put to death. And certainly there is nothing new or exceptional about this now. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries we’ve gotten so used to this that it seems almost an everyday occurrence. We are today accustomed to, almost at home with evil, sin, death, betrayal and injustice on such a grand scale, how can this cynical killing in Jerusalem so long ago be any different from all the rest?
Scripture and the Church have no logical answer to such a question. Rather, there is a response. And the response is a proclamation. And the proclamation is based on the experience of those who do acknowledge Jesus as their Lord, and who, therefore, know His Victory, experience his Victory as their own.
And what they know and proclaim is this: that the Cross of Jesus was more than just one death among many. Indeed, below the surface, what was going on there was a contest between God and everything that opposes God and opposes you and me. There, on the Cross, those things which we call evil, sin, the devil, the destructive and demonic powers in this world - there, on the Cross, they tried to wrench away from God the One who was totally dedicated to God. There, they unleashed their full fury - pain and emptiness and hatred and death - on Jesus, the One who had come to bring humanity back to God. But, there, on the Cross, Jesus was faithful. Even there, the object of hatred, assaulted by pain and the certainty of death, His dedication would not be broken. He was obedient, “obedient even to death,” Paul tells us, “even death upon a cross.” ( Phil. 2:8 ) He, Jesus, in His obedience and death, reversed things, turned them around. By his faithfulness, He himself nailed to the Cross all those things which were against us and against God. The Epistle to the Colossians tells us, “having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them” on the Cross. ( 2:15 ) Through obedience and “through death,” says the Epistle to the Hebrews, “he destroyed him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” ( 2:15 ) He “led captivity captive,” proclaims St. Paul. ( Eph. 4:8 ) And finally, “Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the ruler of this world be cast out,” he shouts as He enters the battle of the Cross.
And in that battle God, through Jesus, shows us who He is and what He does.
The Cross reveals the face of God in Jesus.
The Cross reveals the Heart of God.
The Cross makes clear to all mankind the infinity of His love.
Hail Holy Cross, our life and our hope!
Hail to the Lord Jesus! God’s victor and the triumph of His love.