Feast Day: Holy Cross Day
Readings: Numbers 21:4b-9; Psalm 98:1-6; 1 Corinthians 1:18-24; John 3:13-17
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Holy Cross Day confronts us squarely with the singularly unique feature of the Christian faith—the cross as the event of God’s self-revelation to the world. In the words of contemporary theologian John Behr, Jesus shows us what it is to be God in the way he dies as a human being. Put another way, on the cross Jesus shows us who God is and what God does.
“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Heaven is God’s space but earth is the place where God wills to reveal himself. God wants to be known, and he wants you to know him. But because no one can ascend into heaven God has willed that there should be a descent from heaven to earth. A real descent, into human flesh. This descent is the mission of Jesus. One theologian put it this way: “Jesus, the man Jesus, can speak of heaven because he has left it, and because, though he has left it, it still remains his home.” Jesus shows us what is true in heaven on earth, in his flesh, on the cross.
Isn’t that what St Paul is saying in our second reading? The cross is what? A display of God’s wisdom and power! If you want to know who God is just look at Jesus Christ and him crucified. The theme is heaven but the place of insight is earth, the man Jesus, his flesh pinned to the cross.
John the Evangelist who is the author of the gospel of John is also the author of Revelation and taken together these two books provide us with a wonderful image of how the cross reveals heavenly truth on earth. At the end of the gospel there is John with the Blessed Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross. Looking up he beholds the crucified body of Jesus. Meanwhile in Revelation the same John writes about a vision that he was granted. He looked into heaven and what does he see but the Lamb who was slain seated upon the throne.
What if these are two views of a single event. The earthly reality of the cross is the death of Jesus of Nazareth but with spiritual insight one is able to see the heavenly reality: the Lamb of God slaughtered for the sin of the world now enthroned in glory and power and wisdom.
This descent of heaven to earth is totally and absolutely unique to Jesus Christ. He is God’s only begotten Son. “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Jesus Christ has no contemporaries, no peers, no colleagues. Likewise, the gospel is not simply one religious message among many that are all designed to bring you to the same end. Jesus is the way, the only way, to the Father. We cannot ascend into heaven apart from the one who has descended from heaven. We may have all sorts of interesting ideas and opinions about God but Jesus is the only one who can speak with any authority on the subject. Therefore, we should listen to him.
And just what is it that he has come to say? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God loves the world. So while the means of God’s grace is particular to Jesus Christ the effect of God’s grace is universal: everyone who believes! The cross is a tree set on fire with the love of God and for thousands of years people have been drawn to it’s warmth and light.
It’s the same love that appeared to Israel in the desert in form of a bronze serpent. You heard part of the story this morning. All that wandering around in the desert had made the Israelites go a little crazy and they turned against God and against Moses. Their poisonous words became poisonous snakes that bit them and many died. But the Lord instructed Moses: “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” And that’s what happened. Whenever a serpent bit someone that person would look at the serpent that Moses lifted up on the pole and live. The thing that was the enemy has become the remedy.
That’s what happens on the cross. We’ve been bit by the power of sin but, says Jesus, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of many be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” The thing that was the enemy, sin and death, becomes the remedy, Christ crucified for the sin of the world. And now anyone that looks at him lifted up on the cross, seated on his heavenly throne, will live. That’s the power and the wisdom of God!
That’s the truth of the gospel. That truth is not determined by popular opinion and it ain’t up for a vote. In the word’s of Sheriff Bell from Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men, “[truth] don’t move about from place to place and it don’t change from time to time. You can’t corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You can’t corrupt it because that’s what it is. It’s the thing you’re talkin about.” Whether you’re in twenty-first century Canada or first century Palestine the Truth that all other truths are talkin about is the heavenly truth of God’s saving love poured out on earth in our Lord Jesus Christ and him crucified.
That’s the truth that Christians all over the world confess in every liturgy and in every life that points to the cross. And it’s the most important truth in the world: that God loves the world so much that he sent his only Son to save the world from itself and everyone—anyone at all—who simply trusts him will be saved.
Do we really believe this? Are we passing on the faith that we have received, to our children and to others, like it’s the most important thing in the world? Do we give financially like we believe that the mission of the church matters? Jesus Christ has come from heaven to earth to make the love of God known to all. O that he might be lifted up in this church so that others might see and believe and enter into the life of God. Say it with me church: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
 John Behr
 The Rev’d Thomas Traherne