“We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”

The cross, that central symbol of our faith, is seen everywhere.  Have you ever noticed how many crosses there are in this church?  

There are crosses all over town. Some are on churches, but most aren’t designed specifically as crosses.  There is a cross every time two roads intersect at right angles. Tile floors and ceilings have countless crosses.  Paneled walls, bookshelves, telephone poles, masts of ships, and the structures holding window panes all have crosses.  The cross appears in our alphabet; the lowercase t is a cross; and the upper case T is another form of the cross, the tau cross.

The cross is the symbol of our salvation.  The ancient anthem proclaims, “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”   The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is first of all the bad news that we human beings are so alienated from God by our sin that we can do nothing on our own to reconcile ourselves to God.  It’s not a matter of our being basically good people who once in a while do something wrong; it’s a matter of our being basically so self-centered that we cannot break out of that nature.  Even the best of intentions are colored by the broad brush of sin with a capital S.  Article 9 in the Articles of Religion, says this of sin: “Original sin…is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man…, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”  That statement is speaking not primarily of our worst enemies, not specifically of Adolf Hitler or of the terrorists who bomb schools, or of Vladimir Putin and the daily evil being done in Ukraine, obviously evil people who did or do unspeakably evil deeds. No, it’s talking about you and me, “inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit.”

If left to our own devices, we would be without hope.  One of the collects in the prayerbook states it another way: “O God, the strength of all those who put their trust in thee: Mercifully except our prayers; and because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to tell that something is drastically wrong with human beings.  If the extermination of 6 million Jews during the second world war, the massive genocides that have taken place in our time, and many acts of terrorism don’t convince you, then look at your own relationships. The person who doesn’t have some troubling conflict is rare indeed.  Families in this country are often dysfunctional.  Divorce is so common that it hardly raises an eyebrow anymore.  Alcoholism and drug addiction are still epidemic in this country, in which we boast that we can conquer most any obstacle.  We dare not leave our homes without locking all doors because of the real possibility of our possessions being stolen.

These things are all symptoms of a basic problem in humanity.  We were created for joy, but something has gone drastically wrong. The Gospel is first of all bad news.  We are “inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit.”

But the Gospel, of course, is also and most importantly good news, for what we cannot do on our own, God has chosen to do for us.  St. John tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Jesus has paid the price for our sin by his death on the cross.  Through that death we are reconciled to God. “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”

Helena, the mother of Constantine, emperor of the Roman empire in the fourth century, believed that the true cross on which Jesus died had been found and was in Jerusalem.  She had a basilica built in Rome for the purpose of holding and displaying the cross for all to see.  Linda and I took a group to Rome several years ago, and on that trip we visited the Basilica Sancto Croce, the Basilica of the Holy Cross. While most of the true cross has been moved to the Vatican Museum, a small sliver of the cross remains for all to see.  Likewise, also on display in a reliquary are two thorns, believed to be from the crown of thorns.  Perhaps even more unusual to modern sensitivities is the displaying in the same reliquary of just one human finger.  It’s believed to be one of Saint Thomas’s fingers.  Remember, it was Thomas who said when he heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.  “When Jesus appeared later on to Thomas, he told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”

I don’t know if what we saw was really a piece of the true cross, or if the thorns in the reliquary are actually from the crown of thorns worn by our Lord or if it’s really Thomas’s finger.  They could very well be. But I will tell you that seeing these items brought closer to home the terrible reality of the cross.  It was real wood to which our Lord’s hands and feet were nailed.  The thorns drew real blood.  This one through whom the world was created, who himself is love, subjected himself to the cruelest form of execution in his day out of love, not only for the people of that day, but also for all people for all time.

At baptism a cross is traced on the newly baptized’s forehead, symbolizing the fact that not only is the cross a sign of what Jesus did for us, but also a sign of how we are to live our lives in sacrificial love.  We are people of the cross of Christ.

“We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”

The Rev’d Dr Fredrick Robinson is the retired Rector of The Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Florida, and editor of The Anglican Digest.

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