“Glory of the Cross of Christ” Sermon by The Very Rev. Patrick Augustine on Fifth Sunday in Lent at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin

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The Very Rev. Canon Patrick P. Augustine, D.Min., Rector
Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 51: 1-13, Hebrews 5: 5-10, John 12: 20-33
Glory of the Cross of Christ
Liturgical Note: (Formerly, this fifth Sunday in Lent was known as Passion Sunday. More recent liturgy assigns that name to the day that begins Holy Week. But the Scripture assigned for this day all proclaim the reality of atonement in Jesus Christ.)
This text from the Holy Gospel is situated dramatically in the context of the festival of Passover. We read about events in which Jesus earlier has been involved:
1. Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. (John 11:1-44)
2. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet. (John 12:3)
3. Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. (John 12: 12-19)
The responses to these events are intensely divided, as crowds of people form to hear Jesus, while others plot to destroy him, and some disciples become more reverent while within the heart of one of them, Judas, irritation escalates. Momentum builds and all eyes—including those of some Gentiles—strive to focus on Jesus. The scene is strikingly shaped for a powerful statement by Jesus to his disciples regarding not only what is to happen but, also, what it means. One more time he tries to tell them what his mission really is.1
“The hour has come,” says Jesus. It is an hour to which his whole life has been leading, an hour in which he is to be glorified. It is clearly important to him that his disciples have some understanding of this hour. Clearly the “hour” is the time of his absolute and salvific surrender to the God whom he calls Abba. He thus indicates the sort of death he is about to endure (John 12:33). Death on a cross! He speaks to both Jew and Greek of his hour, the time when a grain of wheat falls to the ground. “The seed of grain must die before it can bear fruit.” Like the moment of his death this prophetic utterance comes accompanied with thunder. The ruler of this world is being cast out. For the cross is not only the axis mundi
1 David L. Barlett and Barbra Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol.2. Pp.140-145.
(center of the world), it is totus mundus (the entire world) he “will draw all people” through completing the work of salvation on the cross. As somebody has said, “He breaks the doors, tricks the devil, and hooks every willing soul”2 to lead them “in the paths of righteousness to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (psalm 23).
The main symbol of Christian faith has always been the cross. Early Christians talked about the Glory of the Cross of Christ. In the Greco-Roman world, cross was the “stumbling block” and “offense” for the wise and powerful of the world, but to the followers of Christ the death of Jesus on the cross became the heart of the gospel. What the Christian church considered good news, was considered by the rest of the culture to be bad news. In such a hostile culture early church evangelists were not ashamed of the Crucified Christ. St. Paul was well aware of resistance to the Cross of Christ when he wrote to the Church in Galatia:
May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:14)
So was Isaac Watts who in 1709 wrote the Hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross.” This hymn is not only the result of a “moment of inspiration” for Watts, but also has been a great source of inspiration for countless Christians both in life and in the hour of death. My own father used to sing this hymn every morning both in Urdu and English. We heard him singing this hymn at the hour of his death. The verb Watts chose is worth thinking about; not, “When I behold” or “When I regard” but “When I survey.” It is his way of telling us that the cross of Christ is so gloriously stupendous in its significance that it fills and dominates the whole Christian landscape. Martin Luther made the same point in a slightly different way when he said Crux probat omnia – everything is put to the test of the cross.3 It is through the cross that we know that our God uniquely involves himself in his creation, as we learn “God so loved the world” through and in the person of Jesus Christ. Here while we “Survey the wondrous cross” we come to know the mystery of the breadth, depth, length and height of God’s love. When and only when we
2 The Living Church, March 25, 2012 p.28.
3 Tom Smail, Windows on the Cross, p.1.
gaze and survey the cross of Jesus do we realize that God demonstrates his own love for us in this, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Jesus refers to it as the hour of his glory. It is interesting to note the Greek word for glory is doxa, and the Hebrew word, Kabod, expresses what God is. The belief that God’s glory is revealed in the shame and weakness of the cross is a profound insight into the nature of God. On three separate occasions Jesus referred to his coming death as the hour of his glorification.
First, in response to the request of some Greeks to see him, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son to be glorified”, and went on immediately to speak of his death in terms both of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and of the Father’s glorifying his own name.
Secondly, as soon as Judas had left the upper room and gone out into the night, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified and God is glorified in Him.”
Thirdly, he began his great high priestly prayer. “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.”4 Notice with care here that each passage begins with either “now” or “the time has come”, which first makes a close reference to the cross and secondly, declares that glorification will be of the Father and the Son together. Calvin shares the glory of God in the cross in the following words:
For in the cross of Christ, as in a splendid theatre, the incomparable
goodness of God is set before the whole world. The glory of God
shines, indeed in all creatures on high and below, but never more brightly
than in the cross.
I invite each one of you to “Survey the Cross of Christ” during these coming days of Passion Sunday and Holy Week to behold his glory. The Cross should remain the center and object of our boasting. God forbid that we should boast in anything
4 John W. Stott, The Cross of Christ
else. For the cross is not only the axis mundi (center of the world), it is totus mundus (the entire world) to come in the saving embrace of Christ. Will you be willing to meditate on the Cross during the Passion Week, and hear him say, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me?” It is the crucified person that can preach about the glory of the Cross. Thomas the disciple of Jesus said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails…I will not believe.” The world requires the same thing of the church: to see the marks of the Cross of Christ in our lives. When the Cross of Christ is the object of our boasting the world will know the glory of the Cross of Christ though our lives.

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