Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
On this feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross–the patronal feast of our monastery under the sign of the mystery of Christ’s cross–we are God’s witness in the Church to the saving grace of the cross of Christ in our lives. The cross is a profound enigma, a seeming contradiction of religious faith. Why would anyone accept to live by a religious belief that is so contrary to all that people imagine God stands for? Yet as Jesus himself so clearly challenged his apostles: Are you going to leave me too? You are thinking not as God does but as humans do. Peter’s response to Jesus on that occasion is the model for all Christians ever since: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
There is our dilemma: I do not understand. I am repelled. This is a hard teaching to have to accept: that this dreadful instrument of torture and execution is the very means of God’s grace for the salvation of the world. But I do believe that your words are truth. I believe, Lord; help my unbelief!
And it is not just the words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Saint Paul in his letters to his converts echoes Jesus’ message. Paul doesn’t try to reinterpret what Jesus teaches, but reinforces it. Foolishness to the Greeks, a scandal to the Jews, but to those whom God calls, this gift of faith is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
On the Road to Emmaus, two of the disciples confessed to the stranger who walked beside them that they were completely confounded. They had placed all their hopes in one whom they believed was God’s anointed, until they then witnessed him executed by the religious authorities of Israel. All their hopes were destroyed. We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free. It is now the third day since all this happened…Jesus rebuked them: You fools! Was it not necessary for the Anointed One to suffer all this to enter into his glory?
We too are living in desert wastes, like the Hebrews of old, not finding food or water, but living altogether by faith in the promises of God. This is so necessary for us to experience for our salvation, that God would not hesitate to strike us down, wounding us with his fiery seraph serpents, any time we would put our trust in our own ways rather than in God’s plan for us. His way does not make any sense, we think to ourselves; his way is foolishness.
My brothers, we look at our community now as we are in this moment. What a dilemma we are in. Those of us who were here fifty years ago remember the choir stalls filled with men asking to become monks. But not long afterward, all that began to unravel before our eyes. Today we are only a dozen monks, ageing and with health issues, appearing to be a shadow of what we once were. In the eyes of the world we seem to have failed. What hope can anyone see for us?
Jesus stands here in our midst, in this Eucharist. “What fools”, he says to us, “How long are you going to be slow to believe? When will you understand? Is it not necessary for God’s chosen to suffer like this, to share my glory? Is it not the way of your Master?”
We profess to follow Christ crucified–a scandal, an absurdity. But as Saint Paul proclaims to us, to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God. Paul personally testifies to our own struggle of faith: Three times I begged the Lord to deliver me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for my power grows perfect in weakness.” Saint Paul exults, Gladly then do I boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may come to dwell in me…for I know that it is when I am powerless that I am strong. That is the great paradox of Christianity, an absurdity to the world’s way of thinking.
On this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, dear brothers, the patronal feast of our monastery under the sign of the mystery of Christ’s cross, we are witnesses in the Church to the saving grace of the cross in our lives. Is it not necessary…?, the risen Lord asked the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the eyes of the world we are never going to look like a success; were we to do so, we would betray God’s purpose for us. Are we not called by the Gospel we profess to be a sign of weakness–not through our own doing or from negligence, but by God’s design–that his power may be seen clearly at work in us? Indeed, his power is, thank be to God! Let us glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ who has the words of eternal life.