For Sept. 14, 2014: Holy Cross Day

The Reading            Isaiah 45:21-25

Isaiah 45:21-25 is a ringing announcement from the mouth of the Lord: beside the Lord, there is no other god, no other source of righteousness, no other option for salvation, no one else worth bowing to, no other place to go for correction, and no other true source of glory for all God’s people.

The Response            Psalm 98:1-4

Isaiah 45:21-25 proclaims the greatness of the Lord from the Lord’s point of view. Psalm 98 resounds in response: the Lord’s victory is obvious to all the earth, the Lord’s righteousness is on display—and yet it pleases God over all to recall and act in mercy and faithfulness to God’s people.

The Epistle            Philippians 2:5-11

Philippians 2:5-11 explains lyrically just how God triumphs on our behalf: through the willingness of the pure and righteous Son of God to be born a nobody, be wrongly convicted of blasphemy, and disgraced on the Roman Empire’s most hideous means of capital punishment—which we now revere as the Holy Cross.

The Gospel            John 12:31-36a

John 12:20-33 is familiar from the last Sunday of Lent in Year B. As Passover approaches, Jesus predicts his death as human and exaltation as God. In verse 34, the crowd shows its narrower understanding of what it means to be Messiah. Jesus responds indirectly in telling them that right now is the time to seek the Light.

Further thoughts

Holy Cross Day commemorates scandal and shame. While there is some question as to its exact appearance—the Greek word stauros ‘pole or rod’ in Philippians 2:8 and similar words elsewhere don’t exclusively denote a cross made of two intersecting beams—there is no doubt that hanging on a stauros was intended to inflict public humiliation and degradation even beyond death. It was a particularly shocking punishment in Judea; Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “anyone hung on a tree”—whether alive or already dead—“is under God’s curse,” and this was reserved for crimes for which stoning would have been too good: high treason and blasphemy. What we behold on Calvary, then, is nothing less than the public spectacle of God under God’s curse. The son of God commits his unaccustomed human frailty to the undeserved horrors of the stauros; the son of Mary bearing God’s righteousness shoulders also the intolerable burden of every thought, word, or deed from Adam and Eve to the end of time that issues the judgment “You just aren’t worth it” to another person—or to oneself. The Victim crucified for shame crucifies shame for us and so frees us to live.

For the message of the cross is that no shame that the world can heap on me, or I on myself, is so deep that God can’t love me back to life, if I can just believe that such grace is not too good to be true for me and for you and act accordingly. Sometimes that means bearing gently and humbly with you and your wounds, so I can live the grace of God for you; sometimes it means humbly letting you deal gently with me and my failings, so that I can receive the grace of God through you. Thus I lay hold of my own stauros, whatever shape it takes today, as Jesus commanded; thus I crucify my own shame on it as I follow Jesus into the light.

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