Home / SERMONS & HOMILIES ARCHIVE / 3rd Sunday of Lent: The Veneration of the Holy Cross (Mk 8:34-9:1; Heb 4:14-5:6)

3rd Sunday of Lent: The Veneration of the Holy Cross (Mk 8:34-9:1; Heb 4:14-5:6)

“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Ps 22:1; cf. Matt 27:46).

These were the words Jesus cried out at about the ninth hour while He was crucified on the cross. These words were echoed in the Psalms by the prophet David. Taken by themselves, these words could be interpreted as an expression of despair.

How could the only Son of God – true God of true God- feel abandoned by God? Can God abandon God? Does God abandon Himself? This is the great mystery of our salvation. If Jesus had been only a mere man, His Death on the Cross would have brought us no more than the death of the many prophets and heroes who died in the service of humanity. But while Jesus appropriated our human nature as expressed by the 4th Ecumenical Council (451) in Chalcedon – that He was one person with two natures (there was a natural distinction in Christ bewtween His two natures, but there was a personal unity[1]) – Jesus therfore experiences true separation from God in His humanity, knowing suffering and distress, and yet does not despair (cf. Heb 4:14-16). He speaks these words in the name of all humanity, to put an end to the alienation of humanity from God. For as God He is never forsaken by the Father. But with this cry humanity is accepted and saved.

And Jesus had dared to say: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father … Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (Jn 14:9, 11). Jesus had dared to say: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life … And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (Jn 14:6; 11:26). That is to say that, having come from the Father, His mission was to bring God to humanity. Thus if Jesus had died and not risen, His message would have been a lie. That is why St Paul said: ‘If Christ has not been raised from the dead, Christians are of all humans most to be pitied’ (1Cor 15:17, 19).

But Christ did rise because He is God, and His death takes on a dazzling significance. He emptied Himself to the point of the Death of His human nature by crucifixion, while remaining the eternal God. As true God, He made Himself truly man. As the divine model of humankind, created in the image of God, He took upon Himself all the sufferings and weaknesses that humans are subject to since the Fall, including everything except sin itself; including the absence of God, for sin drives God away; including death, for that is the final consequence of sin; including decent into the abode of death. He did this to allow God to enter everywhere there is human suffering, even into the abyss of death so as to raise humanity up again and bring it back to life, by lifting humanity/human nature up to heaven and placing it at the right hand of the Father.

The Son of God dies as man so that the Son of man may rise up again as God. The Son of God had to experience the anguish of God’s absence so that all people who die might recover the presence of God: this is salvation.

Upon the Cross Jesus uttered a prayer saying: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Lk23:24). With these words the Lord asks for forgiveness for the executioners who crucify Him. In saying this, He asks at the same time, forgiveness for all humanity who through their sins have made His Death necessary, including ourselves, who are sinners. We cannot be saved by our own merits. Christ asks for forgiveness for all. Since the Son Himself, upon the Cross, begs the Father to forgive, we must never despair. Jesus does not ask for works alone, for we are weak sinners, and all our strength comes from God. He asks first of all for our love and real freedom by turning our hearts to Him in faith: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk 8:35).

As soon as Christ dies on the Cross, the Scriptures are fulfilled, the Lord has accomplished His mission to bring God to humanity. After having taken upon Himself our weaknesses, to the point of dying on the Cross, He descended into hell and raised all of humanity with Himself. The statement, “… whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel” means that we must accept suffering and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, for the sake of Christ and His kingdom, which ultimately brings salvation to us. Jesus said: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul” (Mk 8:36). In other words, nothing is more valuable to us than our souls; nothing is more valuable to us than our life. The Lord said: “Seek first the kingdom of heaven, and all the rest will be given in addition”.

This is our task, a task in which our Holy Monasteries and local church assemblies safeguard and try to remind and teach us. They offer us another reason to be with God, and we must always find reasons to be with God. Even if the material aspects of life impose themselves on us from morning to night, the cares of everyday life must not prevent us from praying, from dwelling in the Spirit with Christ who is at the right hand of the Father and with the Holy Spirit.

The world has other goals. Our goal and aim in life, is salvation in Christ. Our life as Christians is an endless martyrdom and endless cross, because each one of us must be concerned for the salvation of all. Let us not forget that the ultimate meaning of life is best expressed in worship, love, sacrifice, personal moral accountability and compassion. These are the divine-human attributes as taught to us by Jesus Christ Himself.

Therefore the connection of the cross with the salvation of humanity by Jesus Christ has become a symbol of sacrifice, and a prefiguration of the Resurrection. The labour of the salvation of our life/soul is accomplished through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. Therefore, the cross in Christianity constitutes an emblem of salvation.

[1] “… one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; (ἐν δύο φύσεσιν ἀσυγχύτως, ἀτρέπτως, ἀδιαιρέτως, ἀχωρίστως”.   The Chalcedonian Definition. Agreed at the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451.

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