St. Anatoly of Optina wrote to a group of nuns saying, “The holy fathers related that when the thief of the Gospel, too, came to the gates of the Kingdom, the Archangel, with the flaming sword wanted, to chase him away, but showed he showed him the Cross. Immediately, the fire-bearing Archangel himself withdrew and permitted the thief to enter. Understand here, not the wooden cross, but which? —namely, the Cross in which the chief Apostle Paul boasts and concerning which he writes, ‘I bear in my body, the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ (Gal 6:17)” (www.christdesert.org)
Yes, our broken bodies, marred and scarred by sin, bear, in a real way, a resemblance to the cross of Christ. For it is by faith, that Jesus lives in us and displays the power of the cross to overcome human sinfulness.
Bearing the marks of the Lord Jesus spiritually is indeed meant to put us a little on-edge. And the physical representation of the Cross of Christ is meant to get us to reflect on our limited lifespans on earth and whether our lives have any meaning or real purpose to them. It’s meant to get us to reflect on our own mortality and the fear, some of us, may have of dying. In fact, the fear of death is in the top ten list of google searches for what persons most fear. Fear of flying is number one. Public speaking is number two. Fear of heights comes in third. Fear of the dark is number four. Fear of intimacy numbers five, and fear of death comes in at number six. Fear of flying and fear of heights though, can be thought of as being caused by the fear of dying in those situations, and so, we can place the fear of death at the front of the list of things people most fear. The best way to overcome our fear of death is by reflecting on the significance of death in the life of a believer.
For were we without faith, physical death would be a scary prospect indeed.
If we didn’t believe in God or didn’t trust in God’s loving kindness and mercy toward us, we would run the other way whenever someone mentioned the brevity of our lives on earth and the existence of Hell. If Christ hadn’t died for our sins, we would indeed be lost, forsaken, alone and afraid at the moment of our death.
But thanks be to God, Jesus gives our lives meaning and purpose! Thanks be to God; Jesus is on our side and pleads our cause! Thanks be to God, Jesus was willing to suffer and die himself, so that our sinfulness could be redeemed, and our lives be made new and glorified in him. Thanks be to God, the Word became Flesh —-to know our struggles and our pains and to demonstrate how we can be so much more than our human frailty would allow.
It’s Jesus’ human and divine commitment to staying the course— to confronting evil and sinfulness, chaos and injustice, suffering and death, that enables Him to give our lives meaning and direction and solidifies our covenanted relationship with him, one that that can never be erased or nullified.
The covenant Jesus made with us became ratified in his very own blood, poured out for us on the cross and purposefully shed for the forgiveness of our sins. Giving every drop of his blood in a shameful and excruciatingly painful way is testimony to us all, of just how much God loves us and wants us to be reconciled to Him. If we ever begin to doubt that love and mercy and advocacy of God on our behalf, all we need to do is to look at Cross of Christ. For it’s on that cross where God’s actions speak louder than any human lie that might attempt to downplay Jesus’ death for our sins, and might try to make us feel unworthy of God’s time or concern. It’s by venerating the Cross of Christ today that we’ll renew our baptismal commitment to serving the Lord, in fidelity to our covenant with him as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High.
In today’s world, many people wear crosses as a form of decoration or fashion, but there was nothing beautiful about the cross in Jesus’ day. It was a sign of defeat, derision, and punishment, reserved for only the most serious of crimes. But after the death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection, the cross became transformed for the Christian, from a symbol of shame into a symbol of victory over sin and death and a symbol of the infinite love for God for a sinful humanity.
For the Christian over the centuries of the church’s existence, the wood of the cross has become a sign of God’s desire to call evil into check and to give us the grace to live holy lives, ones on fire with the Holy Spirit to proclaim the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into human history and the start of a New Age where God’s vision for humanity will, one day, be definitively established. — a kingdom of truth and life. A kingdom of justice and peace. A kingdom of love and joy. —A kingdom of brothers and sisters united in Christ Jesus to forever praise the almighty power and awesomeness of our God.
Jesus came into this world to inaugurate this kingdom. His preaching of the Good News was his way of getting others on board with his vision. The miraculous events he performed were his way of giving us a foretaste of what God’s kingdom would be like. And his death of the Cross was his decisive act, on our behalf, to free us from sin and death and to make us inheritors of the Kingdom which lasts forever. May we therefore ever treasure and never forget the Lord’s immense sacrifice on the Cross for us, this day and every day! Amen.
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