28 - Veneration of Cross, March 22, 2009

Hebrews 4:14 – 5:6

Mark 8:34 – 9:1

Our Savior calls out to us this morning to take up our cross and follow him. The Savior who calls out to us is the crucified Christ, but the crucified Christ who is risen; and he is in our midst.

If Christ is in our midst, and if the Christ who is in our midst is the crucified and risen Christ, then Christ is here even as he is there, for in his Holy Spirit he is everywhere present and fills all things. And if we are standing in the invisible presence of the crucified and risen Christ, are we not standing in his holy resurrection? And if he is calling out to us in his Word that was sounded from the ambon this morning is he not calling out to us from his holy resurrection?

If you were baptized in Christ, you were raised up to stand in his holy resurrection. If you have partaken of Holy Eucharist, then you have received the crucified and risen Christ into your body. Not just the crucifixion of Christ but so also the resurrection of Christ has been planted in your body like a seed sown in the ground.

The Christian lives, as it were, in two worlds: the world of the old Adam whose end is the tomb; and the world of the New Adam that has been re-created and established in the resurrection of Christ, the New Adam. By virtue of Christ’s incarnation, these two worlds are now joined together. They are joined at the point where this fallen world ends: in the tomb.

The tomb is like the human heart, our personal center that died when we turned away from God and became closed off to us by our transgressions, like the stone that sealed the tomb of Christ. And so we cannot enter our heart except by dying. Therefore, we don’t want to enter our heart because it would mean that we had died.

We are afraid of death because we were not made for death. We were made in the image and likeness of God, which is Christ. We were made in Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Made in Christ, in the Image of God, we were made to live in God. Death is unnatural to us. So why does the Savior call us to die in order to live?

He is calling us to die to death, not to die to life. Death isn’t just a corpse disintegrating in the ground; that’s simply the final denouement of death. Death begins when we turn away from Christ in whom we were made – Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life. As St Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Before, you were dead in your trespasses and your sins. You used to walk in them; you were living according to this world, subject to the prince of the power of the air.” Before Christ saved us our life in this fallen world was a living death.

And so we are deluded to think we are alive so long as we are living on this side of the tomb. We are not alive; we are dead. Our fear of death has become misplaced; we fear the wrong death. The death we should be afraid of is separation from God. The Savior’s call to us to die in order to live is a call for us to die to death, not to life. The life we’re called to die to is not the life we were created in and in which we were made to live. The life we’re called to die to is this life of the fallen world that is separated from God because of disobedience, sins and transgressions. When the Savior says that only he who loses his life for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s will find it, he is calling us to lose the death that passes for life in this fallen world so that we can live eternally in the love of God.

The Gospel tells us that Christ was laid in the tomb. And, the Gospel tells us that the stone that sealed the tomb was found rolled away when the myrrh-bearing women drew near to the tomb, after having spent the time of Great Lent, if you will, preparing spices and ointments – i.e. after praying and fasting and giving themselves to charity. And the Gospel tells us that the tomb was found empty of any corpse. Instead, it was filled with the living presence of an angel, clothed in bright light, who announced to the myrrh-bearing women: “He is not here! He is risen as he said!”

When he was conceived in the womb of the blessed Virgin, Christ was laid in the human heart like he was laid in the tomb on Great and Holy Friday. In his resurrection, he rolled away the stone of our transgressions that closed our heart off to us like he rolled away the stone that sealed the tomb. He shattered the gates of hell so that our heart is open, just like the tomb was open to the myrrh-bearing women on Pascha morning. By taking up our cross and dying to the death of the fallen world, we can enter our heart and discover that it is no longer a tomb. It has been transfigured into a bridal chamber bearing life, more fruitful than Paradise, brighter than any royal chamber, the fountain of our resurrection. The risen Savior comes to us where we are on this side of the tomb, outside our heart; he comes to us in his resurrection. He comes to us bodily in the sacraments and in the Scriptures, in the doctrines and liturgical rites of his Holy Church. These are all aspects of his crucified and risen body, the fullness of Him who is all in all. In his resurrection, he calls out to us to take up our cross, to take up his commandments in prayer and fasting and charity in order to make our way out of the death of this world that passes for life and to step onto that better and changeless path that leads into our heart that is now open to us, no longer a tomb, emptied of death and transfigured into a bridal chamber that pours forth the living waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit in his holy resurrection.

In Christ, we are no longer dead in our trespasses. Having been made members of his crucified and risen body, the Church, we have been made alive in his holy resurrection. In the communion of the saints, we stand in the presence of the risen Christ, bathed in the light of his holy resurrection. It is in this life and light of Christ’s holy resurrection that we rise up and take up our cross. We do not put death to death by ourselves apart from Christ but in Christ, in the crucified and risen Christ. United to Christ, we make our way in this worldly life to the doors of the Church on Pascha night as to the doors of our heart, getting ourselves ready for that Midnight moment when the old passes over into the new and when the doors of the Church open before us like the stone being rolled away from the tomb; and we are called from within to pass over the threshold of the entrance into the Church as through the waters of our baptism, as through the waters of Jordan, as through the waters of our death in this body, and into the Church as into the Promised Land with the risen Lord Jesus Christ who strides forth from the tomb as from a bridal chamber, leading those who love him into that victory which is from heaven and into the Light and Life of His Holy Resurrection. Amen.