|29 - THE ICON PROCLAIMS THE GOSPEL, March 19, 2023|
Hebrews 4.14 – 5.6
Mark 8.34 – 9.1
What were we doing when we bowed before the image of the Cross a few moments ago? The hymn we sang tells us: “Before Thy Cross, we bow down and worship, O Master, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!” Bowing before the image of the Savior’s Cross, we were bowing before the LORD Jesus Christ who is invisibly present in His Holy Resurrection.
The image of the Savior’s Cross can be seen with the bodily eyes; but it is constituted of a spiritual substance that cannot be seen with the bodily eyes. In its spiritual substance, the Cross we see is one with the Cross on Golgotha on which the LORD God was lifted up from the earth and drew all men to Himself. The Cross we can see is but the outward, visible form of the mystery of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13.8).
“Christ is in our midst!” we proclaim to each other. “He is and ever shall be!” is the reply. We believe that we are in the presence of the LORD Jesus Christ risen bodily from the dead, and that His invisible presence is made visible to us in the image of the Cross set before us.
The Image or Icon is not an idol. An idol is a false god (and it’s a different word altogether from ‘icon’). An idol can be a physical object, a mental concept, a spiritual love, anything that we give our love to that is not the living God. Jesus Christ Himself is the Image, the Icon, of God (Col 1.15; 2 Cor 4.4). To venerate the Icon of Christ, to bow down before the image of His Cross, is not to worship an idol at all – for none of this is of a false god. The image of Christ’s Cross proclaims what this world is all about: God becoming flesh as the Son of Man in order to ascend the Cross and to destroy death by His death, so that man might become an immortal spirit, the child of God, restored to his original destiny and beauty as an image of God’s own eternity (Wisd 2.23).
On the Cross, God consummated His union with us. He shared in our death and in our being forsaken by the Father. The Christ we see nailed to the Cross in the Church’s images of the Cross is the only-begotten God who knew no sin, but who became sin for us (2 Cor 5.21), so that through His obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross, He could heal our being forsaken by the Father, and destroy the death and corruption (Heb 2.14-15) that are the consequence of our disobedience and our idolatry. Do you see the wonder, the beauty of the mystery of the Cross? The Image of God, Jesus Christ, unites Himself to His image, man, through the Holy Virgin, that He might destroy our idolatry and fill our corruption and death with Himself, He Who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life. Through the Cross, He restores us to our original beauty. He unites us to the Father; and He transfigures our dying and our death into the way by which we can become flesh of His flesh, bone of His bones, partakers of His own divine nature, communicants of Life eternal, children of Light, children of God.
Bowing before the image of the Savior’s Cross, I think we but give visible, physical expression to what we would do if the eyes of our soul were not blinded by our worldliness and we could see the spiritual reality that is the substance of the Cross. I think we would be unable to stand up. Our souls would be so struck with fear and wonder that we would have no words, and we would fall to the ground spontaneously before the LORD Jesus Christ, Our Great God and Savior, whose Glory and Majesty shines with terrible brilliance in His extreme humility revealed on His Cross!
This is the invisible spiritual reality set before us this morning in the visible veneration of the Savior’s Cross. Surely the soul that begins to see it, and to feel it, would begin to feel the love of her heart waking up to a visceral longing to deny herself and to lose her life, this false life that ends in death and is filled with corruption, that she may find herself in the true Life of the Image of God, Jesus Christ. Would she not receive with joy the teaching of her LORD on how to deny herself and to lose her life that she might find herself in Christ and not in the corruption that is in this world through lust, through idolatry? Take up your cross, the LORD says: that is, take up the ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting in order to put to death all that is earthly in you; that is, to put to death all of your idolatry, manifested in lust, in greed, in anger, envy, vanity and pride – that you may be restored to your original beauty as an image created in the Image of God, Jesus Christ, made to be a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal as a child of God, a child of light. Amen!