The All Embracing Symbol of the Cross
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Mark 8: 27 – 38. Focus on the universal quality of the cross and on knowing who you really are – strengths & weaknesses. Check out Jody Sinkway and the choir following the sermon.
The cross of Christ is the all encompassing symbol of the creation of the very essence of life itself. At the heart of the cross, the center is a collision and a contradition, which extends its four arms forever. It is is the perfect symbol for the big bang and the perfect symbol for loss. Because it is a paradox it is true. In its center it can grow without changing. It can encompass eternity because it created eternity.
Of all the symbols in human history the cross is the most universal and all-embracing. It symbolizes, loss, intervention, and ultimate restoration. It shows the very structures that are built into the universe.
If you haven’t contemplated your mortality that’s what lent is all about. And at some point with age we will all ponder the question of our mortality. Questions like: What’s the criteria for entering heaven? What does it mean to name Jesus as my Messiah if like Peter I don’t get it’s full meaning or want to run away form its demands. Do I still get inot heaven?
So much in our culture is designed to make us think that the only thing that matters – and the only thing that will bring us peace, security, and happiness – is looking out for ourselves by gratifying our immediate desires or giving in to our greatest fears, whatever they may be.
But heaven and the essence of life as Jesus showed were never about having or getting. It was always about traveling, giving and receiving. In short, Jesus was trying to create a real community of disciples who would continue to grow this new community, kingdom that he was starting after he left.
And the only way this can happen is when we connect with others in real tangible and honest ways. And connecting to others to fashion and nuture community requires sacrifice. It requires that we be honest with one another about our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and our hopes. And when we do this we find more than we’d ever imagined – more life, more joy, more happiness, more acceptance – because we find a whole community looking out for us instead of only ourselves.
This, I think, is the Gospel’s theory of everything – that the more we give, the more we receive; the more we seek to be a friend, the more friends we discover; and the more we love, the more we are loved.
We know this, I am sure. But we forget. More, we are induced to not believe it. And so Jesus comes and doesn’t just say these words, he also lives them, giving himself out of love for all people and creating a reservoir of life, love, and glory that far surpasses anything the world can offer.
It’s not what his disciples expect. Like us they too, are children of the world. And like us they imagined that the secret to life was strength and power rather than vulnerability and love. And so they interpreted Jesus’ miraculous acts as demonstrations of power rather than manifestations of love.
But we can understand that. So when Peter rebukes Jesus. It’s not just because Jesus is blowing away the traditional understanding of what the Messiah would do and be for Israel, it’s also because he doesn’t want to see his friend die and he doesn’t want to face his own death either.
So Jesus shows us that it is ultimately through the losing of our lives that we gain them. It is the central paradox of the cross that it marks our mortality and points the way to a place and in a form that is without end.
So ultimately the focus of the cross encompasses more than loss. It encompasses the resurrection as well. That’s why Jesus says, “Lo I am with you now and until the close of the age,” because in spite of his death there is the resurrection to new life. Life without end. Life without pain, and crying and death anymore.
After my grandmother’s death, she left these words to us her grandchildren as a spiritual legacy:
Please don’t tie yourselves to me with tears. Be happy that we had so many years together. I gave you my love. You can only guess how much you gave me in return… but now it’s time for me to go … Though you can’t see me, or touch me, I’ll be near. If you listen with your heart, you’ll feel my love around you… You are a blessing to those whom you will come into contact with. Remember you carry the name Christ follower with a long and proud legacy. And when the time comes for us to meet again. I’ll greet you with a smile and say, “Welcome to the grandest banquet of all time!”
There is an implicit command to go on with life. And an explicit command to love this life. Don’t be a person afraid to tell others that you love them and how much they have meant to you. Never take this life for granted or think it is a gift without end.
Know that you are loved. Act out of love and give yourselves out of love for others in this way you will unlock the gift to eternal life in the here and now. Life eternally shall prevail, so live it in drive, not in neutral, not in park and never in reverse.
And when someone asks who you are: Tell them who you are. Tell them you are a person who lets Jesus mark your way, whom you listen to because he tells you the truth and offers you an abundance of life. Amen