holy cross sermon for the seventh sunday of easter, june 1, 2014

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today’s Gospel comes from what the great 20th century Biblical scholar, Raymond Brown, called “The Book of Glory.” And this particular passage would seem to justify that name. Jesus says:

“Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” (John 17.1-5)

Jesus glorifies his Father by “having accomplished the work” which the Father gave him to do. In short, Jesus glorifies God on the cross. On the cross Jesus finishes the work of the incarnation, by his loving fidelity to God, right to the very bitter end. And “when Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (John 19.30).

There is a lesson here for us. Our task, always “by, with, and in” Christ, is to give glory to God, to proclaim him, his truth, his love, and preeminently the redemption of the world that God accomplished in the person of his Son, and by means of the cross. This is what we proclaim and enact and participate in at every mass – in a word, Calvary. And this, by the way, is why some Anglicans are wrong to oppose the time-honored tradition of daily mass. As the great 20th century theologian, Eric Mascall, put it: each and every mass is

“the same thing – the same essentially, the same numerically – not just a lot of different things of the same kind, but the very same identical thing… the one redemptive act which Christ, who died for our sins and rose again for our justification, perpetuates in the Church which is his Body through the Sacrament of his body and blood.”

It is Calvary, the holy cross of Jesus, that glorifies God – and our participation in the mass means our participation in the cross of Jesus, and thus our participation in the Son’s glorification of the Father.

“Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.”

And once again we return to the fact that our life “in here,” in the church, must be as one with our life “out there,” in the world. Our whole life must be eucharistic. Its your task, as it was the task of the Lord Jesus, to accomplish ALL that God has given you to do, to the very end. And this is not easy. It means laying down your life for God, as God laid down his life for you in the person of his Son. Jesus said: “If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also,” (John 12.1). We have to be co-crucified with Jesus, co-burried with him. We have to say with St. Thomas the Apostle: “Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him,” (John 11.16).

But, as St. Augustine observes, “Had the Son… only died, and not risen again, He would without doubt have neither been glorified by the Father, nor have glorified the Father; but now having been glorified through His resurrection by the Father, He glorifies the Father by the preaching of his resurrection.” This is “the good news of the bad news.” The bad news is: you have to die; you have to lay down your life in loving fidelity to God, and in union with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross – your life no longer belongs to you. But the good news is: you must also be raised with him. And your resurrection begins NOW. You have walk in newness of life. You have to live as though it were all true – because it is. And this is where we tend to fall a bit short. Its not difficult for people to believe that they have to die. What’s hard to believe is that death is not the end, but that the possibility of life and (indeed) GLORY, beyond death, has been opened to mankind by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

This is the whole point of what St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (chapter 6), where he says:

“How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For he who has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not yield your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as men who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments of righteousness.

“…yield yourselves to God…” It is this yielding of ourselves to God – and of “our members to God as instruments of righteousness” – that constitutes the main body of Christian practice. It is, in fact, what it means to practice the faith – to put into effect what we profess to believe. But the practice of the faith seen in this light – as an act of yielding – becomes, in a sense, rather less onerous. Its not even really so much something that we do, but something that we GIVE UP doing – which is why it so often happens definitively in a person’s life when they’ve hit rock bottom; they’re exhausted; they feel helpless.

The great 20th century outlaw theologian Kris Kristofferson sang compellingly about the impulse NOT to yield, not to give up, in his song “Good Christian Soldier.” He said:

“You know the things I’ve come to know, seem so confusin’
And it’s gettin’ hard to tell, what’s wrong from right
I can’t separate the winners from the losers anymore
And I’m thinkin’ of just givin’ up the fight

“’Cause it’s hard to be a Christian soldier, when you tote a gun
And it hurts to have to watch a grown man cry
But we’re, playin’ cards, writin’ home, an’ ain’t we havin’ fun,
Turnin’ on and learnin’ how to die.”

At the end of the day, those are the options every “good Christian soldier” faces: givin’ up the fight and yielding ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness; or yielding ourselves to sin and capitulating to the passions of our bodies – in short, learnin’ how to die forever.

It’s a stark choice. And how hard it can be to give up the fight, to yield ourselves to God! But listen to the words of Jesus to his Father, the night before he suffered, on behalf of all those who engage the struggle to yield. They are words of divine power, words of encouragement, infused with the hope of glory:

“[Father] I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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