holy cross sermon for the third sunday of easter, april 19, 2015

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

In the official lectionary transcriptions of the Episcopal Church, online, today’s Gospel lesson inexplicably has Jesus saying something that he does not in fact say, as far as I can tell, in the corresponding passage in the actual Bible. The Episcopal Church version reads: “Jesus himself stood among the disciples and their companions and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”

While I can’t figure out why the Episcopal Church has placed this saying in the mouth of the Lord with respect to this particular passage (today’s Gospel lesson), there’s no doubt that the Lord was, in fact, saying this quite a lot after his resurrection. In last Sunday’s gospel lesson he says it three times: “Peace be with you.”

Its important to ask WHY the Lord is running around after his resurrection, greeting his disciples with this salutation. Why all this PEACE after the resurrection? The answer is that Jesus’ death on the cross, for the very first time since the fall of man in the beginning, has made true peace possible.

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

 “For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.” (Ephesians 2.14ff)

 The cross is what breaks down the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and gentiles, between various kinds of gentiles, various ethnic groups, between mankind and God, and even the dividing walls of hostility we erect within ourselves as individuals.

How can we be divided from ourselves? Paul explains in it in a passage that resonates with a lot of people. He says: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do,” (Romans 7.15 & 19). The cross makes it possible to transcend this kind of spiritual schizophrenia, this alienation from ourselves.

The cross makes it possible to be integrated, whole human beings, and integrated and whole communities – and indeed one integrated and whole catholic and apostolic Church. The cross makes it POSSIBLE, but the cross doest not make it NECESSARY. We have to cooperate with the cross.

When I was a child, before I knew anything about the history of segregation, and its even more horrible antecedents, in this country, I noticed that human beings have a tendency to self-segregate. In the dining hall at school, white kids sat together, black kids sat together, and Hispanic kids sat together. And our larger social life isn’t really that much different. Our cities have black neighborhoods, white neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods. And in larger cities, like Dallas, there are Vietnamese neighborhoods, Korean neighborhoods, Cantonese neighborhoods, Liberain neighborhoods, Ethiopian neighborhoods, Greek neighborhoods, and on and on and on.

 “[But Christ] is our peace, who has made us… one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end.” (Ephesians 2.14ff)

 As I say, Christ makes this possible for individuals, for communities, and for mankind as a whole, but he doesn’t make it necessary. One of the things I love most about the Church of the Holy Cross is that it is a place where people from enormously disparate backgrounds have come together to form a single community, one body.

Jesus makes this possible. But we have to cooperate with his holy cross. Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me,” (Mark 8.34). We have to cooperate with the cross. The peace and the integrity – the COMMUNION – that Christ makes possible, does not come automatically. In another place, Jesus said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life,” (Matthew 7.14). We have to walk the hard road through the narrow gate (cf. Matt. 7.14).

In the 5th century, Cyril of Alexandria (Commentary on the Gospel of John) said:

“If, in Christ, all of us — both ourselves and he who is within us by his own flesh — are members of the same body, is it not clear that we are one, both with one another and with Christ? He is the bond that unites us, because he is at once both God and man…”

 “If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the Spirit, it must surely be obvious to everyone that by repudiating, in a sense, our own life, and taking on the supernatural likeness of the Holy Spirit, who is united to us, our nature is transformed so that we are no longer merely men, but also sons of God, spiritual men, by reason of the share we have received in the divine nature. We are all one, therefore, in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are one in mind and holiness, we are one through our communion in the sacred flesh of Christ, and through our sharing in the one Holy Spirit.”

  “If we have given up our worldly way of life and submitted once for all to the laws of the spirit.” That’s a big “if,” and it can’t be taken for granted.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you.” I have often said: it is not enough for gifts to be given, but they also must be received. Christ is risen from the dead, conquering death by dying. And Easter is the proof. But we cannot just sit around, basking in the glow of his victory. He makes it possible for us to come to life by taking up our cross and following him.

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

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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