St. Raymond/St Elizabeth Maronite Churches in Saint Louis
September 11, 2008
1 Corinthians 1, 18-25 + John 12, 20-32
An ancient feast of the church takes us deep our faith’s deepest mystery and symbol. For the earliest Christians, the cross was a source of shame and scandal. The leader, the one in whom they had placed all their trust had been executed as a common criminal. They were discouraged and they were ashamed. Yet, in time, they found the courage to take the very symbol of that disgrace and raise it high as a sign of God’s glorious intervention on their behalf. Remembering the serpents in the desert that afflicted the People of Israel with death and suffering, the cross was a source of death and suffering to the earliest church. Yet the faithful God of Israel intervened to protect the faithful people in the desert, and as a reminder of that God’s action, they raised up an image of their former suffering high on a staff as sign of hope and of victory.
Conscious of that history, the early followers of Christ had the same experience with the cross.This feast proclaims the intervention of God in the midst of suffering, and the victory of those who suffer in hope and fidelity. It gives to those who suffer a new look at the cause of their suffering. It invites any of us who face discouragement and disgrace of any kind to look again at the source of that discouragement and disgrace.
This feast speaks to all who have known sin, who have known failure, who have known disgrace, disappointment, and guilt; and it speaks of God’s power and God’s love. It addresses our desire to deny and pretend that there is no shame, there is no sin, there is nothing wrong in us; and it calls us to confess and embrace our very weakness as it is turned into God’s strength.
To exalt the Cross is to admit shame. To exalt the Cross is to embrace our weakness. To exalt the Cross is to admit our failures, and in so doing, we embrace the power of God to turn the cross into a sign of victory. This is a feast of strange contradictions. It is a feast that calls us to rejoice in our weakness while proclaiming the power of God.
The cross which we lift high is the both the cross of our shame and the cross of God’s Mercy. It is both the instrument of death and the source of life. It is the end and the beginning, shame and glory, defeat and victory. Only those who know forgiveness and healing can understand the riddle of the cross. For those who seek to understand that riddle, it must first be embraced in all it’s ugliness and shame, just as those who were bitten by the serpents in the desert had to know that sting before they could ever begin to rejoice in the serpent on the pole.