Archive for September, 2009|Monthly archive page

Holy Cross Day

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2009 at 12:14 am

In Sydney’s ANZAC memorial
there is there a sculpture titled “Sacrifice”.
You look down on the figure of a young WWI soldier,
arms stretched out by the rifle that lies across his shoulders,
behind his breathless head,
a powerful but none-too-subtle cruciform.
A cross.

I can’t help but think of Archibald Baxter’s description of “Field Punishment No. 1”:
he and other pacifists taken to France
to have at times their arms stretched out and tied to poles,
an echo and an irony that was not lost on all who witnessed it.

Today we keep the Feast of the Holy Cross.
We try to see with freshness and depth
a symbol we know only too well.
Far too well for it to have real impact:
a piece of jewellery, not even a symbol of faith these days.
Pretty and palatable and untroubling.

Let’s not forget though
that the Cross is a political symbol,
the Empire’s method of getting rid of those
who have become inconvenient.
Outspoken.  Dangerous.

What does it mean
that Jesus was put to death on a Cross?

The Cross is a symbol of sacrifice, but more than that:
a symbol of horror, shame, violence, terror.
A symbol of tragic waste and sheer brutality.

And yet.

And yet, it has been the firm conviction of twenty centuries of Christians
that God took this symbol of all that should cripple us,
should kill our optimism,
should lower us to the level of the perpetrators of terror,
should destroy our faith in humanity and in God.

God took this tragic waste and sheer brutality
and brought out of it redemption, salvation, restoration, peace, hope.

Out of inexplicable death        the Cross points us to life.
Out of inexpressible grief        the Cross points us to joy.
Out of indefensible horror        the Cross points us to courage & freedom
to challenge all that would subdue the body, soul and spirit.

So easily those first disciples could have seen the Cross
as the powerful destruction of their weak faith, weak hopes and weak leader.
They might have succumbed to vengeance, or expediency, or fatalism
and they may never have witnessed the Resurrection.

The Cross would have become just another senseless killing.

The suffering of Jesus might so easily have become an excuse
to do what many in the Jewish world not-so-secretly wanted:
to rise up and deal to the Roman occupier
and those who collaborated with them.

Or perhaps simply a confirmation that bad stuff happens to good people,
and who’d really want to try and make sense of that?

Today, though, we talk about the Holy Cross.

Today we are invited to see God’s redemptive work
as possible and present even in the most horrific symbols of our age.
And to challenge those who do not allow
the liberating, hopeful, saving voice of God to speak
above the cries of terror and tension.

In the enacted parable of the Cross
Jesus gives us a vision of the Kingdom.
God takes a symbol of fear and intimidation,
of tragic waste and sheer brutality, and turns it on its head.

The Cross reminds us that we are not to be beholden to our fears.
That God is able to turn terror to liberation.
That God’s way is to take death and to bring new life.

Not denying all that is awful in the world, or even in humanity.
But God takes that and
– despite our best efforts and the affront of it all –
makes it holy.

The Holy Cross stands as symbol of all that God does
despite injustice and terror and the misappropriation of fear and outrage,
patriotism and duty.

The Cross that seems to be the symbol of condemnation
in God’s hands brings salvation, hope and liberation.


Preparing for Ordinary Sunday 24B

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2009 at 12:34 am

Who do you say that I am?

There was a syndicated article published several years ago
talking about the different faces of the God
that 9 out of 10 Americans
say they believe in.

A quarter saw God as Distant.
The Creator of the universe, but one who leaves it alone.

23% viewed God as chiefly Benevolent,
expecting good of us, but forgiving and asking us to care for others.

16% saw God as Critical,
the kind of bearded, almost disinterested Big Fella,
unlikely to intervene or to punish.

Nearly a third of Americans believed, it said, in an Authoritarian God,
angry and ready to bring divine retribution to bear,
by natural or unnatural means.
Wars and tsunamis take on extra meaning for this group.

Now, four categories is totally inadequate,
and you might be thinking that this study
tells you rather more about the Americans who took part
than the nature of God,
and perhaps that’s the point.

In the Book of Genesis we read that “God created humankind in his image”,
and some might argue
that humankind has been repaying the compliment ever since.

We tend to choose the picture of God we want.
We like.
We need.

But unless we are satisfied that somehow we know all about God,
or more importantly, that we ourselves know God fully,
…and both positions mean, at best, we’re self-deluded –
we need to be asked and to answer the question Jesus asks in our gospel:
“who do you say that I am?”

Not who your parents though I was,
not who you though I was in Sunday School,
but: “who do you say that I am?”

Who is Jesus for you, and what does he say, what does he represent?

What does he carry, and what does he ask you to carry too?

I could tell you a little bit of who Jesus is for me,
but that is not your picture,
and the cross I bear is probably not yours.

If I asked you that first question,
“Who do people say that Jesus is”,
you could give me a plethora of answers,
much like those first disciples.

We are called, though, to claim an image and an understanding of Jesus
within the saving work of God
as our own.

Perhaps you could do worse
than examine some of the images you’ve grown up with,
and to hear again the question,
who do you say that I am?”.