Lift High The Cross
September 15, 2017
Verse: John 12:31–32
Christ Lutheran Church
September 17, 2017 (observed)
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Holy Cross Day
Lift High The Cross
And I, when I am raised up from the ground will draw all people to myself." He said this in order to signify what death he was going to die. John 12:31-32
Every day is holy cross day for the church. If it isn’t then the church is in need of reform. But as wonderful as our new crucifix is, it is not what makes holy cross day, holy cross day. It is an image, an icon that does what sacred art has always done. It lifts up hearts to the reality of what it represents: the real Christ, whose flesh we commune with at this altar every Sunday.
But we need the art! And anyone who objects is in need of theological instruction. We need the cross, the statues, the altar, the vestments and all the sensuous beauty we can muster, until the faith of our heads becomes the faith of our hearts.
Is there a danger of over-doing it? Yes.
Is there a danger of under-doing it? The same. And truth be told, dear Christians, that is the greater threat to Lutherans today; many of whom live below the spiritual poverty line because they were not taught. Not taught or because they refuse to accept the full extent of what St. John means when he writes, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
Why has the church devoted its faith, hope and love; its blood, sweat and tears to the production of sacred art for 2,000 years? And to the creation of this crucifix? Only one reason Beloved and write this one down in your notebooks because it will be on the test.
Why does the church do this, and why will she never stop? Why does she produce images of him who is the image of God? Why does she feel free to bypass what Exodus 20:4 says about graven images? And not even include that verse as one of the church’s commandments?
Because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us! (John 1:14) Because he is the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:16) Because now we know what God looks like. And especially what the love of God looks like! It looks like the crucifix we dedicated this morning! And the church will never stop making such images of the invisible God until she beholds him face to face in heaven. Then we will stop.
Last Saturday some 20 people dedicated their day to lifting the cross to the most prominent position in this house of God, from where it will set the tone for our worship, our faith, and our lives. The wood you see before you that was crafted into this blessed shape, this holy and graven image and lifted high does two things. It preaches. And it edifies.
What does it preach? It proclaims the love of Christ to all who see it. It says that God loved the world in this way, by sparing us the wages of our sins and paying them out to one who loved us, and gave himself for us.(Galatians 2:20) We are familiar with the holy week gospels. With the Lord’s passion and death. With the five sacred wounds into which “Faithful Thomas” was baptized on the 8th day after Easter. But this crucifix offers an artistic interpretation that you probably have not seen before: the wounds on both of the Lord’s knees. What does this mean? And from whence do they come? Two sources.
First when he knelt down in the Garden of Gethsemane before his passion. Where the soul of God’s Son trembled at the thought of the cosmic business he was about to transact on your behalf. But who, “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross and despised the shame.” (Hebrews 12:2) You are his joy! You are the “fruit” that resulted when Jesus “The Grain of Wheat” (John 12:24) was planted in the ground in death. You are the product.
But there’s another source as well. Scripture teaches us that as he carried the burden of the worlds sin on his back to Calvary that he stumbled and fell, and he needed help lest salvation should be stopped in its tracks. We hear from St. Matthew that a man named Simon from Cyrenia was conscripted to help the Lord finish his glorious course. In the same way you, too, have fallen, and the scrapes on your knees have shot bolts of pain and death to the fibers of your soul and to everyone around you. But Jesus, who also fell, is your Simon. He will lift you up. Make you strong. Give you courage. Give you patience. And empower you to bear the cross he himself asks you to bear. And so take heart from the wounded knees displayed before your eyes; and as often as you fall, remember where your restoration lies.
This crucifix also edifies us. It is a beautiful creation. Orderly, thoughtful and reverent that lifts up our hearts from the mundane, to say nothing of the base things of life, and stimulates holy emotions and sacred instincts. With this wondrous icon we, like King David, can “gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and inquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4)
But for all the good things we can say about this icon of God’s love it is, finally, only an image. A blessed one to be sure. A consecrated one that no man may defile in thought, word of deed. But still a symbol. But of what?
Of the Jesus it represents. Not the dead Jesus but the Living One. The resurrected and reigning Lord. And not a distant Lord but the same One who speaks here this morning in the holy gospel: that is NOT a symbol. And the Lord whose body and blood we receive at the altar: that is NOT a symbol!
That is Jesus!
No longer crucified, dead and buried. But glorified, and who glorifies all who have holy communion with him in true faith and devotion.
And whose image we are by holy baptism! And when we suffer the crosses of life! When we sacrifice for his sake, and are willing even to lose our lives so that we might preserve them unto eternal life. This is the gospel of the Lord, and that (the crucifix) is the visual image of it. Amen.