Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, John 3:13-17
“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Holy Cross, a day that is linked to the dedication of the Church Constantine dedicated, purportedly on the site where Jesus had been crucified 300 years before, and where according to legend Helena (Constantine’s mother), had discovered a piece of the true Cross during the excavation of the church, the church which is now known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
It’s likely just a legend, a story likely added to the lore of the church which became the crown jewel of Constantine’s empire, a foolish myth to legitimize the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity under Constantine. Myth or not, the story is perfect for today as we celebrate the Cross of Jesus and all that means for us and for the world.
As Christians a feast celebrating the Cross is nothing new, we adorn ourselves with crosses around our necks, our churches are filled with them, some even shaped like them; on Good Friday we bring out a large wooden cross and pray before it. Crosses are our thing, so to speak.
But to the world outside they are archaic symbols at the best of times – reminders of a past that our current culture is seemingly more than happy to leave in the dust – or more negatively crosses (and the religion they represent) are considered foolish endeavours meant only for the weak and irrational members of society.
For many of you growing up the church and the cross that represented it, were respected in society, cornerstones of the fabric of the world you lived in. Churches filled the landscape of Toronto, and every North American city or town. The shift from respectability to foolishness has been gradual over the last 50 years, accelerating in more recently.
Many of you might bemoan the fact that the church and the Cross are considered irrelevant or foolish in the eyes of the world, but I want to suggest to you that perhaps it is a good thing, perhaps this shift will be helpful in the proclamation of the Gospel in our time and place.
After all, as we heard in our reading from 1 Corinthians this morning, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” As Christians we might wonder why the cross or the crucifixion of Jesus is considered folly, but that’s because we have become so accustomed to the story of Jesus and God’s plan of salvation, that it just seems normal to us, it is a story we have been told since we were children.
But no matter how comforting, or uplifting the Cross is for us who know the story, we cannot deny that through the eyes of the world, it is an utterly foolish story, and that is the way that God intended it.
Our world values powerful people, people who are strong and self-sufficient. People who make great names for themselves out of nothing – business men and women, celebrities, politicians. While there is certainly goodness in the world, the driving economic and social agendas are primarily selfish, and focus on individual betterment often at the cost of others. Any sign of weakness is taken advantage of, seen as distinctly negative. We need only look at the recent swing in pretty ugly populist political parties here in North America and across the world with slogans like ‘America First’ or ‘Make Canada Great Again’ – to see that self-interest and power are the currency of the day.
And in this culture the cross is certainly a foolish story about a ‘Sad Loser’ as a certain president might say. There is no great worldly victory in the Cross – it was and still is a brutal means of torture and execution reserved for criminals and rebels. In the eyes of the world – of Rome and any empire since – the cross tells the tale of Jesus’ failure and humiliating death, as the crowds who followed him turned against him, as his friends abandoned him and as the man who claimed to be the Son of God could do nothing to save himself from the crushing might of the Roman Empire.
If you take a step back from the years of Christian instruction you’ve had – you have to admit this is a pretty foolish way for God to save the world, it is a pretty foolish way for God to initiate the transformation and healing of the world. Our history books are rarely filled with the accounts of utter failure – they would not have celebrated so heartily across the world on the day World War II had ended if it has ended in defeat.
And yet, the greatest story that has ever been told, the story of God’s love for the world, of his pursuit of humankind in the hopes of reconciliation, the story of God’s great love for us finds its climax in this foolish episode of Jesus’ death on the cross, in this utter defeat of Jesus’ ministry.
In our Gospel reading this morning we heard the famous line from John’s Gospel about God’s love – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-3:17).
Again we must admit to ourselves that on the surface the crucifixion and death of Jesus is a pretty foolish way to show love. One can imagine many different and perhaps less gruesome and humiliating ways that God could have demonstrated his great love for the world. After all, we all love children, spouses, parents deeply and none of us are lining up to be crucified or tortured to show them!
But yet this is exactly what God did, he took what was foolish, weak and lowly according to the world’s view of the things and turned everything upside down. After all the world is broken, it is mired in sin and death disconnected by God and as such cannot see clearly – God demonstrates his great love by giving us his dearest son, by dwelling with us, experiencing our sufferings and our joys, and ultimately receiving the weight of sin and death on the Cross, so that we no longer have to experience the alienation and separation from God, and so that we might experience abundant life here and now.
Paul describes the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus as the power and the wisdom of God – it is where we witness God’s power, his love, and his wisdom most clearly – even if it seems like foolishness to the world it is the most important event in history that changes everything.
God’s action on the Cross and the in the crucifixion of Jesus is the means to salvation and it gives us the means and the example to shift our priorities, to shift our view of the world from ourselves and our selfish priorities towards the care for others, the care for God’s world and our neighbours.
It is possible for the church and individual disciples to live out this life when we understand the depth of God’s love for us, no matter how foolish it may seem; this life is possible if we understand that God’s foolishness is of infinite more valuable than the wisdom of the world.
And so perhaps a foolish story or myth about Helena, Constantine’s mother, discovering a true piece of the cross is the perfect story for today, the perfect story to showcase the true foolishness of the Cross – the Church of the Holy Sepulchre still stands in Jerusalem after all as a testament to the love that God shows the world in crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. May we embrace our foolish cross, our foolish faith, and our foolish God who loves you and me so much that he sent his Son so that we might have life and have it eternally.
Let us pray.