The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians. (2:16-20) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
Today we celebrate the Sunday after the elevation of the cross. The story of the elevation of the cross is a very important one in the life of the church. It reminds us that the cross of Jesus Christ is a very real material object. And upon this very real material object, this means of extreme torture, Jesus Christ hung as a perfect man. Our Lord Jesus Christ says to us “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” These were not just mere words. He lived them, he even died them.
St. Paul writes about this in Philippians when he says “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
He continues saying,
“Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father(Phil 2.3–11).
This is the humility that poured from love and drew the world to our Savior. We can enter into this humility and into this love in only one way, by following after the example of our Lord and denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and carrying them.
So often we are completely overwhelmed by the things that God has put on our plate. We become despondent, we despair, we look for any way to escape our situations which sometimes seem quite dreadful. One turns to drugs, another to gaining attention from the opposite sex, one to pornography, another to alcohol, one to sloth and social media, another to focusing on the sins of others, and so on and so forth. It never ends if we take that path, because our deep needs and desires cannot be filled by the finite and limited things in front of us, we can only be filled by the infinite and unlimited love of Christ which comes through the grace of God.
In fact St. Paul says as much in today’s gospel. Even regarding the works of the law. He says that there is nothing that can justify us except faith in Christ. Christ opened the door to our salvation through His death upon the cross. He willingly went through everything including death in order to give us the gift of divine life.
In today’s gospel we hear the Lord say these words “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.” Our Lord Jesus invites each of us to lose our lives, our ways of living, our improper thoughts, whatever it is that keeps us from Him, must be given up. We must stop carrying distractions and diversions in our heart, because this heart was made by God and for God. God has a way for us to gain real life, the life of the Holy Spirit, but we have to carry the crosses that the Lord gives us faithfully.
Our crosses are often difficult and we barely feel like we can carry them without stumbling and falling on our faces. Parenthood is a cross. Marriage is a cross. Being single and celibate is a cross. Working and going to school in our society can be a cross. Staying home to raise children is also a cross.
We can feel the weight of these crosses. They push us down. Life can be very difficult. We don’t know if we can survive some of the crosses that we’ve been given in life. Yet our Lord gives us hope. By carrying His cross to the end, He demonstrated how a sacrificial offering of one’s life out of love, can change the course of history. It can be that way for all of us here, carrying various crosses. It is not enough to carry them for a while. If you have ever seen a woman in labor, it is an amazing sight. She can’t give up halfway through pushing and contractions. She is compelled to go further even though she cannot humanly stand the pain. She does this out of deep love for the child who will be born. She wants to meet the child, hold the child, know the child. And when the child is delivered she forgets about all the pain, all the suffering. She knows only love for the new baby.
Likewise, we also cannot stop halfway while carrying our crosses, and especially the cross of being a faithful Christian. We are called to carry these crosses to completion. That is your God given invitation to life. Our salvation is bound up in being steadfast and faithful to whatever God has given us and through our patient, sacrificial love, the Lord transforms these things into joy, life and resurrection! His resurrection becomes our resurrection, through the gift of the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. May we also love Him and joyfully, energetically, give ourselves to Him. Glory be to God forever AMEN.