September 15, 2019

Feast of the Holy Cross C

Whose Cross?



Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”  John 12:31-36a



Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross.  Once again we gather as one community of faith to celebrate the sacred meal and afterward to share a potluck supper as a faith family that bears this title as its parish name.  


It is truly an awesome name that this congregation owns as our own. The Cross is, after all, the axis upon which Christian faith turns and the heartbeat that gives rhythm to our lives as disciples of Jesus and as a community that seeks to witness to the Lord’s presence within us, among us and in the world at large.


We remember that Jesus said,  “If you would be my disciples, you must take up your cross and follow in my footsteps.”


As with most of the things we hear we tend to immediately personalize the message.  When Jesus says, “Your Cross”, what do we think of first?  What first comes to mind?  


I am sure that for most of us the first reference to “Your Cross” would be the burdens of my own life, whatever they might be: my health issues, the aches and pains of my aging body, my survival woes, the precariousness of my financial life, the lifeless job in which I find myself trapped, the loveless marriage in which I find myself bound, the loneliness that stalks my every waking hour, my anxieties about the well-being and safety of my children.   The list could go on.


While this may be our first gambit, does it really define the essence of the invitation that Jesus extends?  Let’s think about this.  


We read in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, “Surely He took our infirmities and carried our sorrows.”  Yes, “our” infirmities and “our” sorrows and not “His” infirmities and “His” sorrows.  “He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities” and not “His” transgressions and “His” iniquities.    


And in the First Letter of Peter we read, “He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds we are healed.”


The cross that we are invited to take up and bear is much more a vicarious cross than it is a personal cross of our own woes.  It is first the anguish of others and only secondarily our own travails.   


The cross that we are asked to bear is the one that has been laid on the shoulders of all those that Jesus refers to as the little ones and as the least of His sisters and brothers.  All those whom the world, that takes its cues from wealth and power, would marginalize, caste aside and even caste out; all those who are exploited by greed and victimized my power; and all those whose lives are made unbearable by but what human beings do or fail to do.  We are asked by Jesus to bear in our own flesh the destructive consequences of that sin that makes life a vale of tears for too many. 


These are indeed not few and, unless we chose to remain blind, they are certainly never far from us.  


Since the beginning of this year the volunteer office staff of the Ulster Immigrant Defense Network has listened to the stories and made efforts to provide assistance in one form or another to over 360 of our neighbors, some immigrants who have lived here for some time and others who have only come to be here during the last year or so. 


These are people who have in fear and desperation fled terror only to be further terrorized again by the actions of an administration that nurtures and advances fear at every opportunity.  These are people who continue to be exploited by their own countrymen in a chain of indentured servitude; and by citizens of this nation who have no compunction about victimizing those who are already victims for a buck.   Unscrupulous attorneys who will require large retainers knowing that there is nothing they will be able to do to effect a positive outcome in a given case, and inhuman landlords who will take rent from two or more families for the same room. 


Healing the pain of the little ones and the least among us happens by virtue of our compassion. Healing happens by virtue of our willingness to take upon ourselves and make our own the cross of others.  Salvation is wrought by solidarity. The passion of Jesus was the compassion of Jesus. By our willingness to be wounded with those who are wounded, the other is healed and we a reborn to risen life. May the Lord grant us the grace of boundless compassion as we move into tomorrow. 


The Rev. Frank J. Alagna

September 15, 2019