The Message of the Cross

 Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer precious Lord

To the Cross where thou hast died

Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer precious Lord

To thy precious bleeding side.

Reflecting and preparing for this Palm Sunday, my mind went back to a time spent with some teachers at a Staff Development Workshop, over a decade ago, and I recalled a question that was asked of the group, “What does a Gardener or Landscaper do?”  Then this question came to mind, what does a Christian do?

The marketer’s language will say that a Gardener brings satisfaction, cleanliness and a smile to the faces of home owners.  This is quite inviting and soon the cutting, trimming and beautifying of lawns and trees are accomplished with gladness.  Well, I am not about to let you all off the hook so easily by sharing the marketer’s thoughts about what a Christian does, so, keep on thinking about it.  As we focus on the ‘Message of the Cross’ today, I hope that we will walk away with a few more nuggets for the journey, so long as you are able to find a little space in our purses and pockets to share with others, and so that none of them be left in the pews.

I continue then with a little story about a group of friends.  It was one of those usual evenings when these friends gathered to share about the week’s activities and have some fun.  They would rotate meeting at each other’s house, playing music, Bible Trivia, Watching Movie, Bible Study and enjoy refreshment of some sort. It was always a joyous occasion.  On this particular gathering, something happened among them that changed the mood of the evening. A kind of tranquility overhung them that they never experienced before.  It was consuming and they were left speechless after a bible passage that was read. No one spoke for a few minutes.  The silence was broken by an unexpected visitor, but not for long, because the visitor was soon drawn into the depth of silence that over hung the room. 

This snippet of the story is how I anticipated today’s Palm Sunday would make me feel following the proclamation of the Passion Gospel.  For indeed there was and is a hush right now.

Recall for a brief moment, the scene.  The fever pitched excitement of the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem of Jesus on a donkey with paved roads and waving palm branches, for the annual Jewish Passover Festival.  The feeling of freedom at last and the deep desire that for the final time their expectation of having a great king, a Messiah, would be realised.  They would no longer be under Roman rule.  For the disciples of Jesus they heard much from the Teacher himself over the last three years.  His debut would be now, as he would reveal his true self for all to see; the mysterious kingdom of which he has been speaking will be made known. 

The excitement by a crowd always swells bigger and uncontrollable and so nothing could stop the shouts of “Hosanna, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!  Flipping the coin to a week later, from the same crowd, and from some named characters we now hear of the plot to betray Jesus with a kiss, shouts of “Away with this man, Crucify him!”, and from one of his closest ally, we hear spoken three times, “I do not know him!” 

But Jesus knew his end was to fulfill the prophesies of Isaiah and Zechariah, even as he sweated blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus was later found guilty, by their ruling, and faced death on a cruel cross, for cursed is he who hangs on a cross – there he bore all our sins. 

So how does the world make sense of all this, which, the truth be told, still boggles the minds of many Christians today?  We know what a Gardener does, but, with this information fresh in front of our eyes again, I ask, what does a Christian do?  How do we grasp and then translate the message of the cross in a way to bring glory to God? 

May I suggest that as Christians, we have accepted that we entered into the passion of Christ from the beginning of time?  It is this same Christ who was introduced to us at the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to our Blessed Mother Mary.  God has found favour in you Mary and you will bear a Son, which was prophesied by Isaiah.  May I suggest further that as Christians, we already accepted the call of Jesus Christ to the church, to proclaim this good news of the kingdom of God in two ways:  firstly, to engage in the richness of the liturgy as we gather and glorify in community, honouring and praising God, meditating on his Word, communing and feasting and receiving.  Secondly, to take that which we have received for spiritual and wholesome sustenance, and, as talents, each week, to take it and go out to invest it for the King and to return the following Sunday with the multiplying results.   And so this translation then is done through faith, and by faith.  It’s all a mystery, saturated with love.

The message of the Cross before us this morning is a message of love, which came down at Christmas. It is a love that will allow us to take the teachings of our faith as in the Sacrament of Baptism for the remission of sin, the Sacrament of Unction for the healing and reconciliation from all the things that trouble us in body mind and spirit, and share it into the hearts of those in the world, who find it hard to love again and to be healed and be reconciled one to the other.  It is a message to take action.  It is a message of life for those who are dead to the knowledge of the God who breathes life into them; dead to the saving grace of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  They need to hear spoken to them this love of God through the message of the Cross.  This will make all the difference in their lives, for we are given the ‘tongue of a teacher to sustain the weary with a word’. 

And as we prepare to share these nuggets, we do so, not on our own volition but with the same mind Christ Jesus within us” – a mind not of one who is coward; for how could we be, when we have the courage of Jesus who agreed and emptied himself of his glory and took on the form of a slave, became human, and humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death on a cross?  A sound mind is a mind that is always meditating on his word day and night, in order to know how to respond to and in every situation.

The world today needs Christians with the mind of Christ, who will stand up for justice for humanity and peace, not with a sword, for Jesus told Peter, no put up your sword and he touched the ear of Malthus and healed it.  Do it the non-violent way.  Peace perfect peace my friend.  Do it the Jesus Way – the way of love by God in Christ, poured out in good ways which will draw all persons unto the Cross of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and of Calvary. 

It was love why Jesus bore it all for us and asked the Father’s forgiveness, not just for the sinner on the cross, but also for all of us who nailed him there.  He came through the darkness of the hour, the curtain of the temple was torn, earthquake and darkness covered the earth – a return to when there was no form and from a mysterious place of a renewed earth and rebirth Jesus said, “It is Finished!  And in his last word said, “Into thy hands, I commend my Spirit!”  Here is my Spirit God my Father.  The Gospel of the Cross is a message of action and love, which draws us closer to the precious bleeding side of our Saviour hour by hour.  

As those friends sat there that afternoon, they saw it all in those silent moments.  They saw Jesus stepping down to be among us, they saw him stepping out and leading the children of Israel, they saw the work of the hand of God as it was, outstretched to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and all the Prophets, as the lead and prophesied.  They saw a God who kept his promise of redemption.  And they had an epiphany that evening as they read from the Gospel of John (3:16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son! One person asked “Did God do that for me!?”  Wow!  They reflected more intensely on the passage that evening and recommitted to living a life more meaningfully to the Triune God.  It had an impact on them that changed their lives. 

For God so loved you and me that he gave Jesus for us!  We are his beloved!  So what does a Christian do now? What do we do now? We who believe in him who shall not perish but shall have everlasting life?  Is there something for us to do?  Should we keep this news of Calvary to ourselves?  I say No!  This message of the Cross of how Jesus died for you and me to bring us salvation must now be the shout from the crowd.  We say thank you Lord for loving me so much.  Thank you.  Thank you.  The centurion soldier declared “Surely, this is the Son of God!  He won’t be able to keep the message of the Cross to himself when he returns to his century of over 100 soldiers, waiting to hear his story.  He got it! 

And we won’t be able to keep it to ourselves either.  This is newsworthy.  This needs to get to the social media and go viral.  The Message of the Cross is far too precious to be left in any of these pews this morning.  Take it with you, and share it.

Let us pray

Consecrate us now in thy service Lord,

By thy power of grace divine

Let our souls look up with a steadfast hope

And our will be lost in thine

 Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer precious Lord

To the Cross where thou hast died

Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer precious Lord

To thy precious bleeding side.

Amen.