Episcopal Church Center, New York, NY
Br. Adam D. McCoy, OHC
Holy Cross Day - Friday 14 September 2007
John 12: 31-36a
I was in Istanbul this summer, and had made a vow to wear this cross into Hagia Sophia. I did. The greatest building in the history of the Church was the signature of Christian imperial triumph. With Constantine and his successors the symbol of execution, bloody sweat and tears, a humiliating death, and resurrection, became a sign of military and political victory and power. But that power fell, and the great church, meant to proclaim Christian victory and dominion, was a mosque for almost half a millennium. Now it is filled with tourists, mostly not Christian, in a city that is definitely not Christian. It felt odd to wear the Cross on the streets of a city that used to be the center of the Christian world but is no longer. What exactly was I proclaiming? What power and victory does the cross represent? Why should anyone not born into the family, as it were, find life and hope in the cross?
John’s Jesus (in John 12:31-36a) frames his prediction of his own death on the Cross with power and light. The cross will overthrow the power of this world. It will, so to speak, turn on the lights. The power of which Jesus speaks is one with Mary’s prophecy in the Magnificat: He will put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalt the humble and meek. The light is the kind that lets us walk through the darkness. It’s the light that shows us what’s really there.
Paul (in Phil. 2:5-11) unlocks this for us: Jesus “humbled himself, taking the form of a slave. And therefore, God highly exalted him.” The triumphal power of the Cross is not in building an empire of this world, but in showing what is true and finding in that truth the path forward. God’s love and power are present not only in winning, in wealth and good health and success, the good things we and our pagan forebears instinctively pursue, but also when we are not winners. There is no lack of temples built to solicit gain. But for Christians, God in Jesus Christ is also on the cross, also in the humility of the slave, also in bloody sweat and agony, in losses small and great sustained for the sake of love and for what is right.
I kept asking myself this question in Istanbul. I must confess, I did not always wear my cross in public. I am not always brave. But as the days wore on, I became at least more sure that I was not representing a failed imperium, or a crusading army, or a religious establishment which wants to dominate the world. I was representing the truth: Jesus Christ on the cross is re-establishing the priority of God’s love for all creation. Power is being reallocated. Riches and poverty, victory and humility, life and death, are equally taken into the heart of God.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all to myself (John 12:32).” The Greek does not actually say “people”. It says “pantas” – everything. Not just people, but the whole of all that is. Christ’s death on the cross is God joining his creation in its contingency, loving it in its nature as only fleetingly flourishing, in which everything must eventually pass away, from the smallest amoeba to the greatest empire. The victory is in reconciling weakness to power, success and riches and honor to humility, death to life, the bottom to the top.
Have we tasted success? Think about this and learn compassion. Have we tasted failure? Take heart. The truth is God’s compassion, his sympathy. God literally suffers with us. Every created thing in the totality of its being is loved into the life of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. That is the proclamation. That is the power. That is the light.