26 March 2018

The Power of the Cross

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Baseball season is upon us.  Yesterday was supposed to be opening day for the Detroit Tigers, the 118th season, but it was rained out, so it was today.  Many baseball players, as they are walking up to Home Plate, do a quick sign of the cross before they bat.  On the one hand, it’s a nice witness to their Christian faith.  On the other hand, it’s often done so quickly, that it barely looks like a cross.  Sometimes we may fall into that same bad habit of quickly signing ourselves without recognizing the power that the cross has.
Often, when I’m thinking about Good Friday, I immediately think of the movie “The Passion of the Christ.”  And I vaguely remembered the crucifixion scene, so I watched it again.  I was overcome by emotions as I watched the very gruesome portrayal that was the horror of Jesus’ crucifixion.  After Jesus’ side had been pierced by the lance by the Roman soldier, the scene changes from Calvary to an unknown, dry ground, cracked from lack of water, with bones strewn about, and Satan in the middle, shrieking.  Satan, who had worked so hard to kill God, now realizes that by Jesus’ death on the cross, Satan himself had been defeated.
That is what happened on Good Friday, and that is why we call it “Good.”  The rule of the prince of this world, the devil, was defeated by the Prince of Peace, and the rule of unending sin was stopped.  And all of that happened by the cross.  
Later in the liturgy today we will kiss, genuflect, or bow before the cross.  As I come before the cross I will take off my chasuble and my boots as a sign of reverence.  When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we say, “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”  Probably at least some of us remember in Catholic schools writing a cross at the top of each paper.  
The cross has power because it is the instrument of the victory of Jesus.  Because we make the sign of the cross so often (at the beginning of our prayers, probably when we enter the church and bless ourselves with holy water), we may easily forget its power.  
The cross, as it did almost two thousand years ago, defeats Satan and all his fallen angels.  It protects us from all who want to do us harm.  St. John of Damascus writes in one prayer that he composed:

…let the demons perish before those who love God and sign themselves with the sign of the cross, saying with joy: Rejoice, most precious and life-giving cross of the Lord, who cast out demons by the might of Him Who was crucified upon you, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who descended into hades and trampled upon the power of the devil and gave you, His honorable cross to us, to banish all of our enemies.  O glorious and life-giving cross of the Lord, help me together with the holy Lady, Virgin Theotokos and all the saints unto all ages.  Amen.  

If you’re every feeling weighed down by sin, or feel like the devil is having his way with you, you can pray this prayer, and trusting in the power of the cross, know that you will be free.
The power of the cross of Christ also helps us to carry our daily crosses.  As I come before the cross, I not only bring my own crosses of my life, my struggles, my pain, my sin, but I also keep in mind your crosses, the struggles that people entrust to me, the sins that they confess to Christ through me, the pain that they ask me to ease by visits to their house or to the hospital and the prayers and I saw for them, especially when I anoint them.  This year I bring the pain of loss with the death of my grandmother.  I also bring all the parishioners whom I have buried since last Good Friday, and the family members who remain.  I bring the misunderstandings that I have caused, or of which I have been the object.  I bring the struggles to do more with less, and the difficult decisions that I am responsible for making as pastor, especially when they affect others more than they affect me.  I say all this not to gain your pity, but to proclaim to you that when I lay them at the foot of the cross of the Lord, the burden is lighter, and I am strengthened to carry my cross.
God can give you the same strength, too.  You have many crosses that I don’t know about, and I will never know the weight of some of the crosses you carry.  But I promise you that if they are united to the cross of Jesus, then you don’t carry them alone, but Jesus carries them with you so that whatever in your crosses is due to sin, to death, to Satan, may be defeated by Christ in you.  

So may our witness to the cross be strong, be purposeful, and be public.  May the power of the cross scatter any darkness in our lives, cast out any evil spirits who wish to harm us, and gain for us the grace of perseverance in the faith so that we may be made worthy of the gift of salvation that was won for us by Jesus’ death on the cross.