The Exaltation of the Cross

MP3 Audio:  WS330305_Dn-Joseph_Exaltation-of-the-Cross.mp3

This homily was preached on Saturday morning, September 14, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


Gospel Reading:  John 12:31-36

“If I am lifted up from the earth,
I will draw all peoples unto myself.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.

It is easy for us to lose sight of Scripture sometimes, because of how far removed certain cultural and political practices are. So, to contextualize it, for us to realize the same depth of emotion, sometimes it helps us to try to say, “What is something similar, that if it happened today, would get us in the gut, in the same way?”

So just for a moment, imagine one of the worst things, that just literally feels like somebody punching you in the gut, when you think about it. One of those things that comes to mind is abortion. Honestly, how does it make you feel when you don’t push it off to the side or forget about it, and thank God that “Well, at least we are among a little group of people that doesn’t do that kind of thing,”  and you look it in the face and you realize that over 4000 little babies are murdered daily in this country.

And every year when September 11 comes around, people have a moment of silence, emails, time of prayer, and yes I mourn the approximately 3000 people that died. I think it was reprehensible what those terrorists did to us in New York City. But what always goes through my mind every year, when people want to remember that, is: “Here is 10 years later, and you want to take this time out of your day to mourn this loss of 3000 lives, when more than that are murdered daily in this country, legally.”

September 11 was bad. But it’s not very bad in comparison to the daily holocaust of abortion. The holocaust of abortion is worse. We have killed over 50 million babies in this country alone since Roe vs. Wade in 1973.

But don’t think about abortion in general. Think about just one particular baby. Maybe see the sonogram, you see the baby kicking around, see the little umbilical cord. You can just start to tell whether it’s a boy or a girl. It’s at the stage that some parents would already be naming it. And then with certain medical instruments, a doctor who takes the Hippocratic oath to do no harm–which in this case proves to be the hypocritic oath–takes his medical instruments and reaches up inside this woman, not only destroying her privacy and her integrity, but literally rips limb from limb this little child.

They have even taken pictures of this, a video while it’s happening. You can actually see the little arms and legs just being torn off its body as it writhes in pain. There is one video out there called “The Silent Scream”. You can literally see the pain that this child is suffering as he is being torn out of his mother’s womb.

Now that you have this picture in mind, all this blood over the hands of this doctor who has just killed this child, and you look the forceps–you look at these particular medical tools–think of the forceps that he is using. Think of this medical instrument that he is using to perform this murder. And it’s covered in blood, and in the body parts of a small child that has just been killed. And you think of this instrument. How does that make you feel?

How would you like to hold that instrument yourself? Even if it was washed up and sterilized, and it is just back to being clean metal, and you were to look at this, how would it make you feel?

If you saw even one abortion take place, for the rest of your life wouldn’t you want to throw-up every time you saw that instrument? Every time you saw those forceps that the doctor just used, the different calipers, whatever you call those metal tools that they use to do this butchering, wouldn’t you just want to mourn and grieve? Wouldn’t it ruin your day every time you saw that for the rest your life?

Now, what would you think–how crazy would you think a person is–if you saw him walk over and kiss it?

Here are these tools that have been used for great torture, and murder, and evil! And every time you see it, you remember the blood, you remember the murder, you remember that silent scream. And then you see somebody walk over, and with great reverence, they kiss it. Would you think that this person had gone mad? Had gone out of their minds? Had gone absolutely stark-raving crazy?

Do you realize that we are talking about the cross?

You see, in first century Israel, in first century Rome, the cross of wood was not a fashion statement. It was not a decoration for your car. Whenever somebody saw a wooden cross, instantly they would have flashbacks of a hundred decaying, rotting corpses that they had seen, for days hanging on crosses out by the side of the road, just warning you and showing you what would happen to you, if you dared to cross the Roman government, if you dared not to worship their gods, if you dared not to bow the knee to the Roman Emperor. But not just decaying corpses–no, sometimes people would hang alive and conscious in torture for 6 – 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 days. People didn’t always die within a few hours of hanging on the cross. Sometimes it would take them as much as a week or a week and a half.

And so you would be walking out, going to the next town, or going to visit somebody, and it would be like you can’t even get from here to Carmi, you can’t even go to Walmart, without passing two or three people who are being tortured to death, and you hear their screams and their cries for help. And you walk by somebody else who finally did die, and their rotting corpses is there on this cross. And every time you travel anywhere, this is what you see.

Every time you see the cross, you think murder, you think death, you think stench, you think torture. You get this sickness in the pit of your stomach every time you see this ugly cross, this filthy cross, this cross that is a sign of the Roman domination, this cross that is a sign of death and mortality and power that evil people have over me and my family.

You would hate this symbol.

Just seeing this symbol of execution, just seeing a cross of wood, just seeing two pieces of wood going like this [in the shape of a cross] would be enough to make you want to throw-up, every bit as much as it would make you want to throw-up when you see the abortion doctor’s calibers, his forceps.

The cross was not a necklace. The cross was not jewelry. The cross was not a sticker or a shirt. The cross was a sign of the absolute power of the Roman government, of human torture, of human suffering, of death, of bloodshed, of stench, of fear. Everything bad that you can think of, everything evil that you can imagine, was associated with the cross.

Some people expected a great and powerful conquering Messiah who would come and be just like every other conqueror before him, only better. He would kill his enemies, and rule from on high, and take over the Empire.

But that was too easy for God.

That would be too easy. That is something everybody would recognize. That would be God adopting the world’s ways. But His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. As it says in Isaiah, even as the heavens are above the earth, so His ways and His thoughts are above ours. And so God did not defeat death and suffering by coming riding-in on a white horse and conquering the empire.

No, He defeated death by death, “trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” He embraced the very symbol of wickedness, and evil, and shame, and death, and He turned it into something so beautiful that we kiss it, and we wear it as a necklace, and we wear it on our shirts. He took what the world said is shameful, and He exalted it and used that for the world’s salvation. Now, to do something like that requires the power of God, that great reversal. And He does it over and over.

Look at the tower of Babel. Man’s sin comes along, and both in protection of man and also in judgment for his sin, God confuses the languages so they can’t work together to continue building this tower of Babel. And then we see this great reversal of it at Pentecost, where now, instead of languages dividing people, they unite them, because now everybody hears in their own language the speaking of the praises and the Gospel of God. But notice, it’s not the type of reversal we would expect. See, for us, we think to reverse something, you just have to throw it out, you have to undo it. To reverse it, we think, “Oh, well, you would have to make it so the whole world just speaks one language again.” No, God kept it like a scar, and then He glorified it, just like the scars on the risen Lord. And He said, “No, this happened at the tower of Babel. Languages have been divided, and now there’s multiple languages everywhere. And instead of throwing that history away, instead of canceling it out and going back to square one, no, now, in all languages we will hear the praises of Christ, in all these languages we are going to hear the Gospel. Men, you messed things up back here at the tower of Babel. And instead of undoing all those languages that came about because of it, every single one of those languages are to be used at Pascha, to say ‘Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!’ ‘Christos voskrese! . . .’ ‘Christus resurrexit! . . .’ ” We are going to hear the praises of God in every language.

That’s how He reverses evil. He doesn’t just triumph over it by stomping on it. He triumphs over it by taking the very thing that was evil, gutting it of all the evil, and then glorifying it and turning it into something beautiful.

That’s what He did with the cross. That’s what He did at the tower of Babel, with the languages. That’s what He did with his own body, for in His glorified, resurrected body that shines with the uncreated light of God, you can still feel the scars in His hands and in His side. He didn’t erase them. He glorified them.

And that is what he does with your life, and with mine. And you see, in our worldly way of thinking, we just want to jump in a time machine, and go back and undo that embarrassing thing that we did 30 years ago, that horrible thing that we committed 10 years ago, that injustice that we suffered–if we could just go back and undo that. But God doesn’t give us the time machine. He gives us the cross. The same cross that He bore, He gives us to bear.

And just as He “tramples down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” He invites us to walk that same trail that He blazed to Golgotha, to strip off everything that is proud and worldly, to take off all of our pride, to humble ourselves before him and our brothers, to carry the cross of affliction and suffering upon our backs, and just at the moment that the world thinks it has won, just at the moment the world thinks it has defeated us, is the moment in which we triumph.

Jesus said, “If I am lifted up . . .”–and He is not talking about us praising Him; He is talking about being lifted up upon the cross in crucifixion–“If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto myself.”

Do you want to draw people to you, that they may follow you as you follow Christ? Do you want to draw people to Christ? Well, then you too must be lifted up, you too must be crucified: crucified in your passions, crucified in your flesh, crucified in your selfishness, and your pride, in your desires, laying down your life for God, for your spouse, for your children, for your neighbors, and yes, even for your enemies. The bad things that have happened to you, the bad things you have suffered, God doesn’t make you forget them. God doesn’t put you in a time machine and let you go back and change them.  But He changes them.  He redefines them. He gives you a chance to take all that manure and turn it into fertilizer, so that just as His scars are healing, the scars of our lives may no longer be something that we are ashamed of, may no longer be something that we cower in darkness in bitter regret, but may be scars that we display with gratitude to the world, because they are a testament to the fact that God has healed us from those wounds.

So today, we do not cower in fear before the cross, as the Romans did. We do not vomit in revulsion as the families of those executed did. But we come forward to venerate the life-giving wood of the precious Cross, which is a testament to God’s utter and complete triumph over evil.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is one.


This homily was preached on Saturday morning, September 14, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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1 Response to The Exaltation of the Cross

  1. Pingback: Transforming the Tower of Babel | The Orthodox Life

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