On the Third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we celebrate the Veneration of the Precious and life giving Cross. This feast is given to us as a chance to refresh and strengthen us as we are right in the middle of our lenten struggle.
In some ways it seems really crazy to think that remembering the cross of Jesus Christ, an instrument of torture, pain and death, could ever become our focus during this time when we are already struggling. Why do we bring this cross out and focus on the crucifixion of our Lord? I will share 2 reasons that come to mind.
First, we fall down before the cross in order to remind ourselves that no matter how we struggle or fail, our ultimate victory is not in our ability to keep the fast or the disciplines of prayer. Our ultimate victory is the crucified Lord who died upon the cross. My sins are quite insignificant when they are compared to the mercy and the love of God. He did not die for us because we deserved it. He did not die for us because we were holy or loved God. He died for us because we didn’t and couldn’t without Him. As St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Through all our shortcomings and our struggles we can find comfort. Our comfort and our faith is not in ourselves or our abilities. Our peace is not found from within. Our peace is found from looking to the one who has saved us through His sacrifice on the cross.
Second, we take this time to contemplate the Cross of Jesus Christ as a way to encourage us as we carry our various crosses through Lent. In our gospel today, the Lord Jesus says “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Those are tough words for us today. We live in relative comfort. Our pantries and our bellies are full. So it is really difficult for us to understand what it means to deny ourselves of anything. So we fast and we pray in order to allow ourselves to be molded by God. He uses these tools to shape and form us so that we will find ways to deny ourselves.
We deny our temptations. We deny our own personal will. We deny our definition of “life” in order to accept Christ as our life. We deny our own opinions about what is right and what is wrong. We deny our ideas of identity, to take on His identity for us. I don’t care about who I am, I care about who I am in Christ. We deny what society tells us is normal behavior, and we allow God to define what is normal and sane and good. We deny all of these things in order to accept truth, holiness and salvation from Jesus Christ.
Focusing on the Cross is a gift because God is allowing us to understand that we are sharing in the sufferings of His Son. Have you ever thought of suffering as a privilege? It’s true! Listen to the words of the apostle Peter “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed” (1 Peter 3:14). Instead of complaining I can take a few moments of my day to say “Thank you Lord for allowing me to share in your sufferings, even in this very small way.” When we begin to get used to suffering for the Lord, He then gives us an even greater gift. He allows us to share in more than His sufferings. He allows us to share in His resurrection!
Lent is a short version of our whole spiritual life. It’s a time for us to learn how to die to ourselves and live to Christ. It is a time to run toward the suffering of the cross as Our Lord Jesus Christ did. If we’re afraid of this suffering we betray Christ like Peter did three times. He wanted to save his life and so he did not take up his cross and this almost led him to lose his soul. However, if we want to become like the Lord we have to run to the cross with courage because we understand that God is with us when we suffer. Nothing can be more comforting than that. We understand that only the cross brings salvation. We understand that without our crosses we can have no resurrection.
May God give you courage and strength as you carry your crosses, and may He lead you to the glory of the empty tomb. AMEN.