Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ
A few moments ago, we found ourselves once again standing and bowing down at the foot of the cross. We venerated the instrument of our salvation adorned with flowers, and were reminded once again what we talked about last week…that we have a God who has done so much for us…because He loves us beyond human comprehension.
It is for that love that we bow down before the cross. There is no more appropriate position for us to be in day after day, than to fall down before our Lord to worship, and give thanks to a God…who loves.
That word “Love” always seems to come up in the Gospels around this time of the cross. Today, our Lord tells us that the greatest commandment that we are given in this life is to return that same love that we receive back to God:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your mind.”
This past week, for those who have ever been to a service for the exaltation of the cross, there is a part of the service during matins where the Cross is brought out to the center of the Church. A litany is then said, asking prayers for our Churches and all of the people, while the choir sings Lord have mercy 500 times!
Every time I have seen that service done, I am usually thinking what most others are thinking in the Church: ”this is a lot of Lord have mercies!” But when you dig deeper into the meaning behind all of this…the reality of the moment is quite powerful.
In English…saying “Lord have mercy” has a bit of a strange meaning to our ears. It sounds more like “Have mercy on us from punishment…” or “have mercy on our weakness.” In reality though, that word mercy, in Greek “Eleos”, and that entire sentence “Kyire Eleison”, means “an overflowing of Goodness, of spiritual riches, and of salvation.” So when we say Lord have mercy, we are saying: “ you who are a merciful and loving God, send down upon us your goodness and spiritual richness” for whatever petitions we are praying for.
We ask that of God 500 times during that service…because it was from the Cross that we received the ultimate gift of love and of mercy (eleos) that we could ever ask for.
This morning, Dearest Brothers and Sisters in Christ, as a spiritual exercise for all of us…let us take a moment and imagine a world without that mercy. Let us try to imagine what life would be like with absolutely no hope for the future…no rock to stand on in difficult times…and no reprieve from the incredible burden which our sins place upon us.
What would life be like…without the cross?
I spent some time this week trying to imagine what that life would be like, and the closest situation I could think of was from the movie “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks. For those who have not seen it, Tom was a executive for Fed Ex, and in some urgent business he leaves his fiancé for a business trip on Thanksgiving which took him halfway across the world. The plane he was on ends up going through a storm and crashing in the middle of the pacific. He somehow survived the crash and ended up on an island, where he learned to survive by fishing, making shelter, and learning how to start a fire.
At about the midpoint of the film, Tom came to the realization that everyone thought he was dead and no rescue would be coming for him. So he spent a lot of time in a cave, living with regrets about leaving his fiancé behind. Even after realizing that he could survive on the island, he tried hard to escape on a makeshift raft, but was denied by the high waves and eventually was pushed back to the island.
With all hope being lost, Tom eventually went to the top of a high mountain several times…thinking it would be better to put an end to his miserable existence.
This existence,brothers and sisters in Christ, is what the life would be like without the Cross. Death would enslave us, and we would have no power to stop the devil whatsoever. Our sins would be unatoned for, and we would become sick, as the diseases of our body and soul went unhealed. Eventually, our conscious would destroy us, as we contemplated the horrible things we had done in our lives
But perhaps the worst thing of all, like Tom Hanks did in that story…we would lose the one thing that makes us want to continue living. We would lose hope!
At the end of the movie, Tom eventually does get off of the island, because he found a package that washed up on shore which gave him something to live for. He wanted to do what he was originally sent out to do, and at all costs, he convinced himself that he would eventually deliver that package.
The last sentence in the film was him delivering the package to the owner saying: “This package saved my life”!
That is exactly what the cross does for us dearest brothers and sisters in Christ…it saves our lives!
It is not hard for us to imagine a life without the cross, because all we need to do is turn on our television set and open our eyes to the fallen world, who has forgotten what the cross is! As God and the knowledge of the power of the cross is taken out of our government, out of our schools, out of our places of business, and out of our homes…so many of our brothers and sisters have lost hope in their existence.
Depression rates have skyrocketed in this country, and have more than doubled in the past 2 decades, with the World Health Organization recently calling it a “World Wide Epidemic”. This is a by product, dearest brothers and sisters, in (to quote the psalms) “putting our trust (and our hope) in “princes…in sons of men….in whom there is no salvation...”
But when we place our trust on the cross…when we contemplate what it means for our lives….the purpose it serves...the reminders it gives us…we gain not only hope, but VICTORY. And that is the only thing that can help us fight off the attacks of a truly powerless devil, as he tries to knock us off of the path to eternal life with our creator.
May our Lord continue to implant the hope of the cross in our hearts! Amen Amen Amen!
We are all called to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12), realizing that the stakes are high but the reward is eternal. We must wake up each morning prepared to go out into God’s fields and vineyard, working hard for the Master. We are then expected to return to God what is rightfully His: a harvest of faith, love and obedience that is the result of our labor in this world. That, simply put, is our work as Christians.
While talking about the phrase "For God So Loved the World That He Gave His Only Begotten Son...", Fr. Gabriel describes how we cannot play the "He Loves Me...He Loves Me Not" game with God...despite all of the recent tragedies that our country has faced.
Fr. Gabriel explains how to follow the example of the Theotokos...our Mother...in finding peace in the midst of hardship.