Jesus Loving His Broken Church
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
September 11, 2022
The official name, in some circles, for today’s feast:
The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Its sounds very, well, exalted, removed, perhaps vague,
to disappear from your mental landscape a few bites into brunch.
Let’s be honest!
This feast has its origin in Jerusalem
and is connected with the finding of what is believed to be the True Cross
by the mother of Emperor Constantine, Saint Helena, in 320.
For our celebration, we try to see with eyes of faith.
We go from the many symbols,
to an acknowledgment of the exteriorly terrifying event of the Crucifixion
(which we obviously did not witness!)
to Jesus pouring forth His love,
in an incredible, incredibly humbling gift of Himself.
This love, divine love, is eternal and, therefore, is still poured forth.
Herein lies the mystery of the Cross.
From symbol to event to mystery.
I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan friar who died in Auschwitz,
offering his life in the stead of a married man with children, says
The Cross is the school of love.
Saint Augustine, Bishop in Northern Africa, died in 430,
reads divine love in the event as related through Scripture and Tradition:
He bows His head, as if to kiss you.
His heart is made bare, open, as it were, in love to you.
His arms are extended that He may embrace you.
The Cross is the unexpected vehicle for God drawing all people to Himself,
for divine love poured forth.
The Cross is unexpected because it is at the intersection
of betrayal, hatred, sadness, exhaustion and rejection that Jesus loves us.
Who does this?!?
The Cross is so unexpected that, as Saint Paul tells us, it is
a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (I Corinthians 1:23).
Because divine love poured forth, however, the Cross can change
our sufferings into expressions of love for God and mercy for our neighbor.
I, when lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
We gather not simply to remember or “find ourselves in God’s story”
but to experience.
We always come to church to experience.
We gather as Christ’s disciples
to say “yes” to this attraction that is God’s initiative,
to experience the divine love still poured forth.
This love is why there is still a Christian Church, after all these years.
She is not exactly unified, but She is still here!
We Christians even have sometimes done our best to terminate Her:
sectarianism, indifference to grace and one another, scandals…
Divine love shall not be nullified, however,
by our inability to live up to life abundant in Christ.
It is not always easy to believe and, truth be told,
the temptation to jump ship can be strong at times.
We do often pine for a perfect Church, for “spiritual not religious”.
Queen Elizabeth II said on Christmas in 2011, at age 85:
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness,
history teaches us that we need saving from ourselves ...
God sent into the world a unique person,
neither a philosopher nor a general ...
but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Let us put our trust in Christ Crucified, our Saviour Who forgives,
Who is not discouraged by our messes, Who keeps showing up despite us,
Who says that, where two or more are gathered, who can get things wrong,
are reticent to get involved, who even triangulate or gossip about each other,
He is there.
If we wish to be together, as called, as joined by divine love,
the “religious” and its messiness are inevitable.
The “spiritual”, the perfect Church, is present, deep inside us,
where Christ freely dwells.
Against the Church, as Jesus promises, “the gates of hell shall not prevail.”
Jesus is here with a power not our own, the power of His Cross,
the power of reconciliation for people who keep others at a distance
because of language, political affiliation, skin color, disability, history,
people who thus do not deserve such presence and power.
Jesus is here abidingly in the bread and wine, the Eucharist,
here in the stranger sitting 10 feet behind you,
here, loving His broken Church into everlasting life.
And, we rejoice.
Fall into Love’s Embrace
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2022
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself,
cannot be my disciple.
Am I to conclude that when I was 12-years-old
and I told my parents that I hated them,
it was actually one of my better moments,
I was unknowingly at the threshold of truer Christian discipleship?
Hate — such an ugly word, because such an ugly attitude of heart.
Once again, what is Jesus saying?!?
No more Mr. Nice Guy?
Is this simply a rare glimpse of Jesus’ darker side?
If so, at this point, there may be a few other religions looking rather attractive!
How does one reconcile such hate with I John 4:8: “God is love”?
And with subsequent Christian insights, based on this revelation,
like that of Brother Roger Schutte, who died in 2005,
founder of the beautiful ecumenical monastic Community of Taizé, France
who says, Our hope is in God,
a God who simply loves and can do nothing else,
a God who never stops seeking us.
Let’s take a closer look, always leaning on such theological patrimony.
The discourse does open and close with strong, very unsettling statements.
These statements, in turn,
frame two examples that Jesus gives of “prudential planning”
What is discipleship?
There are two obvious aspects to discipleship:
In other words, true discipleship is always loving.
Jesus says in John’s gospel 15:15,
I no longer call you servants; I call you friends,
for I have told you everything I have heard from the Father.
Paraphrased: “I give you all that is in my heart”.
With these two parables about prudence,
i.e. about discerning right means to a specific end,
Jesus invites us to discern right means to the end that is loving discipleship.
And so, I can ask myself:
what human means do I have at my disposal
to live in communion with Christ and follow him?
My network? My bank account? My degree? My cleverness? My stamina?
My social media savvy? My well-tuned public persona? My decent track record?
How about my sense of right and wrong or my creative intuitions?
Strictly speaking, I am at a loss regarding how
to live in communion with Christ and follow him.
Jesus here is, really, provoking, by means of extreme statements,
the discovery that we cannot be disciples of our own means and doing.
Jesus clearly articulates this earlier in the same John 15, verse 5:
Apart from me you can do nothing.
Jesus, of course, is not talking about the many human things that we can do—like make French toast, spend money, raise kids, or even manage a business.
Jesus is talking about relationship and discipleship with Him.
Jesus makes of us disciples.
As God says through the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55:9,
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways.
Which surely informs Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian
killed in the Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945:
Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend;
it must transcend all comprehension.
Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension.
In this gospel, Jesus reveals the absoluteness of His person and presence
and reveals the only way to enter into relationship with Him
and thus to be a true disciple:
who died from tuberculosis at age 24 in 1897, says,
Love consumes us only in the measure of our self-surrender.
This is a question not of will-power but of willingness.
And this, as suggested, is a gift.
Jesus touches us from start to finish, on the front end and the back end.
In allowing Christ free reign, we are drawn into the mystery of the Cross, “God so loving the world” (John 3:16).
This is the deeper reality of discipleship.
Christian discipleship is not behavioral imitation of Jesus from afar.
Jesus says—with no warm and fuzzy in sight!--
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”, “Carry the cross” of course, means
to accept daily hardship as part of our journey in Christ’s footsteps.
But, more deeply, Jesus is referring to His Cross
(which we will celebrate in a special way next Sunday, the feast of…),
the mystery of Him pouring Himself forth in love, loving through death.
To “carry the cross” is willingly to be drawn into this mystery.
This will imply accepting hardship.
But, more importantly, it means letting Jesus visit and love me in my hardship
and then lead me to love there where I never thought it possible.
Let us willingly yield and fall into Love’s embrace...