Today, we carried in procession our crosses in order to follow Christ, but we didn’t do this just to perform some religious ritual, we did it to remind ourselves what it means to be a Christian in this world. The procession was indeed a ritual, but the world we live in is real. The ritual ties us to the reality of this world, and in this world, Christians sometimes are called to suffer because they are united to Christ who Himself died on the cross for us. We carry our crosses not only to follow Christ but to remain united to Him, as we are reminded by St. Paul:
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:34-39)
Some imagine, if I’m “good” I will be protected from suffering. I can avoid suffering as long as I am “good.” “Goodness” becomes some kind of charm, an amulet or talisman to ward off evil. Some even imagine and teach that people are suffering because they are not good or not good enough. We end up blaming the poor for their own poverty and the persecuted for their persecution because, the logic goes, if they were good they wouldn’t be in their condition, they wouldn’t be suffering.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was good: he was sinless, holy, perfect, and yet he was crucified on the cross. The powers of this world arrayed themselves against Him. Being “good” does not necessarily protect us from evil, and in fact, as in the case of Jesus, being good is exactly what made evil oppose Him and attempt to destroy Him.
We choose goodness to be with Christ, to remain in Communion with him, not to gain benefit in this world from our relationship with Him. We choose to be with Christ, no matter what is going on around – peace and prosperity or persecution and poverty. As St. Paul says in today’s Epistle: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20) I live with Christ and I die with Christ.
As Christians we should want to be wherever Christ is – no matter what the conditions of the world are where Christ is. The one thing we do not want to lose is union with Him – even if we lose the world or our life, we have lost nothing if we remain in Communion with the incarnate God.
We choose goodness to remain in Communion with Christ, not to gain benefits and rewards in this world, because this world is passing away.
Today we have symbolically carried our crosses – the reality of the symbol is we are every day to take up that cross and follow Christ. We stay with Christ no matter where that cross leads and no matter what happens around us.
Remember that any form of self denial we do, any fasting, abstinence or ascetical practices aren’t done to earn us some “good” points with God. Rather they serve to prepare us for whatever suffering we may ever experience in this world – suffering that is not voluntary but comes upon us because of natural disaster or human choice or because of the evil one. Asceticism is training for the day in which our faith is put to the test.
We also practice such self denial in order to identify with our fellow Christians who are suffering because they are Christian. Christ who is goodness, who is God’s love incarnate, suffered in this world. We are to suffer with all the afflicted Christians of the world as though we are with them, as it says in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured” (Hebrews 13:3).
And, those of us who are now suffering from whatever cause and for whatever reason can take heart. Suffering does not mean God has rejected you – God Himself suffered in this world, in the flesh, as a human. Those who are good should take note and hold on to the goodness – hold on to Jesus Christ – no matter what happens around you. Again, St. Paul says:
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)
We choose to take up the cross in order to follow Christ, to imitate Him. We know when Christ took up His cross that led to Golgotha, the place of the skull, the place of His crucifixion. Christ didn’t enter into glory simply by taking up the cross, but by dying on it.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:3-6)
Today, we chrismated one new member into the Body of Christ. One more person who has agreed to carry the cross, and as we prayed for him this morning, who has agreed even to lovingly die for Christ, if that is where Christ leads him.
When Jesus had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them:
“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-39)
We are those who are not ashamed of Christ or of Christ’s words. We choose to live with Him and in Him and to have Him abide in us. We live in communion with all those who bear the name of Christ.
(sermon notes for 2017-9-17)