Wednesday, March 09, 2011
Ash Wednesday: Where Is Your Cross Worn?
Click on any image above to view it in larger format or click on the arrow below to view Pastor Sue's sermon and Imposition of the Ashes.
Ash Wednesday: 03-09-11
Where Is Your Cross Worn?
It's a fair question, but not one that we often ask ourselves: Where do we wear our crosses?
On our necks, hanging by a golden chain? In our pockets, mingling and jingling with our silver coins? On our foreheads, as do we all on this Ash Wednesday evening?
Or, somewhere inside, perhaps in our hearts?
Pastor Sue Gross began her Lenten devotional with a story she heard in seminary. It was the tale of a young child who had been consecrated by a pastor who formed the cross on the baby's forehead, using oil. But the parents didn't think to remove the oil until the baby was home, after sufficient time in the sunlight for the image of a cross to have been "basted," temporarily, on the youngster's forehead.
It could have been an occasion for temporary embarrassment, temporary laughter or any number of temporary emotions, but the lasting thought was that this incident in the child's life might very well become the foundation for the rest of his life.
We can carry the cross in our hearts, declared Pastor Sue, referring to a portion of today's Scripture (Joel 2:12-13):
"Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning: rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for He is gracious and merciful."
"It's harder to rend our hearts than to rend out clothes," added the Pastor. "It's easier to wear a cross around our neck than to carry the actual burden of an actual cross."
The Pastor's point here is that it's easier for us to wear our piety outwardly (such as with a cross necklace) than to wear our piety inwardly, in our hearts. In other words, it's easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. Easier to tell than to show.
Jesus told us not to pray as the hypocrites do: That is, for show! And, certainly, on this Ash Wednesday evening, it's not a night to practice any kind of false religion.
Rather, Pastor Sue said it's a time over the next 40 days to focus on the cross, and its impact on our individual lives.
She mentioned the movie, The Last Emperor, which tells the story of the last emperor of China, who had a stand-in to take his punishment when he did something wrong. In a sense, that's what Jesus did for all of us by His sacrifice on the cross. He took the punishment for our sins, making it possible for us to have Eternal Life by believing on Him. This, emphasized Pastor Sue, is the Gospel Story, it's the Good News.
Yet, some modern churches are being built without any crosses to be found anywhere: Not inside the sanctuaries and not outside on the church grounds. One church spokesman explained it like this: The cross can be viewed as a sign of weakness or failure.
The cross does have to be explained, declared Pastor Sue, a situation which has always been the case, even in the days of the early church. But, to True Believers, the most precious symbol of our faith is the cross. Among other things, it's a reminder that God is always with us, even in the toughest times.
The Empty Tomb, said Pastor Sue, was God's last victorious word on our lives. It's God's dream, not ours. It's God's ambition, not ours.
By the wounds, said the prophet, we are healed!
Pastor Sue concluded with an anecdote about a golfer named Doug Ford, who won the Masters Golf Tournament in 1957, a feat which earned him a lifetime privilege of playing (without having to make the cut) in all future Masters Tournaments. All because he won it once, long ago!
And, because Jesus went to the cross--for us--all those many centuries ago, we also have a lifetime privilege, an Eternal Lifetime privilege, that no one can take away.