“God’s love Sign”
Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Cross
By Archbishop Cyril Salim Bustros
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent: Sunday of the Holy Cross
The third Sunday of Lent is dedicated to the adoration of the Holy Cross. During the Liturgy the Cross is carried from the altar on a tray of flowers and placed in the midst of the congregation that we may pay homage to the symbol of our salvation. When the priest bows down before the Cross today, he bows not to wood or metal but to Christ and His great love, of which the Cross is but a symbol. The beautiful flowers surrounding the Cross signify the fragrance, sweetness and beauty that it has added to life.
God’s Forgiveness Sign
What meaning can the cross have in our daily lives? The first meaning is God’s forgiveness. When we are burdened and cast down by an overwhelming sense of guilt, feeling that we can never be forgiven, that we can never again look God or men in the face, the Cross brings us the great plus of God’s forgiveness. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34), that was the most precious prayer ever addressed to God by a man in favor of his murderers; and it was Jesus’ prayer on the Cross. And St Paul writes: “God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). And since Jesus Christ is the Word of God, his prayer was the expression of God’s forgiveness to all the sinners throughout history. In this prayer we today hear Jesus Christ forgiving us. For if the most difficult person to forgive is oneself, then the fact that God has forgiven and accepted us, will help us forgive ourselves and forgive “all those who trespass against us”, as we say in the Lord’s prayer.
The second meaning of the Cross is the newness of life
As Christian we are signed since our Baptism by the sign of the Cross. By Baptism we became a new creature. As St. Paul put it: “If any one is in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). He who is “in Christ’ has a new center for life; and Christ himself gets a new, unique expression in the world through a life that has never been here before and will never be here again. Being in Christ equals a new life, new meaning, new goals, new values, a totally new person. Jesus wanted to draw all the human beings to himself. And He drew them by his Cross. That is what He meant when He said: “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32). Jesus came to give us a new life, and give it us abundantly. This abundance of life is the abundance of love. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13)
The Cross is a pledge that God will go to the uttermost for us; He who washed his disciples’ feet will never wash His hands of us or leave us to perish. The Cross speaks, and says: this is how much God loves and cares. It speaks of the limitless love of God which will not cease to love even when crucified. On the Cross Jesus implemented His commandment: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, in order to be sons of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike” (Mt. 5:44-45).
Erase the Cross and the heart of the universe remains cold and closed. But with the Cross we can sing with St. Paul: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?… No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:35-39).
The Cross is never seen in the Christian faith apart from the Resurrection. Because love is stronger than death, the reward of love is Resurrection, is eternal life, as St. John wrote in his first epistle: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” (1 Jn. 3:14). And that is our victory as St. John said in the same epistle: “Any one who was born from God has already overcome the world; this is the victory over the world: our faith” (1 Jn 5:4).
Lord Jesus Christ, as we come to revere your Cross today,
we revere not wood or metal,
but the symbol of the greatest victory mankind has ever known:
your victory over sin and death,
a victory in which we all share through Baptism and faith,
a victory which has changed hatred into love and murder into forgiveness.
Be always with us to help us to be ourselves
the sign of your Cross in the world of today:
to spread light where there is darkness,
love where there is hate,
hope where there is despair,
to give a cup of cold water, where there is thirst,
and a piece of bread where there is hunger,
and above all to give to everyone the bread of life. Amen.