Lent in the Ordinary: Cross

The Sunday Sermon:  February 28, 2021 – Second Sunday in Lent

Scripture:  Mark 15:21

Lent in the Ordinary:  Cross

Do we have the eyes to see God’s near presence?  Do we have the ears to hear the word of the Lord spoken in and through the ordinary?  Will we open ourselves to the holy not only in heaven but also on earth and right in front of us?  Can everyday objects remind us to stay awake and pay attention?

Ten of the forty days of Lent have passed already.  These days are moving no more mysteriously than all the days since mid-March last year, and yet perhaps we may feel a bit more urgency that fully one-quarter of the contemplative, reflective, and introspective days we are given during our Lenten journey as Christians are already behind us. 

I find myself wanting to make better use of the “day in day out” existence that this virus has forced us into during this season.  Lent seems tailormade for social distancing and separation and even quarantine. I miss our Sunday’s together, of course, “feast days” as they are, but I’m trying to really step into, down into, Lent this year with all that continues.  This all began during this season in 2020.  We “feel” the end coming and a new beginning preparing itself.  I want to be … different … better prepared … more excited when we are given the chance to begin again gathering as we always have and yet like we’ve never done before.  I hope you do, too.

I sense Lent as a special opportunity this year.  Thirty days left.  Let’s not waste them.  Pray with me …

This year for this season we are using the devotional book Lent in Plain Sight to better prepare and get more excited about who we are now and who we are becoming.  We’ll are expanding our understanding of “GOD”, itself – “God” Godself, to personalize the reality that shapes our lives.  But, we’re not doing it by looking “up” or “beyond.”  We’re doing it by looking at what’s right in front of us, what’s all around us.  The author of our book, Jill Duffield, explains that “God works through (and so, is found in) the ordinary.  Ordinary people, everyday objects, things we bump up against moment by moment.

Last Sunday we began a week discovering GOD in ordinary bread – literal bread and “bread” understood as that which is intended to sustain us in the lives we’ve created for ourselves and for others.  What does that “bread” consist of?  Bread was our “lent in plain sight” last week.  I hope you took some time to consider it, to see it, to nourish yourself with it, to thank those who prepared it for you, and to bake it for others in deeper ways.

This week we discover GOD in another “ordinary” object:  A cross.  Wait, what?  A cross?!

A cross … Jill Duffield chose the third of her ten ordinary objects to be a cross.  I was taken a bit aback this week as I read and prepared to share this through the week’s sermon and to present it to you for your week’s contemplation.  When I first think of the “cross”, I find it anything but ordinary.  I mean, I walk by bread, both literal and figurative bread, everyday and don’t notice it.  But I rarely see a cross without wondering “who’s wearing it,” “what’s inside the building that’s displaying,” or “why is it being used in this way?”  That’s because I’m a Christian, of course, but I’ll bet many non-Christians do the same thing.  But even before Christianity, the cross was anything but ordinary.  It was a symbol of Roman intimidation and domination, the electric chair of the 20th century.  How am I, how are we, to consider a cross “ordinary?” 

But then, how many of us really go much deeper than the questions I just asked when we wear, otherwise display, or encounter a cross?  I’ll bet there is a cross in your line of sight right now.  You may have to turn around from your computer or screen, but I’ll be you can see one right now.  Or, if you can’t there’s most likely one in the next room.  How often do you pass it, perhaps giving it that first thought, but not a second one.  It’s become ordinary in its simple, constant presence.  Hanging empty, almost always.  Why is it really there?  What does it really mean for you?

Imagine now … a cross.  What do you see … in your mind’s eye?  Is it one on your wall, or around your neck?  Is it from your past, or in a place you see regularly now?  Picture it.

My first image is of the cross that we place in our sanctuary during the Lenten season every year.  It stands to the left of our pulpit in the place that usually displays the baptismal font, draped in a purple sash and topped with a crown of thorns.  It’s simple two-by-four wooden cross whose vertical board, called the “stipes,” is almost twice as long as its horizontal one, the “patibulum” (puh-TIB-u-lum).  A cross I took home my first year as Pastor here to re-paint and one that I haul out of storage every year as Lent begins to set it in its place once again.  It’s a cross that’s empty, except for the drape and the crown.  It’s not a crucifix, it doesn’t include the body of Jesus.  We protestants look to the cross, not the crucifix to spur us onward. 

Still … during this season, our cross is draped and crowned.  There is an attention we’re supposed to “pay” during Lent.  You may have noticed the last image in the video that is shown during the sung response to the assurance of pardon we share during the weeks of Lent.  As What Wondrous Love is This comes to a close, there is an image, a picture, of the cross with Jesus on it.  That image depicts what pretty immediately follows our  scripture reading this morning. 

From the fifteenth chapter of Mark we read one verse this morning,  a verse well into the passion of Jesus.  After his last meal with the disciples, after his prayers in the garden, after the betrayal, his arrest, the denials, the trial, the flogging and the mocking:

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross;  it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

No one knows for sure who this Simon is.  He is “compelled” to carry Jesus’ cross in three of the four gospel accounts, but there is no clear understanding of who he, or his sons Alexander and Rufus, are or why Simon is where he is in these moments.  

Lent is a time that we are given a chance to figure out who we are and why we are, where we are; to consider how we are “compelled” to walk in the Way of Christ.  Lent is a time when we must consider the cost of our discipleship and to contemplate a world without the Way of Christ.  A life in which the powers and principalities of this world do decide our fate; where death does have the last word; and where sacrificial love is scorned, beaten, and … well, crucified on a cross.  (I shuddered as I typed those words.  I shudder now as I read them.)

Perhaps Simon of Cyrene is where he is to embody the power of GOD to use any one of us and all of us to take up the cross ourselves in spite of our ignorance, fear, or reluctance.  For if we don’t … Well, I shudder again.

Our cross, we know, will lose even the symbolic drape and crown we put on it in a few weeks time, becoming once again the symbol we have come to be comforted by.  But maybe this year, having spent this time considering it’s “extra-ordinariness” we will realize its power in the everyday.

The cross hangs on our necks and on our walls.  It is affixed to the sides of our buildings and the tops of our steeples.  It stands on our mantles and in our bookshelves … empty and ordinary, a symbol of the triumph of Life over death, because we are loved by an extraordinary Love.  One that could change the world if we could only understand it.  Maybe this year.  Let us pray …

God of the cross, you work through us and often in spite of us.  As we fail to follow your Way when it challenges our comfort, use us anyway to embody the Love that will save the world.  Abide with us, Help of the helpless.  Amen.

And amen.

Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor

Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / February 28, 2021