Thursday, September 14, 2006

Holy Cross Day

A Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Cross
Wednesday, September 13 and Thursday, September 14, 2006

Philippians 2:5-11, John 12:31

May only God’s word be spoken.
May only God’s word be heard and believed.

Last Monday at the ecumenical September 11 memorial service at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Easton, we heard Major Carol Schoch of the Salvation Army speak about he “saw God at Ground Zero.” Most of the talk was simply him telling the story of what he witnesses as the Salvation Army’s Incident Commander during two months of that operation starting that terrible day.

One story stands out.

You may remember that after the Twin Towers collapsed, the debris both filled the underground levels about four stories deep and was piled on top of that six to eight stories high. And that inside that rubble was an intense fire.

The fire and rescue personnel started clearing debris as soon as they could; at first, with no equipment except for their hands. These were people who tried to move with their bare hands steel I-beams when one end of these were down in the fire. When the equipment came, they began to clear more rubble more quickly in an operation that moved very quickly from one of rescue to one of recovery.

Soon the cranes and power shovels uncovered two i-beams twisted together and then welded together by the very inferno into the shape of the cross. Quickly, the people working in the zone (as the Major called it) adopted this cross as their symbol. It was planted on top of the rubble at first, and then moved to a prominent place overlooking the recovery and removal operations.

People would stop at look at this cross, maybe saying a prayer or crossing themselves before going about or returning to their work. Someone put lights on it so that they could look up and see it while they worked down below.

One day, someone of the many workers giving their time their was at the cross and began to sing. Soon the song spread and, according to Major Schoch, soon the voices carried throughout the zone these words:

In the cross of Christ I glory

Standing o’er the wrecks of time…

Whether at ground zero or on Golgotha or at the top of this church overlooking this neighborhood, there is the cross standing over what we have built, what we have destroyed. The cross stands over our hopes both fulfilled and dashed away. The cross stands over the best and the absolute worst humanity can do.

It is strange that Christians should take to themselves the symbol of the most brutal and humiliating forms of execution the Roman Empire could dream up and turn into a symbol of victory and hope. But this what God did in Christ Jesus.

Jesus met and confronted the worst that humanity could be and do, and to bring that home to God, to defeat the power of death that haunts and plagues humanity, he gave himself up to death. He allowed himself to be wrecked by time so that God could redeem all time.

You know the stereotype: those fire, police and construction workers are probably not the most conventionally religious people on the block. I’ve worked around enough emergency services types to know that they can be brutally honest and crude, very practical in their joking, with other humor that is both dark and ribald. And yet, they give of themselves, sometimes down to their deepest core to rescue, to keep safe, to build. They do what God did at the beginning of creation and still do: they attempt to bring order out of chaos, and healing and hope where that has been death and injury. It was from this kind of people that Jesus called some of his closest disciples. And this cross at ground zero was theirs.

For some it may have been a specifically Christian symbol, and other something more or less. But for all, it was a sign of hope; a reminder that what they did as seemingly hopeless and impossible as it seemed, was important. This cross reminded them of the dignity of the people they sought to bring home and of the dignity of their work. This cross reminded them that they were never, ever alone.

And that is what we celebrate today: that in the cross we see life where life has no business being; hope where all hope had been taken away; and love towards those who seem to be the most unloved and the most forgotten.

The cross stands over the wreck and ruin of the human heart—in each of us and in all of us together—and reminds that none of that ruin, none of those barriers can keep us from the loving embrace of God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

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