Sunday Message (Romanian Orthodox): 12 September 2021

Sunday before the Elevation of the Holy Cross Pentecost

12 September 2021

by Doru Costache

The readings the lectionary prescribes for this Sunday are as follows:

Galatians 6:11–18; John 3:13–17

Here is a summary of the two readings, as the beginning of reflection:

Galatians 6:11–18 Saint Paul mentions the Judaic formalism of some members who insist that all male Christians be circumcised according to Mosaic law. The apostle points out that external signs have no meaning if they are empty of content; Jewish Christians boast about circumcision but do not obey the law. What matters is a person’s inner disposition to live according to the example of the crucified Lord. Such people are the new creation.
John 3:13–17 The Son of Man ascends to heaven from where he came down for us. He ascends in utmost humility, fulfilling the type of the Old Testament bronze serpent Moses lifted up on a pole for the healing of bitten Israelites. The Son of Man ascends the cross and through it heals all, so that people might have life eternal through him. Thus, God’s love for us becomes manifest, for God did not send his Son to judge the world, but to give eternal life to all who believe in him.

The message of this Sunday emerges at the crossing of the two readings. Before grasping the message, a brief reflection on the readings is in order, by which we explore their common denominators:

Wisdom Salvation is to inherit life eternal (Luke 18:18,26,29–30). Eternal life, in turn, is not gained only in the afterlife. We attain it in the here and now, through divine participation (2 Peter 1:4). To be saved is to be loved by God and to participate in God’s life. Christ gave us access to this life by descending among us (see John 1:14,16) and by embracing the cross for our healing (Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24). The cross is reconciliation (Colossians 1:19–20), a sign of love divine (John 3:16), not punishment. The cruciform revelation of divine love is what changes the lives of those who believe. But they should internalise the sign and transform God’s sacrificial and saving love into the norm of their lives. They should live selflessly and compassionately. Alas, believers today, like the Jewish Christians of old who practised circumcision for lack of deep conviction, still think that external signs make them Christians. They wear external signs, badges, and bumper stickers, but they do not change their lives, do not seek holiness, and do not practise compassion. In many ways, modern Christians are just another Jewish sect which does not know that what ultimately matters is the new creation, not external signs. In the words of the fourth-century author known as Saint Macarius the Great, “although the (Christian) crowds, similar to the people of the world, (believe that) the difference and distinction refers to forms and signs, the strange (characteristic) of (true) Christians does not consist in outward forms and signs” (Spiritual Homilies 5.4). In order to be the new creation, Christians must undertake personal transformation through internalising the cross. The new creation is born when believers learn from the Lord to descend from their pedestal of glory, crucifying their own mind and heart out of love for everyone, indeed for the world, so that they may serve all as the Lord did. That is how Saint Paul honoured the cross of Christ, by looking at people and at the world through the lens of the cross, through the remaking of his own life (Galatians 6:14). We too must revere the cross—or rather the One who on the cross revealed to us the mystery of salvation—by becoming the new creation.

It is in this light that we can pinpoint the message of this Sunday, which we can further use for personal and ecclesial meditation:

Message To revere the cross truly is to walk in the footsteps of the crucified Lord, by adhering to the way of thinking and living of Christ himself.

This material is excerpted from Doru Costache, Reading Scripture in the Orthodox Church: The Festal Cycle (Sydney: AIOCS Press, 2019) 77–78. The book is available in print and in digital formats.

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