Sermon: Holy Cross

Preaching Cross at Ruthwell Scotland

The Rev. Nicky Gumbel, the creator of the Alpha Course, discusses how so many Christians wear crosses. Still, he asks a rather interesting question: what if Jesus had been executed during the French Revolution? Would we all wear small guillotines around our necks? Or we could ask: what if he were executed in the United States? Would we all be wearing reproductions of an electric chair? The point is that the cross was a means of execution, not glory, but with all things, God took that means of execution and redeemed it for his purposes, and where there was once shame and horror, there is now glory and love. So, we take this very special day, the Feast of the Holy Cross, and celebrate this great work of our God.

I’ve told you before about the preaching cross discovered in Ruthwell, Scotland, but it is such testimony to the cross of Christ that I’d like to share it with you again.

The cross in Ruthwell is eighteen feet tall and made of stone.  It marks the place where an itinerant priest or monk would come to proclaim the word of God.  Carved into this particular cross are scenes from the Bible, decorative vine work, and eighteen verses of an old English poem.

For centuries it was thought that the eighteen verses comprised the entire poem, but in 1822 a 10th-century book was found that contained the complete text.  The poem is titled “The Dream of the Rood.”

In the poem, an unknown poet dreams of encountering a beautiful tree.  It is the “rood” or cross on which Jesus was crucified.  The cross is gloriously decorated with gold and gems, but the poet can still see ancient wounds inflicted upon it.  The rood tells the poet how it had been forced to be the instrument of Christ’s death, describing how it, too, experienced the nails and thrusts of the spear. 

The rood explains that the cross was once an instrument of torture and death but is now the dazzling sign of humanity’s redemption. Finally, the rood charges the poet to tell his vision to everyone so that all might be redeemed of sin.

Then the young hero – God Almighty – stripped himself.
Firm and unflinching he mounted the high cross.
brave in the sight of many, for he intended to redeem humanity.
I trembled when the young hero clasped me,
but dared not bow down to the earth
No – I would not fall to the ground; I knew full well I must stand firm.
As I, the cross, was raised up – I bore aloft the mighty king – the Lord of Heaven – I dared not stoop.
They pierced me with dark nails – the wounds can still be seen in me – gaping gashes of malice.
I dared do nothing to seal them up, for they mocked us both together.
I was drenched with the blood shed from the man’s side after he had sent out his spirit.
I endured many hard trials on the hill.
I saw the God of hosts violently stretched out.
Darkness with its clouds had covered the Lord’s corpse, the fair radiance,
a shadow moved in, dark beneath the heavens.
All creation wept – all lamented the King’s death.
Christ was on the cross!

Christ and the cross endured the crucifixion, and you and I must endure our own spiritual crucifixion so that, as St. Paul, “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Galatians 6:5-7)

Submit yourself to Christ; do not be afraid to take up the cross he offers and follow him.

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