Veneration of the Cross Sunday 2009
When I woke up on Friday morning, I looked out the window and became confused. The calendar said it was the first day of spring, the weatherman confirmed it, but the view outside my window told a completely different tale. In fact, at the very moment our earth’s calendar turned the page to spring, we had a snow squall that had such large snowflakes that my car was practically covered at each traffic light I stopped at on the way to work. Indeed, spring began, albeit reluctantly, but the proof of its arrival is already evident in the daffodils that have begun to poke through the mulch outside, and by the budding of the willows and the greening of the grass. As I contemplated these things, it occurred to me that the change of weather and the change of season is a new beginning in the earth’s cycle. Spring is a new beginning; the word Lent means spring. Spring begins a new baseball season, spring begins a new fashion season, spring begins a new barbecue season, but more importantly, for faithful Orthodox believers, spring is the chance for a new spiritual beginning with the season of Great Lent. In fact, today is a milestone day in our Blessed Orthodox Church, in that we are at the half way point of the Great Fast. The early church fathers were wise to break up the Great Fast by placing the veneration of the cross into the Lenten cycle, because it is at this point during the Great Fast when we are tempted to retreat to the usual patterns in our lives. It is at this point that we become frustrated in the resolutions we have made for ourselves, and can become disillusioned with the whole concept of sacrificing our earthly wants and desires for the sake of our Lord. The early church fathers knew, in our own weak, human nature, we could easily succumb to the devil’s persistence in teasing and tempting us, and so this half way mark is the time for us to be rejuvenated by this celebration, and look forward to the Resurrection of our Lord by starting again to be a Disciple of Christ.
It was quite clear what our Lord’s standards were when He told His Disciples exactly what it means to be His Disciple: “You must deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.”
My brothers and sisters, this entire season of the Great Fast is about self denial. There are foods we stop eating as a small sacrifice. There are activities we refrain from doing as a means of doing without, and we deny ourselves things we enjoy for the sake our Our Lord’s passion.
We take up our crosses by doing more for others, in sharing burdens, in extending ourselves towards our brothers and sisters who are in need.
We take up our crosses by re prioritizing ourselves and our busy lives, by making more time for God, for more time to pray, for more time to be a part of the services here in church that help us remain on the path towards salvation.
We follow Christ by our presence here today, not just by calling ourselves Orthodox Christians, but by living our lives each and every day, according to the Gospel.
That is what it means to be a Disciple of Christ. Can each and every one of us present today say that we are following our Lord’s prescription completely and thoroughly? Truthfully, I cannot make this claim.
For me, the Great Fast is half over, and yet it feels like it hasn’t even begun yet. I haven’t been able to pray as much as I would like. I haven’t been able to get to as many church services as I would like; my own priorities have been work first. And I know that it can be justified that work is important – it is a work of mercy to bury the dead, and we have had a busy streak at the funeral home. On the other hand, the devil can make us try to justify everything that we aren’t doing but should, or what we should be doing, but aren’t. And that is where that frustration comes in. By the time that Lent is half over, we have nothing to show our Lord of our efforts in sacrificing things for Him.
Well, for those of you, like me, who had good intentions but have come up short, you need not fear. Today we have the ability to begin again, and to renew our own commitment to prayer, fasting, almsgiving, volunteering, whatever it is that you have committed to during this Great Fast.
Let us all re-prioritize ourselves and our actions, and truly give of our time, talent and treasure to keep this a prayerful and meaningful Great Fast. And in that spirit of a new beginning, I stand before you with full humility and say: If I have offended or wronged any of you in any way, I beg your forgiveness during this Great Fast. Amen.