The Burden of the Cross

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Olivet Church, Toronto, April 6, 2007

Each year, as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter morning, we must necessarily pause to reflect on the dark side of human nature, the terrible things that had to happen to Jesus, the great battle He had to fight before He could conquer.

Perhaps one of the reasons that we feel sorrow when we read about the crucifixion itself is that we harbour a fear that perhaps, had we been there ourselves, we might have gone along with the rest of the crowd and found ourselves shouting, "crucify Him."

We are also uncomfortable because we recognize something of our own lives in the description of the crucifixion, for each of us has a cross to bear, and the Lord tells us that it is how we bear that cross that determines the quality of our eternal, spiritual life.

We must not be mistaken about the nature of this cross. It is not, as some people think, a particular physical handicap or family tragedy that we get some kind of spiritual "credit" for enduring. The cross that we have to bear is the burden of our own evil, and the difficulty we will have throughout our life fighting against it.

As Jesus struggled through the streets of Jerusalem, it was not the weight of the cross that troubled Him. He had the power to calm a storm, to move mountains, to create a universe. He did not have to have any difficulty at all carrying that little piece of wood. The difficulty that He had, the great battle of temptation that He fought, was to restrain Himself, to prevent Himself from taking the easy, spectacular way out, and to persevere through the task to the eternal, spiritual goals that He had in mind.

The hells wanted Him to throw down the cross, because it would have meant that the needs and passions of the maternal human had won out over the Divine within. His disciples wanted Him to throw down the cross because they had expected Him to use His miraculous powers to lead a military revolution for the past three years and they were terrified that without His protection, now that the Jewish leaders and the Romans were enraged, they would be hunted down and crucified themselves. Even the angels of all the heavens were pleading with Him to change His course, for all they could see, in their finite minds, was His suffering, and in their love, short-sighted though it was, they wanted Him to end His pain.

We cannot imagine the pressure that was on the Lord’s body, mind and spirit, compelling Him to turn away from the course that He had chosen for Himself. But yet He persevered.

In spite of our wish that it was not so, we have evils in our lives. No matter how hard we wish to avoid the subject, no matter how hard we disguise them by using euphemistic names, we all struggle with the Ten Commandments – in our hearts if not in act. Our cross to bear is the need to face our own temptations to evil squarely in the face and to hold fast to what we know and believe to be true.

We don’t need to look too deeply within ourselves to see the evils that lurk there, waiting for the opportunity to express themselves in some secret way. The evils are a burden, it will require a great deal of work to get rid of them – and yet, in a way, the evils within us are our salvation!

Just as the Lord could not have fully glorified His Human and become fully Divine unless and until He had successfully passed through the passion of the cross, we can see that in our own lives all spiritual growth and happiness come through facing and solving our problems!

The cross has become the symbol of the Christian Church because it stands for the final temptation, the ultimate test which the human can undergo; and it has become a sign of affection and reverence to millions of people because they understand that whatever the spiritual mechanism, Jesus Christ went through this terrible temptation for the sake of everyone’s eternal salvation.

The cross needs to be a symbol for everyone who would follow Christ’s teaching and example. It is a symbol of the fact that there are problems and difficulties in the world, difficulties that are the result of the free choices of other human beings, evils that are built into our hereditary nature. But when we think about our situation, and we think about all the evils and difficulties in the world, we must also remember that the Lord Himself has been through all this; He knows what we are going through; He has given us the tools we need to conquer in temptation, to solve the problems we face in the world.

He has given us the Word so that we can have an objective, sure knowledge of what the truth is. He has given us a mind that can know the truth even while the heart loves evil. And finally, He has given us the power of freedom of choice in spiritual things so that the truth in our rational mind can overrule the evil in our heart.

Our celebration of Easter would not be complete without considering these basic facts of our existence. We would be remiss if we did not look to the Lord’s own example and face up to the temptation of evil in our own lives, and come to the Lord’s Supper to bind our commitment to living according to His truth. Then having carried our cross, having done the work of self-examination and repentance, we can look forward to the joy of Easter morning, the heavenly state that comes when evil is conquered and good has taken its place. AMEN.


Lessons 

First Lesson: PSA 18:1-9, 22:1-5

(PSA 18:1-9) I will love You, O LORD, my strength. {2} The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. {3} I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies. {4} The pangs of death surrounded me, And the floods of ungodliness made me afraid. {5} The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. {6} In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. {7} Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken, Because He was angry. {8} Smoke went up from His nostrils, And devouring fire from His mouth; Coals were kindled by it. {9} He bowed the heavens also, and came down With darkness under His feet.

(PSA 22:1-5) My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? {2} O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent. {3} But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel. {4} Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. {5} They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. Amen.

Second Lesson: MAR 14:27 - 15:41

(Mark 14:27-72) Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep will be scattered.’ {28} "But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." {29} Peter said to Him, "Even if all are made to stumble, yet I will not be." {30} Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." {31} But he spoke more vehemently, "If I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" And they all said likewise. {32} Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and He said to His disciples, "Sit here while I pray." {33} And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed. {34} Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch." {35} He went a little farther, and fell on the ground, and prayed that if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him. {36} And He said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will." {37} Then He came and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? {38} "Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." {39} Again He went away and prayed, and spoke the same words. {40} And when He returned, He found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy; and they did not know what to answer Him. {41} Then He came the third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and resting? It is enough! The hour has come; behold, the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. {42} "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand." {43} And immediately, while He was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, with a great multitude with swords and clubs, came from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. {44} Now His betrayer had given them a signal, saying, "Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him and lead Him away safely." {45} As soon as He had come, immediately he went up to Him and said to Him, "Rabbi, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. {46} Then they laid their hands on Him and took Him. {47} And one of those who stood by drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. {48} Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? {49} "I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled." {50} Then they all forsook Him and fled. {51} Now a certain young man followed Him, having a linen cloth thrown around his naked body. And the young men laid hold of him, {52} and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked. {53} And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. {54} But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. {55} Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. {56} For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. {57} Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, {58} "We heard Him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.’" {59} But not even then did their testimony agree. {60} And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" {61} But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" {62} Jesus said, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." {63} Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? {64} "You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. {65} Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands. {66} Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. {67} And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with Jesus of Nazareth." {68} But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are saying." And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. {69} And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, "This is one of them." {70} But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, "Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it." {71} Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this Man of whom you speak!" {72} A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And when he thought about it, he wept.

(Mark 15:1-41) Immediately, in the morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council; and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. {2} Then Pilate asked Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?" He answered and said to him, "It is as you say." {3} And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. {4} Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, "Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!" {5} But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marvelled. {6} Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. {7} And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. {8} Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. {9} But Pilate answered them, saying, "Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?" {10} For he knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy. {11} But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. {12} Pilate answered and said to them again, "What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?" {13} So they cried out again, "Crucify Him!" {14} Then Pilate said to them, "Why, what evil has He done?" But they cried out all the more, "Crucify Him!" {15} So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified. {16} Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. {17} And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, {18} and began to salute Him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" {19} Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. {20} And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him. {21} Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. {22} And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. {23} Then they gave Him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but He did not take it. {24} And when they crucified Him, they divided His garments, casting lots for them to determine what every man should take. {25} Now it was the third hour, and they crucified Him. {26} And the inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS. {27} With Him they also crucified two robbers, one on His right and the other on His left. {28} So the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered with the transgressors." {29} And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} "save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" {31} Likewise the chief priests also, mocking among themselves with the scribes, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. {32} "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe." Even those who were crucified with Him reviled Him. {33} Now when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. {34} And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" which is translated, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" {35} Some of those who stood by, when they heard that, said, "Look, He is calling for Elijah!" {36} Then someone ran and filled a sponge full of sour wine, put it on a reed, and offered it to Him to drink, saying, "Let Him alone; let us see if Elijah will come to take Him down." {37} And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last. {38} Then the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. {39} So when the centurion, who stood opposite Him, saw that He cried out like this and breathed His last, he said, "Truly this Man was the Son of God!" {40} There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the Less and of Joses, and Salome, {41} who also followed Him and ministered to Him when He was in Galilee, and many other women who came up with Him to Jerusalem. Amen.

Third Lesson: DP 247

247. [Why the Jewish] …nation was permitted to crucify the Lord. This was because the Church with that nation was wholly vastated and became such that not only did they not know and acknowledge the Lord, but they even hated Him; and yet all that they did to Him was according to the laws of His Divine Providence. The passion of the cross was the last temptation or the final combat by which the Lord fully conquered the hells and fully glorified His Human. Amen.


 

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