This Sunday we venerate the Precious and Life Giving Cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Cross reminds us of the Passion of Christ. We take courage and strength from the Cross to continue the struggle of Great Lent; we revive the hope of the Resurrection within us. Through the pain and sorrow of The Cross, we reach the joy of the Resurrection with Jesus. The Cross is the fifth piece of the total image of the puzzle. In the Gospel Lesson for this Sunday, Christ invites us to follow Him. He says, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his Cross and follow Me.” He doesn’t force or compel anyone.
Man was created by God with a great gift; free will. We must follow our will on the right path to make real our Orthodox Christian Identity on this earth. The Lord invites each of us from the youngest age to take up our Cross. What is the Cross? The Cross is the singular example of the love and sacrifice of Christ for us. The Lord always offers His love to the world and its people. The Evangelist John emphasizes this infinite love of God for mankind when he writes, “…For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not parish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
We should offer this type of love to other people. However, for us to love others, we must put aside our selfishness. This sin harms us. It destroys love and in its place puts egotism. The egotist tries in every way to be concerned and care about only himself. We must try to renounce egotism in every way. The Lord tells us this, in this Sunday’s Gospel. The greatest Cross, we have to take up in our life is denial of selfishness.
From a young age we have to learn to sacrifice our egotism and selfishness. The sacrifice of egotism and selfishness is difficult enough. The Cross is the supreme image of sacrifice that leads to eternal life. The Lord assures us this in Sunday’s Gospel passage. We have to sacrifice many things and continually give our love to God and to others. If, however, we deny this, we will gain nothing. We may gain the whole world, but we will have denied love and sacrifice. God Himself grants us the true life and all of His Blessings.
In his book, “The Year of Grace of the Lord”, a Monk of the Eastern Church poses some interesting challenges for all of us based on this Sunday’s Gospel Reading:
- Are we ready to follow Jesus, bearing our Cross (not the Cross we may choose, but the one He Himself places on our shoulders)?
- Are we ready to accept all the trials or sufferings which may come to us as sharing in the Cross of the Savior?
- When it is our turn to come and place a kiss on the Cross which is displayed in Church this Sunday, will our kiss be from an unrepentant sinner, a respectful gesture or superficial – changing nothing in our life. Or will our kiss be a sign of adoration, of faith, which will be binding on our whole life?
Usually when we work on a puzzle; we have worked the edges first, and following we work inward to complete the final image. On the 3rd Sunday of Lent, we have reached the halfway point of the construction of the Great Lent puzzle. We may have become frustrated with the efforts required for building this puzzle: fasting, prayer and repentance. We may have even considered giving up. The Fathers of the Church realized this and provided us with the triumphant image of The Cross to encourage us to continue.
Our Lenten puzzle is defined by this one specific piece. This piece is in the shape of a Cross. It is larger and more pronounced than any of the other pieces. It is colored with Sacrifice and Love. The Cross is the center of our puzzle, as it is the center of our life. We look to this puzzle piece of The Cross to give us strength and courage to continue construction. Within reach is the total image of the Puzzle.