In the middle of Lent, the Church sets before us the Cross of Christ. ON two other occasions during the year, (September 14th and August 1st) The Cross is presented for our remembrance and veneration. Both these feasts link the adoration of the Cross to historic events. However, the remembrance of the Cross on the third Sunday of Lent speaks only to our faith and reverence, It is to proclaims the part played by the Cross in the history of salvation and to prepare us for this vision, still far- off, of the Cross which, on Holy Friday, will be erected on Golgotha.
From the time immemorial, on Saturday evening of the third week in Great Lent, a cross is brought into the center of the church, and the entire following week is known as the Week of the Cross. We know that Great Lent is the preparation for Holy Week, when the Church will recall the suffering crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Bringing out the cross in the middle of Lent is therefore a reminder of the goal of our deeper and more intense religious life during Lent. So it is appropriate to reflect here on the role of the cross, this most important and most prominent of all Christian symbols.
This symbol has two closely intertwined meanings. On the one hand, it is Christ’s cross, that decisive event through which the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ was completed, It is a story of puzzling and terrifying hatred toward the One whose entire teaching focused on the commandment of love, whose entire preaching was the call to self-denial self sacrifice in the name of this love. Pilate, the Roman governor to whom the arrested, beaten, spit-upon Christ was brought, says, “I find no crime in him” (Jn 19:4). But this provokes an even louder outburst: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” shouts the crowd.” And so the cross of Christ poses an eternal question aimed at the very depth of our conscience: why does goodness arouse not only opposition, but hatred? Why is goodness always crucified in this world?” we usually avoid answering this question by placing the blame on someone else: if we had been there, if I had been there that terrible night, I would not have behaved as everybody else. But, alas, somewhere deep in our conscience we know that is not true. We know that the people who tortured, crucified and hated Christ were not monsters of some sort, possessed by some peculiar and unique evil. No! They were essentially” just like everybody else.” Pilate even tried to defend Jesus, to dissuade the crowd; he even offered to release Christ as a goodwill gesture in honor of the holiday; when that failed he stood in front the crowd and washed his hands, showing his disagreement with this murder.
In a few strokes, the gospel draws for us a picture of this pathetic Pilate, his fright, his bureaucratic conscience, his cowardly refusal to follow his own conscience. Isn’t this also exactly what happens in our own life and in life around us? Isn’t this the most commonplace, the most typical of all stories? Isn’t Pilate present within us all the time? Isn’t it true that when the moment comes for us to say a decisive, irrevocable no to falsehood, injustice, evil and hate, we give in to the temptation to “wash our hands”? Behind Pilate were the Roman soldiers, but they could certainly say in their own defence: we only followed orders, we were told to “neutralize” some trouble-maker, who was causing disruption and disorder, so what’s there to talk about? Behind Pilate, behind the soldiers, was the crowd, the same people who six days before had cried out “ Hosanna” as they triumphantly welcomed Christ as He entered Jerusalem—only now their cry is “ Crucify Him” But they too have an explanation. Didn’t the leaders, the teachers, the authorities tell them that this man was criminal who broke the laws and customs, and therefore by law (always by law, always according to the appropriate statute) must die… And so each of the participants in this terrible event was right: in their own eyes,” since each had justification. Yet together, there all murdered a man in whom there was “found no crime.” The first meaning of the cross, therefore, is its judgment of evil, or rather, of this world’s pseudo-goodness, in which evil eternally rejoices, and which promotes evil’s terrifying triumph on earth.
This brings us to the second meaning of the cross. After Christ’s cross comes my cross, of which Christ said, “if any man would come after me, let him… take up his cross daily and follow me’ (Lk 9:23).This means that the choice everyone face that night-Pilate, the soldiers, the leaders, the crowd and every person in that crowd-is a choice that is continually, daily set before each of us. Outwardly, the choice may come through something apparently insignificant to us, something secondary. But to conscience there is neither primary nor secondary, only truth and falsehood, good and evil. To take up one’s cross daily is not merely to endure life’s burdens and cares, but above all to live in harmony with conscience to live within the light of the judgment of conscience.
Even today, with the whole world looking on, a person “who has no crime in him” can be taken away, tortured, beaten, put in prison or sent into exile. And all of this according to law, all according to obedience and
Discipline, all in the name of good order, for the good of all. And how many Pilates are washing their hands, how many soldiers are hurrying to carry out the orders of military discipline, how many people obediently, submissively cheer them on, or at best watch silently as evil triumphs?
As we bring out the cross, as we bow down before it, as we kiss it, let’s recall its meaning. What does it tell us; to what does it call us? Let’s remember the cross as a choice on which everything else in the world hangs, and without which everything the world is a triumph of darkness and evil.” For judgment I came into this world”, Christ said (Jn 9:39). At this judgment, before the tribunal of crucified love, truth and goodness, each of us stands trial.
Metropolitan Archbishop Paul
Primate of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines