Who do you say that I am?
Who do you say that Jesus is?
Who is Jesus to you?
While you are thinking about that, what do the disciples say?
John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’
John the Baptist returned from the dead? John has been beheaded by Herod and buried in a tomb (Mk 6:27-29)
John was a contemporary mystic and spiritual leader – of which there were many at the time of Christ – think life of Brian
But Jesus is no folk hero, no ephemeral guru
Is he Elijah? Why Elijah? Because Elijah announces the coming of the Messiah
Messiah = the anointed – like David – the king of Israel
Prophesied in Isaiah
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations. (Is:42:1)
Whom Jews await every year when they leave a cup of wine for Elijah at the Passover meal
But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.
What did it mean to Jesus to be the Messiah – would he be a conquering hero to liberate Israel from the Roman yoke?
Indeed not. The concept of the Messiah would be changed in the light of Jesus’s inglorious crucifixion and lead to a re-examination of other verses of Isaiah like those in our OT bible reading:
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
The Messiah is now a suffering servant taking on the sins of mankind
Mark tells us:
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
The salvation which Jesus promises is not military victory but rather by aligning oneself and absorbing oneself into the self-sacrifice of the suffering servant and thereby discovering a whole new kind of life
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
This might well be a prophesy of the deaths of many Christians in the persecution which were to follow
But how might we read it?
That there is no physical wealth which can make up for spiritual poverty
That spiritual wealth comes from self-denying acts of sacrifice
Through death to self is found eternal life
Through the cross
As you may know, I have been travelling
One of the features of the Orthodox branch of Christianity is its focus on the Cross
The Orthodox make the sign of the cross continually
- When they approach and leave their churches
- When they venerate Icons
- Liturgical points in the service – when God is mentioned
- And just when they are moved – when Christians in other traditions might raise their hands or shout “alleluia”
The Orthodox make sign in a different way also
The Western cross is trinitarian
We indicate the:
- Father (God in heaven = up)
- Son (who came down to earth and was incarnate = down), and the
- The holy ghost (which unites everything in the love of God = side to side)
Orthodox Cross is made differently
First the hand is significant:
- The thumb and first two fingers are held together to make the Trinity
- The other two fingers are kept flat representing the two natures of Christ who was man and God
The hand then moves from
- The Head – for the reason – the OT prophesy
- The Navel – for the centre of the emotions in the ancient world
- The right shoulder – the centre of strength , the should which carried the cross
- The heart – which is where the life force is – the blood
We remember the Lord’s injunction to
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Lk 10:27)
So that is what it means to make the sign of the cross – what does it mean for us to carry it?
The Orthodox way to look at this is the way the Orthodox cross works
It is the normal Christian cross with two additional elements added
A cross beam at the top – the Titulus – the crime of the crucified criminal
What did it say?
Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum
Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews
Jesus of Nazareth – not bar Joseph – he is a man with no father – any man – a son of man
who was King of the Jews – the Messiah – but no ordinary messiah – the suffering servant
But then there is also a second additional cross beam, this time slanted up to the right from the point of view of the crucified
This is the foot rest on which Jesus leaned
The ground on which he walked as a human
It points up to heaven and down to hell
Traditionally it points up to the repentant thief who will be with Jesus in paradise and down to the other who will languish in hell
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.’
Taken as a whole, the cross of Jesus Christ speaks to us first through the Roman Cross, of the love of God incarnate with us here on earth as his son through the power of the holy spirit
That our way is to follow his road
That road is the way of the Orthodox Cross
With heart and soul and mind and strength
To die to self in order to achieve eternal life
Sermon preached by Christopher Hancock at St. Mary’s Headley, 16th September, 2018