Sunday before Holy Cross (Gal. 6:11-18, Jn. 3:13-17)
God's Gift to the World
"The Lord said, "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man."
Here the eternal Generation of the Son from the Father is established – a reference to that which is "Heavenly", a reference to the Kingdom of Heaven – and it's activities.
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
Moses lifted up a bronze serpent (these are the serpents on the Bishops staff) to cure the Israelites from the deadly bites of poisonous snakes which were causing death and suffering amongst the Israelites. In this same fashion, Christ will be lifted up on the Cross. But this is no longer a mere bronze figure, this is the body and blood of the living God – His son, He lived, He lives, he had friends, he had disciples, he has friends, he has disciples.
As the believer looks upon the crucified Christ, the one who suffered so greatly, through faith, as Savior, the venomous bite of the old serpent (that which we learned was there essentially at the beginning), the devil, the slanderer, and the related bite of sin and death, is neutralized and healed.
Let's start with the Answer:
The moment of Christ's greatest humiliation (and suffering) becomes the moment of exaltation for completing His saving work. This is the first of many instances in John's Gospel where Jesus teaches that He is the fulfillment of an OT type, indeed that He is the fulfillment of the OT prophetic proclamations and expectations.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (this is the answer)
(ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται, ἀλλ᾽ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον)
The essence of the entire gospel message – the fulfillment of the prophetic OT expectation - God's gift of His only begotten Son as the ultimate expression of His love for the world.
"For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
(οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος δι᾽ αὐτοῦ.)
The purposes of Christ's coming is to save – that message is clear. But what does this also imply? Can we escape the further implication; that for those who will not believe it is also condemnation? What do we mean by condemnation? It is not suffering without meaning, is it not life without Love – is that not to be "condemned"?
Now let's go back to the Question: (Within the context of Sept. 11th, 2001)
How do we respond to such evil? What can be said? Does God cause such suffering? Does God allow such suffering? Why did God not act to prevent this? Is He not Omnipotent? These question are all fair play.
These questions are all also as old as time immemorial – there are really three questions that define humanity, and man's related search for meaning:
1) Our correct relation to our maker and God – i.e. what do we do with our freedom? (see also genesis) – and an issue with a serpent.
2) His nature as a Good and Loving God – (but life essentially is suffering to a greater or lesser extent)
3) If He is Good and Loving, and Omnipotent- that is to say infinite, monotheistic, and creator of all things – than how can things such as Sept. 11th be allowed to happen?
To summarize again:
Point 1 – Human Freedom
Point 2 – Good, Loving Omnipotent God
Point 3 – Reconcile with suffering.
The main event takes place in Point 3 – most people can get through points 1 and 2 with no problems. But point 3 has been a sticking point, let's just say even before September 11th, 2001.
Now the suffering on that day was extraordinary – we as a people, and as a nation, and as a world, starred the devil in the face – and it was horrid. Was it uglier than the crucifixion though? No. If Jesus is the Son of God. If Jesus is God. If God is good and loving creator, and he was tortured and crucified – than the crucifixion is worse.
But in that moment, we had a great and most poignant choice to make. The veil of daily life, which often cloaks the realities of the struggle over our souls was suddenly removed, without warning. From point 1 above, with and in our Freedom we had a choice to make. That is to say; how would we respond? How would we respond in the depth of our souls? Would we move towards greater Faith, Hope and Love (with Faith as we read time and again above as "prerequisite")? Would we increase our faith in the ultimate Gift God has given us? Would we maintain our Hope in the resurrection? Would we move towards greater hope in the resurrection? Would we move towards a greater response in Love to God and in that response, greater Love towards one another?
God only limits His freedom, in order to give his beloved creation Freedom itself. And freedom for what? Freedom to Love him in return. But this freedom has often been misused and misguided – it's an old story.
So the moment of great suffering is indeed a redemptive moment – that is what the cross was, that is what the cross is – it's wasn't a nice thing, but in it we see the full force and power of the Lord to redeem His people – through His son, through His suffering. The creation through its freedom brought sin into the world – it was a misuse – and the product was suffering.
The only way for the Lord to undo this unfortunate turn in events, is to use suffering itself as a means to undo that harm and transform it – to bring good from it. The Lord does this. He brings from sin and suffering and death new life, indeed a resurrection. There is no alternative, for to limit sin and suffering would be to limit our freedom, that is to say, to limit our freedom to Love Him – and that is not an option.
The Lord watches, such things and suffers – he watched on Sept. 11th and suffered with everyone who perished. It must have been like 3k crucifixions – for He so loves the world, an He so Loves mankind - He was with all those who perished.
And did evil overcome? Did evil overcome the cross? Did evil overcome on Sept. 11th, 2001? No., No., and No. Indeed the power of the Lord's Love is so great, that it can never be overcome. Since the greatest of all evils has already taken place, and God Himself tasted death, so that we would not have to – then we are called simply in memory of this event to respond to His suffering with greater Faith in Him as savior, as the Son of God, as the redeemer of the world. There is no other response – plain and simple. That is what suffering is, they are all microcosmic examples of the crucifixion of our Love, when we have faith in Him. The paradox of our freedom is that we are free to choose but one response – that of greater Faith and Hope and ultimately: Love. Paradoxes abound. This required response is not unlike the paradox of the circumstances which give rise to this clear choice about 2011 years ago.
And we will respond, and we do respond, and evil does not overcome God's love.