As we now stand in the bask of the joy of our Lord's Resurrection, we thought that we would return to that night where we saw His Cross standing before us. This is a sermon given by Rev. Fr Leslie Kostoglou on Holy Thursday last year, that we thought would be a good reflection to re post.
"When one reflects on the services so far this week, one cannot help in underlining the amount of times there is references to trees and to wood. It is not a coincidence. These are not casual sentences or descriptions. But this reference to trees, root us into a deep understanding of what tonight is about.
The cross that you see before you tonight is the center of the Church. On it hangs all our faith. Hanging on the cross is all our theology, all our spirituality. But to understand this lets go back a bit…
We started Triodion with the gospel reading of Zacchaeus who climbed up a sycamore tree. And in that sycamore tree was revealed – who Jesus Christ is. The presence of God was made real. (Like in the mamre trees of the Old Testament when Abraham felt the presence of God).
In the first Salutations (heretismi) to the Virgin Mary, again a reference to the Tree of the vineyard: Christ is the vine and we are His branches.
3rd Sunday of Lent: The Cross is venerated. The Cross occupies the center of Lent. Christ makes a proclamation about this - “Whoever wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me”.
Sunday night of Holy Week: the striking gospel reading of the withered fig tree. The fig tree that has all these leaves, its leafy…but has no fruit. The parallel is that humans are all show, but no fruit, no content. That is why all the other days are about hypocrisy and remembering Jesus Christ’s words - “…you will know them by their fruits”.
There are many other references to trees, but tonight I want to draw your attention to: ‘The Tree of the Cross’. Before you, is all the convictions, all the Truth about our Orthodox Tradition.
When you think about it - in the 1st century Roman Empire – there was no glory in public crucifixion. If you and I had stood near the Cross we would not have gained comfort from Jesus’ suffering and death. We would not have walked away confidently declaring – “Jesus has died for our sins and saved us on that Tree”. Something else had to have happened that removed the despair from the disciples’ hearts and replaced this with faith, hope and love.
Only because we know the surety of the Resurrection can we confess the Cross. And the Cross has this understanding that will unfold in the services from now on. All the things we say about Him…Jesus as:
“the Alpha and Omega”,
“the Resurrection and the Life”,
“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”,
“You saved us from sin and death”.
These meanings are not comprehended yet. The Resurrection is the culmination. The Resurrection is the fulfillment of all this and everything else. He Who is crucified - is He Who is resurrected. He who truly died- is the same Who is ever living. And we read that beautiful verse of God: “By this we know love, because he laid his life down for us”.
To phrase this in the context of our church language:
“The person on the Cross is crucified LOVE.
The person on the Cross is crucifying LOVE.
The person on the Cross is LOVE VICTORIOUS”.
This is the meaning of tonight.
Allow me to draw our some theology here…
We are not here just because of the act of Golgotha, processions, dim lights…it’s not just a ritual here (and sadly this is when all people start to come – but the beauty started before). In our early history we commemorated a Saint from Syria, St Ephraim the Syrian and we are familiar with him because of his prayer that is read everyday during Lent (“Lord and Master of my life, give me not a spirit of idleness, meddling, love of power and idle talk…”). But in one of his books he gives this beautiful imagery in poetry (the Syrians, their theology is very poetical, the Greeks are very philosophical). After the Transgression of Adam and Eve – the Tree of Life was subsumed into the earth only to sprout again on Calvary…(a quote):
“ The Tree of Life
sank down into the virgin ground and was hidden – to burst forth and reappear on Golgotha;
humanity, like birds that are chased, took refuge in it
so that it might return them to their proper home.
The chaser was chased away, while the doves that had been chased,
now hop with joy in Paradise…”
The Tree of Life that was forbidden in the garden manifests itself fully at the Crucifixion. That is why when one looks at the icon of the crucifixion – at the bottom is a skull, which is Adam’s. Christ now is the second Adam. Easter night is known as the first Day of the new Creation and Christ is the New Tree of Life and all can now therefore partake of Him.
The Cross and He who was crucified on it are inseparable. Christ and the Cross, his body and the wood, Himself and the tree are bonded as one and yield the fruit of eternal Life…Christ is the Tree of Life. The Blood is the sap of the tree and his body is the wood. The Resurrection is the fruit of the Tree of Life.
The power of the cross is the Resurrection, because in Love crucified we find out what it means to be human and what is not loved is not saved. And nothing can stop the love of God for us.
Your cross O Lord is Life and resurrection to us and from the Cross came the New Testament commandment: