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'Everything changes': a sermon on the cross

Friday 29th November 2013

Remembering Christ's death on the cross, we turn 'all this for me' into 'all me for this', the Archbishop said in this sermon at Truro Cathedral

'To save us [God] must be like us': the Archbishop of Canterbury preaches on the cross at Truro Cathedral, 16 November 2013. (Picture: Paul Richards)

When Christ died on the cross, it was God coming to find us and rescue us 'even though we do not know we are lost', the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a sermon at Truro Cathedral earlier this month.

Because of the Cross of Christ, ‘we are reconciled to God’ and ‘can know him as friend’, he said.

‘Our lives can start with the debit balance of all our sin set at zero as far as God is concerned. Love washes away our sin.’

The Archbishop was preaching at special service of thanksgiving for the cross and meditation on its place at the heart of Christian faith.

During the service a wooden cross bearing the figure of Christ was processed through the cathedral before being placed on the high altar.

Archbishop Justin, together with the other clergy present, then knelt before the cross, reflecting with the congregation on our call to discipleship and service in the light of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. 

The Archbishop was on a three-day visit to the Diocese of Truro to learn about the local Church and affirm its work in the region. See pictures and videos from the trip on our Instagram account

Read the full sermon below:

The Archbishop of Canterbury's sermon at the Festival of the Cross, Truro Cathedral, Saturday 16 November 2013 

Readings: Isaiah 63.1-3a, 7-9; 2 Corinthians 5.16-21

A few weeks ago I did a baptism. It was a fine occasion. The baby was well-behaved, the family were more than delightful. It was perhaps a little higher profile than normal, but it was a unique and special occasion in the way every baptism is.

During the service, I did a very remarkable thing, as at every baptism. I marked the baby with the sign of the cross. It is a moment of significance because in every service, the cross on the face reminds us of the face on the cross.

It is not a happy gesture or little significance, but says, in every case, let this person, whoever they are, be a faithful Christian, taking up their cross and following Jesus.

This afternoon we explore what that means, and we do more than that. In the way we do the service we will all be invited to make that moment of signing the cross our own, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the many hundredth time.

We are all invited, me included, to kneel before the cross, to adore and in adoration to be caught up and overwhelmed by the love of Jesus Christ, and above all to respond by committing ourselves to follow him.

Why should we?

It is love that is the cause of the cross. In the first reading, Isaiah describes to the people of Israel a figure who was to rescue them. He is stained in red, the sign of judgment and blood.

Clergy process through Truro Cathedral with a figure of Christ on the cross, 16 November 2013. (Picture: Paul Richards)

Nobody else could have done what he did, and he has acted alone. He is a servant of God, who has become the Saviour of the people. For the first Christians this was a powerful picture of Jesus, suffering and struggling to bring us salvation. The reason for his struggle was love, the overflow of his unchanging love.

What a thing to think about, that we are each and together loved by God so that he would struggle and suffer to save us from our wandering away from God. That was Israel’s need, as a nation she had turned away from God.

And it is our need. None of us lives as we should, we all sin, as the bible calls it, and that matters a great deal, because we are cut off from God as a result. Someone needs to save us despite the fact that we are not even aware, very often, of our need.

This afternoon I had the extraordinary privilege of being taken out on the Penlee lifeboat. On the boat was a widow of one of the men who died in the disaster many years ago. We went out and put a wreath on the water just near where the lifeboat at the time, the RNLI boat, was crushed against the rocks on a rescue in conditions of indescribable storm and ferocity.

I was talking to the coxswain on the way back and hearing the story of how it happened, and then talking to others and listening to them. They saw the danger, and they went out and put themselves in the place of danger to try and rescue others. And it cost them their lives. And rightly, we remember them with honour. 

The cause of the cross is God's love that sent him out to come and find us and rescue us, even though we do not know we are lost. When we gaze at the Cross later in the service, allow yourself to be reminded of the love that recognised your need, and mine, before we knew it.

The cost of the cross is God emptying himself so we can reach him. Look back at the account of the crucifixion. Where are you in all the characters? You could be a passerby, seeing only a common event and knowing nothing of its deep significance. Many, even church goers are like that. They pass through life seeing and knowing the story, but never allowing the love that caused it to overwhelm and capture them.

Archbishop Justin (centre) joins clergy from Truro diocese in front of the cross at Truro Cathedral, 16 November 2013. (Picture: Paul Richards)

You could be one of the soldiers, or the leaders, mocking. You might be here because someone asked you, but frankly you would rather be at the pub.

Or it could be that the hardness of life – and life here is often very hard indeed, I know - has driven you from active and warm faith to coolness or even hostility. You may be asking yourself, ‘If God is so loving why did my son die? Or my husband, my sister, with her young children, or my friend? Or why is life so hard, and we are so in debt? Or why did the typhoon hit the Philippines?’

And we respond to God with mockery, with contempt. ‘Are you asleep, or powerless? Do something if you are so great!’

The cost of the cross is the weakness and emptiness of God. To save us he must be like us, and at the beginning and end of life we are all emptied and weak, and for most of us many times between.

So when you come to the cross, try these words: ‘All this for me.’ And when you get home look at the story, spend time putting yourself there, and say ‘all this for me’.

It is about us as well as those there that Jesus says, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ Nor do we until we come to the cross, and like the other thief, we see ourselves and our sin and we can turn to a man on a cross and find life and hope. We turn ‘all this for me’, to ‘all me for this’.

The creation of the cross is new life for us. The cross gives birth to a new creation. Paul speaks of that in the second reading. ‘If anyone is in Christ …. everything has become new.’

We are reconciled with God, that is we can know him as friend, as lover. Our lives can start with the debit balance of all our sin set at zero as far as God is concerned. Love washes away our sin.

Archbishop Justin (centre) joins clergy from Truro diocese in kneeling before the cross at Truro Cathedral, 16 November 2013. (Picture: Paul Richards)

Starting again is always a dream, and a wonderful one. Imagine you could erase all the bad bits of life, the arguments, the infidelities in thought or deed, the failures. They are there with God on the Cross and he gives us new life if we accept his offer, and in return for that he takes all our life. We belong to him, and everything changes.

That is why the fancy cross that my chaplain Jo Wells carries, the Primatial Cross – which was a generous gift from this diocese when Bishop Benson became Archbishop of Canterbury back in 1883 – is so covered in precious metals and jewels. For the first few hundred years of the Christian era people condemned Christians because they followed someone who was crucified. Crosses were for bad criminals, after all.

But Christians – and John’s gospel speaks of this very clearly –  saw the cross as a moment of the greatest glory, because it was there the new creation started and the way to life was opened to all of us, as we are caught up with Jesus on the cross and rise with him through the resurrection.

Start again, through a glorious cross, and be an ambassador for Christ by the changed lives, new creation, both individually and together. A church that genuinely and not just formally adores the cross allows the cross to set the pattern of our lives to be like Jesus.

Through it each of us find new life, and the overwhelming love of God. And when the church is cross-shaped and guided in its living, then the world is shown the hope of resurrection, new life, which is the final part of the baptism service.

So when you approach the cross, say all this for me, all of me for this, with all others here, so that this love overwhelms not only me and us but the whole world.

We have a cross caused by love. Be overwhelmed. We have a cross the cost of which is the emptying of God. All this for me, all this for us, all me for this. We have a cross that started a new creation, a glorious cross of beauty and triumph.

Through us being people of the cross that new creation spreads into the world: disasters still happen, but through us the love of God is powerful for the bereaved, the lonely, the hopeless.

Let us adore the cross, and make it ours. 


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