Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Riff on Ephraim: Thoughts on Good Friday

Here's a riff on Ephraim the Syrian's sermon devoted to the Holy Cross. 

St. Paul said: “I have determined to know nothing among you but Christ and Him crucified.” The Church’s sermon is Christ and Him crucified. We preach Christ crucified. And though He is no longer hanging on the cross, though He no longer suffers, though He is no longer dead but lives, He is and will always remain Jesus Christ, the crucified one. For though He is risen from the dead, he bears in His body the wounds of His crucifixion. He always has the marks of the nails, the thorns, and the spear. He always bears the scars of our salvation from sin, death, and hell. And so that is what the Church preaches. For the cross is what gives the church its life. Because the cross is what takes away our sin. The cross is what conquers death and hell. It is what stops the accusations of the devil, and what opens the grave and the tomb, both His and ours.

The Cross is the resurrection of the dead. The Cross is the hope of Christians. The Cross is the staff for the lame, comfort for the poor, the deposing of the proud, and the hope of those who despair. The Cross is haven for those beset with the storms of this life. The Cross is comfort for those who mourn, light for those sitting in darkness, freedom for slaves, and wisdom for the ignorant. The Cross is the chastity of both the single and the married, the nourishment for both the young and the old.

The Cross is the foundation of the Church. It is the preaching of prophets, and the good news of apostles. The Cross is the destruction of idolatrous temples, the constant temptation for fallen hearts and minds. The Cross is the cleansing of the lepers, and the rehabilitation of the enfeebled. The Cross is bread for the hungry, a fountain for the thirsty, and clothing for the naked. The Cross is the good hope and joy of all who have sinned and believe.

And by the cross, Christ the Lord has shut the all-consuming bowels of death and hell and blocked the many snares in the mouth of the devil. Having seen the Cross, death trembled and released everyone it possessed. Armed with the Cross, the God-bearing apostles subdued all the power of the enemy and caught all peoples in their dragnets, and the fishers of men gathered them for the worship of the One who is Crucified but risen. And clothed in the Cross as in armor, Christians now trample underfoot all the plans of the evil one. For the cross is the victorious armor of the heavenly King.

Let us, therefore, hold fast to the life-giving Cross given to us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Holy Communion and placed upon our foreheads, and before our eyes, in our mouths and over our hearts. Let us ever be armed with the invincible armor of Christians, with this hope of the faithful, with this gentle light. Let us open paradise with this instrument of death now become the tree of life. Neither in one hour, nor in one instant, let us not forget the Cross, nor let us begin to do anything without it. But let us sleep, let us arise, let us work, let us eat, let us drink, let us go on our way, let us adorn all our members with the life-giving Cross. And let us not be frightened ‘by the terror of the night, nor by the arrow that flies by day, nor by anything roaming in darkness, nor by any calamity, nor any demon’ (Ps. 90:5, 6). For by the cross of Christ, you have the victory over sin, death, hell, and the devil. And in the cross of Christ, you have the power of God and the wisdom of God. You have the forgiveness of sin. You have eternal life.

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