Kruiz edited
Wood of the Cross
Thursday in Lent 3
23 March 2017
Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) gave catechetical talks while strolling in the environs of fourth century Jerusalem. Although Jerusalem had suffered catastrophic destructions between Jesus' earthly life and Cyril's time, catechumens must still have thrilled to hear Cyril point out to them the locations of our Lord's suffering, death, and resurrection. His speeches tinged by pathos, and touched by humor, must have fortified the faith of those who would confess their Lord in preparation for baptism and admission to the mysteries of the faith.

As Cyril was leading His would-be brothers and sisters to Golgotha he spoke to them of the glory of the cross. For in the cross was the salvation of the community that God was calling together through the sacrament of baptism, which would be administered on Holy Saturday in the predawn hours of the Feast of the Resurrection. Baptism would place the baptized in the cross's benefits and raise the baptized to newness of life. Catechesis of the life of Christ also tells the story of the converts' Passover from death to life.

Cyril, the faithful bishop, was at pains to describe the reality of the crucifixion and its suffering. This was not play acting, a "fabulum," a fairy tale or myth as some were already teaching among so-called Christians at Cyril's time. No, this was no illusory death, or a really drastic fainting spell, or symbolical story told to make some other spiritually vapid point, as when we try to "nice up" the death of Jesus by making it a less brutal occurrence (think "Precious Moments Crucifixion").

Theologians today have also tried the same program by turning the tables on the Gospels and charging them with being themselves mythological. The Gospels then undergo a radical de-mythologization, by being hyper-spiritualized. So Christ did not really die, but was said to have died by his followers to tell the story of the power of human hope over death. Through such thinking, nothing is left of Christ's atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world, nor His glorious bodily resurrection which tells the value of His death for us sinners. He who takes His life back takes it back to confer it upon us. The ultimate artifact of the cross is the empty tomb to which Cyril points us.

Where did the cross of Christ go? Cyril tells us that fragments of the cross were distributed around the ancient world. We should not doubt Cyril's word on this, nor presume that he is telling a pious myth; a "fabulum." Instead, we should thank the Lord of the harvest that, along with the fragments of blooded wood, the apostolic preachers preached the cross, Christ crucified, and its meaning to a world of sinners. So it is today, the wood of the cross has continued to be distributed through the preached Word of God about the crucified One. He who shatters death has a death that atones for the sin of the world; neither His death nor His life is a myth. What a glory this is!

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Cyril of Jerusalem
"Let us then not be ashamed of the Cross of our Savior, but rather glory in it. 'For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing,' but to us it is salvation: and it is 'folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God' (1Co 1:23, 18). For it was not a mere man who died for us, as I said before, but the Son of God, God made man. Further, if the lamb under Moses drove the destroyer (Ex 12:23) far away, did not much rather the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), deliver us from our sins? The blood of a silly sheep gave salvation; and shall not the Blood of the Only-begotten much rather save?...

"Jesus then really suffered for all men; for the cross was no illusion
, otherwise our redemption is an illusion also. His death was not a mere show, for then is our salvation also mythical. If His death was but a show, they were correct who said, 'we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise."' (Mt 27:63). His Passion then was real. For He was really crucified, and we are not ashamed by it. He was crucified, and we deny it not. No, I rather glory to speak of it. For though I should now deny it, here is Golgotha to confute me, near which we are now assembled; the wood of the cross confutes me, which was afterwards distributed piecemeal from hence to all the world. I confess the cross, because I know of the resurrection; for if, after being crucified, He had remained as He was, I had not perchance confessed it, for I might have concealed both it and my Master; but now that the resurrection has followed the cross, I am not ashamed to declare it."

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 13.3-4
Galatians 2:15-21

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.
For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (ESV)
Lord Christ, give us the courage ever to confess You as the Crucified One who shattered death that those who are held in bondage to death might be freed by the proclamation of Your Word in preaching and holy absolution. Amen.
For Robert Newton as he recovers from hip replacement surgery, that the Lord of the church would grant him full and complete healing
For the shut ins of our congregation and others, especially, Ed Jutzi, Anita Markwardt, Rita Baker, Marie Hoyer, Joanie Hoyer, Lucille Herter, Lois Vaughn, and Pearl White, that the Lord would keep them in his care until their life's end
For Matthew Harrison, LCMS president, and all faithful missionaries and pastors, that they would not weary of proclaiming the crucified Christ
For all the catechumens of the church, who are being shaped by the cross during the Lenten discipline, that they may rejoice on the day when they confess the faith shared by the whole church
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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