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14th September 2014 - Sunday Morning - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Holy Cross Day
Philippians 2. 6-11
John 3. 13-17

What is the best souvenir you have ever brought home from abroad?.....

Well, we probably all have things that we treasure - that are beautiful in themselves; or useful; and which bring back happy memories of a wonderful holiday or adventure in some distant part of the world - or even from within this country?

We may also have rather less successful souvenirs stashed in the loft or the back of some wardrobe? I can remember coming back from Spain in the 1970s.... I wonder how many of those stuffed, toy donkeys wearing big sombreros are still gracing homes throughout the UK?!!

Well, St Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to embrace Christianity (rather than persecuting it) may have a lot to answer for in establishing the practice of holiday souvenirs.... although to be fair, she did not see it quite like this. Helena undertook an archeological search for the cradle of Christianity within the city of Jerusalem. The holy city had been rebuilt under the Roman Empire following its destruction in the first century (as our Lord had prophesied). While some of the details, including the precise nature and extent of St. Helena's involvement, cannot be established with absolute certainty, there are various reliable witnesses to the basic facts of the case. The presumed sites of our Lord's crucifixion and burial were uncovered and dug out from under the rubble of Jerusalem's destruction and rebuilding. Tradition says that three crosses were discovered in this process, and one of these three was presumed to be the cross on which Christ Jesus Himself had been crucified. This was in September of A.D. 320. When basilicas had been erected on these holy sites and were dedicated fifteen years later, in mid-September, A.D. 335, the remnants of that "true cross" were housed within the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

And whereas the early Church took as it its symbol the stylised image of a fish, it wasn't long before the Cross took over as that badge that all Christians can immediately recognize and identify with. Today we see crosses all around us. They have become fashion items worn by believers and celebrities alike .... (of course it is perfectly possible that some of those celebrities have a real faith... but probably not all!). Badges and brooches; necklaces and earings; the ever growing number of tattoos - all feature crosses - raised as standards, taken as emblems and signifying..... well, what?

In the reformed tradition (of which the C of E is a part of course) the cross and this day came to be the image of salvation - which is why today is rightly kept as something special - a feast day of the Church.

This feast is called in Greek ("Raising Aloft of the Precious and Life-Giving Cross") and it is the Cross as a symbol of life that I would like us to spend a few moments thinking about this morning. It is strange when you come to think about it..... A gallows, the means of death. The means of death of the one whom we equate with God! How strange that we should want to preserve its memory at all - far less wear it as so many of us do as a piece of jewellery!

But we wear the cross with pride because for us it is no longer a symbol of death - but of life!

"Jesus died on the cross for our sins" - we say the words, the formula so often that its force and majesty have become lost over time. But it is an amazing thing to claim! But Jesus did not just 'die' on the cross.... He rose again afterwards, which is the truly wonderful thing. He 'put and end to death, by dying on the cross.' So we no longer need to fear death.

Oh we know that it is something which we will all face at some stage - but we face it as a part of our life. A life which is not limited to this reality and this universe, but a life which will become something eternal and ongoing. And death will be merely the doorway through which we must pass, each in our turn. Not fearing, but flying! Flying into our salvation, our union with God in eternity.

So give thanks for the cross. Give thanks for our fear - the fear of oblivion, of nothingness - from which we are forever saved- and all because of the Cross. Thanks be to God.