St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1788

E-mail: office@stmarymags.ca


The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

September 13th Holy Cross Day (transferred), 2020                      John Marsh



Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.                                                                                                   (Matthew 16:24-25)

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They went to a place called Gethsemaneand going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”                                                                                                                            (Mark 14:32a, 35-38)

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We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others.                                    

(1 Corinthians1:23, paraphrased)

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Among the many things which may be said of the Gethsemane narrative and its parallels, it can be said that Jesus is opening to a call, an insistence haunting, something laid upon his heart and, a decision is made, a decision leading to… well, we all know.


While we may be aware of the outcome of the story, a decision was made, a decision despite unknowns, within an unknowability tinged with risk, admittedly, possibilities of death looming. This was a time of deciding to fully live, to risk the reign of god despite the possibility of death, embodying a love risking death, a love not contained, not constrained by death, living fully into life’s complexity.


To my mind, this story expresses that which is astir within the gospel narrative, that missional response to love, to justice, to hospitality, shouldering, taking up a call, the reign of god perhaps blinking into existence in a decision chosen. Consequently, questions remain…


Will we, those who understand themselves as Yeshua’s followers, ‘shoulder the cross’, risking living fully into life’s complexities?


Will we, those unsure of confessional calls, unsure of religion, risk living fully into life’s complexities?


Will we, those of other traditions, those often wounded by the failures of those carrying, proclaiming, the cross, risk faith, hope, and love, living fully into life’s complexities?


Truth to tell, too often the cross is reduced to but an ecclesiastical argument, a symbol of personal salvation, an expression of theological bombast and, having lost what is astir within, is mere shorthand of what is more complex than what gets called “Christian” these days. Truth to tell, given the disturbingly problematic history of Christianity, I almost never refer to myself as Christian preferring instead a ‘Jesusist’, perhaps better, a Jesuit – oh crap that name is taken…


To often the cross is but a symbol of our religious identity as opposed to what is calling, stirring within the memory of Jesus, within calls getting called for in the reign of god.


Perhaps the cross is a reminder of what the world needs to us to risk, a reminder of an insistence stirring within, a calling, a lure luring a response, speaking up, working for, with, those crucified in the world, risking renouncing those systems, institutions, and leaders, political, economic, social, or religious, to the degree that they are more self absorbed than other aware.


Perhaps, instead of focusing on the passion of Jesus and what that passion earns, we may focus on the sufferings, the passion of those for whom Jesus is an icon, a gateway to life’s depths where perhaps god, the name of god is astir.


Perhaps we may open to Caputo’s pithy statement, “I understand what orthodoxy has made of the cross, but I reject it as unworthy of the cross.” ¹


Truth to tell, is there not stirring within the cross a worthiness inspiring faith, hope, and love, a worthiness within Yeshua’s life lived unto death, his love neither contained nor constrained by death, his death paying his life forward?


Is there not stirring within the cross a certain martyrdom, a witness and a witnessing (martyros, a witness) to the promise, the promise of god’s reign, the promise of life and are we not the inheritors of the promise, shouldering responsibility for the work, the work of the promise?


Is there not stirring within the cross a call, a debt owed, calls of those alive, those whose memory haunts us to pay their lives forward, honouring life by responding, responding to life’s call, honouring others cry for justice, compassion, and respect and is this not the impossible possibility of salvation, redemption’s call laid upon our hearts, a redemption perhaps borne by our shouldering the cross?


Is not his death a messianic call to us to risk life’s vocational conversion to hear and respond to other voices, those lost and left, those voices inside and out?


Is not his death a messianic call to attend to the cries of those before us, those dead, those alive?


Is not his death a cry, a magnification of the sinfulness of every unjust death and in that cry, that call, is not sanctification astir?


Is there not within his death – life, his life stirring within our lives, within the life of the world, life inviting us, luring, haunting us to shoulder the cross?


Is not the way of the cross the glory of the way not the way to glory?


Is not the crucifixion an elegy sung to the living, a lament, luring longings for life?

Truth to tell, if the death of Yeshua bar Yoseph is redemptive, it is so in that it surprises, it interrupts life, business as usual, redemptive in that it is a call to make justice flow like a river and not be dammed, jammed up by defeat.


Jesus’ death is more a prophetic ‘no’, more a prophetic call than a sacrificial exchange buying heavenly rewards, a call laying an unconditional claim upon us.


In the invitation to shoulder the cross is there not an invitation to make ourselves worthy of the event stirring within?


Truth to tell, death is a difficulty but not a punishment, life is difficult but not a trial to be endured.


Mortality is not a problem to overcome; it is what it is – that condition which gives life its meaning, beauty, poignancy, its intensity. We have opportunity to affirm life unconditionally, responding to unconditional calls inviting, haunting as did Jesus in forgiving those who killed him (see Luke 23:24).


In embracing his death in manner which does not betray his life, Yeshua responds to the event stirring within calls, calls inviting this living fully unto death, in Eckhart’s language, this living without a why.


Mortality is a human condition, the condition under which we have opportunity to make decisions of substance, that response to a promise without compromise, loving because love – loves, tapping into those deep structures of the unconditional within inescapable conditions, the complexities, of the world – ‘father forgive for they know not what they do’.


That everything ends, gives poignancy to life and perhaps, just perhaps, we may lean into unconditional calls, taking the risk of sorting out what is an unconditional amid life’s conditions, making decisions, shouldering the cross, decisions for justice calling, freedom calling, forgiveness and reconciliation calling, love and life calling.


Yet remember, the cross is not magic, shouldering the cross is not easy. The call to take up the cross does not itself alter the world, it calls for alteration, the call does not call off the difficulty, it calls out the difficulty. ²


There is risk, failure looms large, dark nights haunt – my god, my god, why have you forsaken me? – god, god may have absconded, our awareness, our sense of god may have slipped away and we will be faced with an existential crisis yet a time of dangerous opportunity – will we love, work, despite doubt, despite our beliefs being crucified?


Are we willing to raise the stakes, taking seriously the event stirring within the cross, making ourselves worthy of the cross, risking taking it up, acknowledging fears and anxieties, taking life seriously, life embedded in time and flesh with horror and hope, suffering and glory, its fellow travellers?


The issue stirring within the cross is not a life of difficulty but a life without, to echo Johannes Climacus.


This is a radical response to the cross, to the event stirring within and, within call and response is not sanctification astir?


So perhaps, it is time to awake – see Ephesians 5:14 – or at least time to seriously try to be present –


Peter, are you asleep? – present to context, to what is going on within, around us…


The event stirring within the cross of Jesus is one spooking us, calling us to take seriously taking up the cross. In his death on the cross, Jesus is an ‘icon’ of the crucified of history, a dangerous memory, an invitation for us to remember those dismembered by history, those ground down by the groaning of creation.³ In so remembering, in responding to events astir within, is not sanctification astir within our response, is not salvation, the promise, the hope of salvation pressing in, haunting, as we take up the cross in trembling hands?


We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others.                                    

(1 Corinthians1:23, paraphrased)



 ¹ John Caputo, Cross and Cosmos: A Theology of Difficult Glory, (Indiana University Press, 2019) p. 84.

 ² Ibid, p. xiv.

 ³ See Romans 8:32.