The Life of the Church Under the Cross of Christ

The Commemoration of St. Lawrence, the third-century archdeacon and martyr, this Thursday (10 August) marks a turning point in the long green stretch of Sundays after Pentecost and Holy Trinity. Between now and the Feast of St. Michael & All Angels at the end of September, there is an increased awareness of the holy martyrs who have borne the Cross and gone before us in the faith and confession of Christ Jesus, among them St. Bartholomew, St. John the Baptist, St. Cyprian of Carthage, and St. Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15), and we rejoice that persecution, suffering, and death are not able to separate us from the Life and Love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

As it so happens, this Thursday will also be the day when one of our brothers in Christ, the Reverend Thomas E. Eggold, will be laid to rest in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection. In this we are reminded that, whether by martyrdom or by the mortality that weighs upon our flesh from the fall into sin, we sons of Adam return to the dust whence we are taken. Yet, no matter how or when it comes upon us, death does not end our joy and gladness in Christ Jesus, who bore our sins in His own Body on the Cross, is risen from the dead as our Righteousness, and ever lives to make intercession for us before the throne of His God and Father.

Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ has taken death, that great enemy of man, and turned it inside out, forcing it to serve His own purposes for our good, unto repentance and faith, life and salvation. It is in keeping with His “theology of the Cross,” as Luther sometimes called it, that He reveals and gives Himself to us under the very opposite of what we or anyone else would ever expect. And it is especially appropriate, as we enter upon Martyrs’ Tide this week, that the Daily Lectionary has led us into those beautiful opening chapters of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Church at Corinth. For those very things that appear so weak and foolish and utterly nothing in the eyes of the world – and to our own fallen senses – become the manifestation of the power and wisdom and saving grace of God in the preaching of the Gospel of the Cross of Christ the Crucified.

Not only that, but we ourselves – so fallible, so frail and faulty in ourselves – are sons of God in Christ Jesus and instruments of His grace and mercy unto others. The “theology of the Cross” is not only rooted in the historic events of Holy Week, it governs and shapes the entire Church and Ministry of the Gospel in this body and life on earth. We find within ourselves only weakness and inadequacy; and even if we stubbornly chose to deny it, the finality of death and the grave still assert and confirm those facts. Our lives are not what they should be, and even on our best days we are still “unworthy servants” who have never done more than our duty (St. Luke 17:10). And yet, by the grace of God, by the “foolish wisdom” of our crucified and risen Lord, whether by life or by death, we are the instruments of His grace, mercy, and peace. His saving power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), even as His great salvation was accomplished by His own Cross and Passion, by His holy and precious Blood, by His innocent suffering and death.

Dear brothers in Christ, do not grow weary or downhearted, do not despair or give up hope. You have already died with Christ in Holy Baptism, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. It is hidden under the Cross, but it is revealed, sure, and certain in the Gospel that we are privileged to preach and confess. And “when Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:3-4). For Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia! Blessed be the Name of the Lord.