14th September 1997
Holy Cross Day
Philippians 2: 6-8
The verb "to depend" literally means to "hang on to something".
So if I take my coat off and hang it on a coathook, the coat itself is depending on the hook to the extent that if the hook were insecurely fastened to the wall both it and the coat will come crashing down to the ground.
On Good Friday Jesus literally depended on the Cross. That is to say he was nailed to it by his enemies precisely so that he shouldn't be able to detach himself from it.
It's a useful idea then to look more closely at Holy Cross Day (that's today) is, and what we mean by dependence and independence. What do we associated with them?
Our human life begins, as it began for Jesus in a state of total dependence in our mother's womb. But from the moment of our conception we are a distinct human being, precious in the sight of God, and loved by him in a way that he loves nobody else on earth.
Little by little we acquire an independent existence. We can move a little, our hearts begin to beat separately, our brains begin to function, and thereís even some evidence to suggest that the actual start of the process of being born depends, in a way we don't fully understand, on the baby sending a signal to its mother "now I'm ready for the next stage!"
So a baby parts company from its mother and from that moment onwards the process of becoming independent enters a new phase. Of course the amount of independence is at first quite small. Feeding, cleaning, protecting are all the responsibility of a baby's parents; but we would all agree, wouldn't we, that if any child failed to progress beyond the dependence of babyhood during the next 16 years, there would be something seriously wrong?
Most children would agree with this. Remember how important it was to you when you began to exercise your own choices? First you may have been allowed a hand in choosing your clothes; then to exercise a certain amount of discretion about what time you went to bed; then about what you did with your leisure. Finally there was that supreme and glorious moment of independence when you left home to go to College, or to live in a flat with some friends of your own choosing rather than the family whom you had imposed on you at birth whether you liked it or not.
Crucifixion, being nailed to a wooden cross, was, and was meant to be, precisely the opposite of this process. It was meant to turn people back into totally dependent beings, incapable of doing anything for themselves. There is something exquisitely ironic about the fact that crucifixion was only inflicted upon runaway slaves and political troublemakers and rebels: precisely those people who, in the eyes of society, had exercised their independence in the wrong way, or too freely.
For a slave is precisely someone who does his master's will rather than his own: and politicians and rulers, however much they may profess to be our servants, are chiefly interested in exercising power, and those who rebel against them are not popular. So crucifixion if it can be inflicted upon these rebels serves two very useful purposes: firstly it reduces the independent rebel to a state of complete and impotent dependence, and secondly, because it happens in public, it serves as a warning to anyone else who might be unwise enough to try and exercise their independence in a way which was inconvenient to their lords and masters.
Crucifixion then would appear to be the exact denial of God's will for his creatures. In the process of nature he has designed us to work our way, slowly and sometimes painfully, to independence, and crucifixion seeks to do precisely the opposite, turning us from a life of independence to a death of dependence, hanging helpless from a wooden cross.
But like so many things in life, especially when we bring God into then, it's not quite so as straightforward as that. Look again at those words of Saint Paul:
the state of Jesus Christ was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and become as men are; and being as all men are, he became humbler yet even to accepting death, death on a cross
do you see what Saint Paul is saying God the Son, an independent Person if ever there was one, takes upon himself the form of a baby in the womb, a child at his mother's breast, a schoolboy, a young carpenter, and an itinerant preacher, passing from complete dependence to adult independence; yet all the time, like a slave, he does not his own will but that of the Father who sent him: who out of his great love for fallen mankind suffered death upon the Cross. In other words he took upon himself the condition of total dependence in order that we might no longer be the slaves of sin, but Godís free servants and Sons of God, like Jesus himself.
This secret: that life comes through death, that perfect freedom can only be found by becoming the servants of God, is one which God has invited you and me to share with him and between ourselves.
It's small wonder, isn't it, that so few people in today's world, and especially so few young people, want to embrace the Christian faith, because it runs almost precisely contrary to everything the world has taught them to believe in, and desire.
I believe in myself and I want my independence are the two articles of faith that people are taught to believe. And the problem for most Christians is not then both these articles of faith are totally wrong but that they are only partly right.
Itís partly true, for instance that if people don't learn to believe in themselves, they will never grow up. There will always be tied to their mother's apron-strings and never achieve anything useful. So yes, learning to believe in ourselves, making our own judgments, is part of becoming a grown-up.
Likewise as we have seen independence is something which we can, and should, be working towards and anyone who hasn't achieved a measure of it and accepted the responsibility that goes with it by, say the age of 18, is in a very sorry state indeed.
But there is a third supernatural ingredient, one might almost call it a magic powder, which when mixed with the other two, self-confidence and independence, turns you mean beings from Senna's into Saints and, from is self-willed, itself-centred individuals that nature, left to its own devices makes opposite, into the Sons of God. And the essence of that supernatural ingredient is the Cross which if you look at it in one way is simply a Capital 'I' which has had a line put through it, so that with Saint Paul we can say:
I live, yet not I but Christ will lives in me!
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