A Message Signed with Blood
A sermon delivered at 8:00, 9:00, and 11:15 masses at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver on March 1, 2015.
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35
They were seized from villages in Egypt. Some of those captured were even fishermen like the first disciples to be martyred. A video camera was set up.
The terrorist declared that this was “A message signed with blood to the Nation of the Cross” and thus fell the knives that sent 21 martyrs to their reward in Libya. They were put on display for mockery and derision.
Their captors demanded that they recant their faith – that they deny Christ.
Their videotaped murder was designed to frighten Christians everywhere – to shock the sensibilities of the civilized world. It was a message signed with blood.
Yet it is a message we have received before. It is a mockery we have known.
When Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, he placed a sign above his head that sarcastically hailed him “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Christians have since placed the Latin acronym of this sign — INRI — on our crosses ever since but it was always a mockery. It was a message signed with blood.
This latest message, sent by ISIS, was sent to the Nation of the Cross. It was sent to those of us who worship at the foot of the cross, who are marked by its reality, and who wear them with pride.
I suppose though that my question is this. Why should Christians even wear crosses?
Christians have worn the symbol on their chests and emblazoned it on their banners for two millennia. But the cross is nothing more than an instrument of torture used to kill criminals, cow a populace, and execute a Jewish leader named Jesus.
Why would a Christian display a cross with pride? The cross is an insult. The cross is the thing that humiliated and killed the Son of God.
Really, the cross does not belong on the Christian; the Christian belongs on the cross.
Christians hold fast to the truth that the cross was intended for us – the punishment for sin. Yet, Christ allowed himself to be placed upon it and took with him the sins of the world. It was for us and it was born by the Son of God out of divine love.
This is why the nation of the cross holds it up; and the cross is meaningless if it is no longer a reminder of this painful, mocking fact. In this season of Lent, as we make our way toward Good Friday, we are mocked.
It is when Christianity has forgotten this fact, forgotten this shame and mockery, that we have lost our bearings and committed our deepest sins. It is because Christians forgot what the cross meant that they were able to paint it on their shields and march to the war, seize empires, and hold Inquisitions.
Christianity is a strange and paradoxical faith, and the Cross is at the heart of it.
The glory of the cross and of our faith is precisely in its King’s shame. It is nonsensical and it is beautiful. It is easy to mock.
If Christianity forgets this, it forgets its very self.
The barbarism of ISIS will find itself undone, as every terrorist and petty tyrant in our history has been, because we are a faith that is defined by mockery, that is marked by blood, and that is forged in derision. We are the nation of the cross not because we are willing to wear it but because we are marked but it.
It is a message signed with blood to those marked by blood.
Jesus’s Blood has bound us together – all of us into that life and death – in him all things are held together.
When asked what his reaction would be if he saw an Islamic State militant, Beshir Kamel, the brother of two of the martyrs in Libya recalled his mother’s response.
“My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven,” Beshir said.
As the Church – the Body – we are called to strive for the world around us – for that Blood was shed for it. To bring all we know, love, and hold dear into the same family – to plead for God to open eyes everywhere.
As the Cross is lifted up for all to be drawn to Christ, we are now part of that labor of reconciliation and love.
Our Catechism says the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”
Reconciliation is more than repairing wrongdoing. Though it is that. It is more than apology, reparation, or renewal – though it may be all of those.
Reconciliation is the restoration of all things in the Blood of Christ as we see and know that all of the human family is brought together in outpoured Love shed for all.
We, by that Blood, now may too call out “Father, thy will be done.” For Christ’s life was lived with this one purpose – that we might be drawn nearer to the Father in faith and hope – that we might know ourselves, by Blood, as a new family.
We know something of Calvary. We have walked the path of shame. We have shouted “crucify” as he pleads “Forgive them.”
From the coliseums and catacombs of Rome.
From the gulags of Soviet Russia to the slums of El Salvador.
From spears wielded at a Shogun’s command in medieval Japan to an assassin’s bullet carrying a Klan’s hate in Memphis.
From James killed with sword to Stephen stoned to death.
From Saint Peter to Saint Sebastian. From Simon the Zealot to Charles the Martyr.
From Saints Lawrence, Lucy, and Thomas Becket to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero.
From the very Cross of Christ to the desert sands of Libya last week there is indeed – there is indeed – a “message signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross” – and that message is this, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”