Sunday 16 September - Holy Cross Day - Eucharist - Clephane Hume

Creationtide 2018   Holy Cross

Numbers 21 4b – 9; 1Corinthians 1  18-24 ;  John 3  13-17

As is evident from the fair which will follow this service, we are now well into creationtide. This year’s theme being biodiversity. During the past couple of weeks, I have been observing the multiplication of the creatures displayed around the church. Some with more enthusiasm than others. The snail opposite the prayer desk held minimal attraction as a relation of the one I found mid-way up my green beans last week. But they have suddenly all crept, crawled or fluttered away. Including a gold bird at the top of the pulpit steps. George has kindly given me a replacement in the correct liturgical colour. (red)

Lots of wee beasties. That’s biodiversity. The interlinking of creation in nature.

This came home to me vividly when I had a week’s holiday in July. Advertised as a ‘wildlife festival’ centered on the Dolomites, it focused on flowers, birds and butterflies. Due to living in northern climes I had a lot to learn about the latter. The lilies of the field were spectacular. Gave new meaning to last Wednesday’s reading. I soon registered, that as with birdwatching, you need to know how species interact with their habitats. Not rocket science, but if you know what a butterfly feeds on, and what that flower looks like, you just might find a specimen.

Nature is full of examples, but I suspect most of us go through life without making the connections. Remember what happened during the purges inChina. Preventing birds feeding on crops also meant no insect eaters… So come to the fair after the service, and then reflect on the examples around you. And marvel. You need to do the work - I’m up here to celebrate the wonders of God’s creation and goodness to us, not to provide a biology lesson!

Remember though, that nature has the upper hand – the weather in the Philippines and the USA should make that clear. Our actions in respect of climate change are not always helpful, so perhaps that degree of devastation will provide a wake up call to those who deny the reality.

Turning to the readings, the Israelites in the wilderness had a lot of issues to contend with. And they made their feelings known. A plague of serpents seems a bit drastic – the people of Kerala are experiencing that after their floods. But sometimes blunt methods are needed to get the message over. And rescue was provided.

As an occupational therapist, I spent part of my life wearing a badge bearing the image of a serpent on a pole – the widely used symbol of medicine, so I have always taken note of this story. Healing. And when you picture it, a clear precursor to the image of the cross. And of course, the healing ministry of Christ.

Medicine, or lack of it, links to next week when there will be a Charity Sunday and as the remnant of the committee I won’t be here to speak about it.   Toilet twinning is perhaps not a pulpit topic, but in terms of justice and reaching out to our fellow beings, we need to be aware that the death rate of children in many countries reaches many thousands. 

Education regarding hygiene is desperately needed where there are no medical facilities to combat the problems consequent on a lack of knowledge. Or following disasters. Now that we have our splendid complement of new loos, it seemed appropriate to think of others who lack such amenities.

Today we are also observing Holy Cross day, which was celebrated on Friday. This appears to date from the dedication of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, on the 14th September. Cynically, I ask myself if someone can vouch for the accuracy of the date over the years?

With more certainty, it was in the year 326. Emperor Constantine, who had been converted to Christianity, was responsible for founding the church, in the Holy Land. And there it remains today. Built on the location believed to be the site of the tomb of Jesus. Helena, Constantine’s mother, had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and legend has it that where the church now stands, she found the remains of the true cross.

It is a church that has seen much rebuilding over the years and houses a complex combination of denominations, each being responsible for different parts of the building, and not without some contentious exchanges as to who really owns which part. Disputes notwithstanding, it is an impressive place to visit, and not least because of its antiquity. More so if you can climb up on the city walls and get a view looking down on the cross shape. On which we model the shape of our churches.

As Paul reminds us, by the cross we are saved from our sinful behaviour as described in the book of Genesis. Redeemed by Christ’s crucifixion, and resurrection.  And given that Good Friday is a sorrowful day, it is not inappropriate to have something more joyful in recognition of that redemption - at a later stage of the church year.  As the verses of scripture tell us, God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son. That is an enormous gesture.

The idea of glorifying in such a barbaric act must seem puzzling to other faiths, but two thousand years later we can still be thankful for the subsequent fulfilling of God’s promise of eternal life.

When I’m up in Iona I sometimes spend time looking at Maclean’s cross, which stands on the roadside on the so-called street of the dead, leading from the jetty up to the Abbey. On the side facing away from the road, and therefore not so easily seen, is a carving of Christ on the cross. Dating from the 16th century, it reminds us of God’s sacrifice. On the other side, are the intricately intertwined knots we associate with Celtic spirituality. Never ending. Like God’s love for us

By the cross we are redeemed. As well as remembering the pain and suffering, we should show our gratitude with praise and rejoicing.  And our forebears such as Saints Columba and Ninian, whose feast day is tomorrow, deserve our appreciation for bringing that news to us. As Paul commanded the Corinthians - give thanks to God always. Christ will strengthen you to the end.