In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
If you look around the Church, you will see different types of crosses. For example, in the windows, you will see a number of examples of the Jerusalem Cross – it’s the one that has all the little crosses surrounding a large cross in the middle.
Today, I want us to take a look at one particular cross – the kind of cross that we see especially in the Slavic world, in the Orthodox world, and in parishes like ours. (Holds up the three-barred ‘Russian Cross’) How many bars do you see on this cross? You see two right on the top and there’s one hiding on the bottom. Maybe you can’t really see it clearly, but there are three. Now, why do you think there are three? Three bars for the Holy Trinity? That’s a beautiful symbolic meaning. But beside that symbolic meaning there’s also a historical meaning. There’s a simple reason for why there are three, if you think about the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion.
The first bar? There was something that was placed over Jesus’s head, Our Lord’s head. It was a sign, and the sign said, “The King of the Jews.” It was in three different languages, so all the people around could read it -- “The King of the Jews.” Of course, the middle bar is where they fixed His hands and arms. The bottom bar was where they placed His feet. This was a very difficult thing in the crucifixion customs of the time period. The feet on the bottom bar held the body weight until the victim succumbed to exhaustion.
The historical reality leads us to another symbolic meaning. Notice that the bottom bar on the right side of Jesus points up, and on His left side it points down. What does that symbolize? We heard it from the Gospel today. On the right side was the thief. We hear in the Gospel today and in beautiful Holy Week hymns about the Wise Thief. Interesting, isn’t it? He was a thief and he was being punished for what he did. But what made him so wise? He said, “Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom.” You see, it’s a beautiful example of a person who, all of his life, up to his last moment, was identified as a thief. And yet when he says, “Remember me, O Lord in Thy Kingdom,” Our Lord’s answer is, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” The point is that this very imperfect man was so wise because he saw his only hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. He put his whole hope in him.
This is a free gift given to us all, that we can’t earn. The Wise Thief did nothing except ask for help. He knew that in Jesus that he could ask for help.
Someone said to me once, “I have a hard time because I just don’t feel like I really deserve what’s given to me.” I thought that was such a beautiful Lenten insight, because -- guess what? -- that’s all of us! There is no one in the world who can brag, “I did this,” or, “I deserve this,” “I earned this.” No one. If the most religious people in the world, the people called by God, who have been trained and given the prophets and the law -- if they didn’t feel worthy, what about the rest of humanity?
In his Epistle the Apostle Paul, he speaks of the crosses that no one has a right to be able to say, “I earned, I deserve this.” Instead everything we’re given today, life eternal in the Kingdom, is a free gift given by the Son of God, who assumed human flesh, and died for our sake, for the life of the world. He gave his life for the life of the world, and that means not only for every human person who ever was and ever will be, but also for each and every one of us individually. The most difficult thing in life sometimes is simply to say, “Thank you, I’ll receive it. I don’t deserve it, there’s nothing I can do to earn it, and thank you.”
Brothers and sisters, let us receive today this great gift of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave his life for the life of the world: “Remember us, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom.”
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!