Our beautiful Cross of New life is a stunning invitation for so many. Perhaps we who see it so regularly might take it for granted because it hovers above us constantly. I certainly have seen and heard many powerful reactions recently, at weddings and funerals, as visitors are taken in by the reverent invitation that comes from our cross, which is the largest piece of acrylic art in the world. We have artist Ernest Caballero and many founding parishioners to thank for bringing the Cross of New Life into our worship space and into our hearts and souls.
A focus on this cross I believe is helpful, because we are in the midst of a five week period of hearing from the letter of Paul to the Galatians as our second reading at Mass. When we think about the Epistles (letters with a spiritual or religious theme), Paul’s writings to the community of Galatia (modern day Arkana, Turkey), are not ones that come to mind as much as his writings to Corinth or Rome. However, the major theme of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is ‘Christ and his cross is the way to salvation and holiness.’
By way of background, the Galatians were descendents of the Celts who invaded Asia Minor. Galatia was a Roman province with an almost exclusive pagan influence. Consequently, the language of his letter to the people there is similar to that of his letter to largely pagan Rome. However, different from Rome, there Paul was fighting the influence of Jews who had converted to Christianity, but who also strongly disagreed with Paul on some teachings and tried to undermine his authority. Consequently, Paul writes with particular passion and even anger, particularly in the 5th and 6th chapters. He concludes the letter with a summary and admits that he writes in large letters, perhaps similar to the way we might emphasize similar emotions in a text or email in all capital letters.
If you read this conclusion and then read the passage that we will hear this weekend (Galatians 5:1, 13-18), you may have a deeper appreciation for the way that freedom, the spirit, the law and how the statement “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” fulfills the guiding truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is an important statement by Paul that we hear this weekend.
Speaking of the Gospel, we continue to hear from Luke this weekend and, as is almost always the case, the direct connection between it and the first reading is pronounced. The Old Testament reading from Kings tells us that Elisha begins to succeed the great prophet Elijah. However, Elisha wants to kiss his father and mother goodbye before he begins. Elijah emphasizes the urgency of engaging Elisha immediately, and the result is that they slaughter the oxen they were using for work and roast them on a fire that is fueled by burning the wooden plowing equipment. Thus, with such drama, Elisha began his prophetic role in succeeding the great Elijah.
Our Lukan passage tells us that Jesus gives a similar urgency to all Christians. He says, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Jesus also responds passionately to the disciples’ instinct to punish the Samaritans (who traditionally disdain mainstream Jews). Jesus rebukes them and leads them to another town. This journey theme from town to town is so significant because the entire Gospel is written as a journey ‘up to Jerusalem.’
Jesus seems to be saying that the continuation of the journey is a deep spiritual experience. The journey is forward, not backward. We can always find a reason not to continue the journey when it gets tough. He reminds the early church that we must move ahead embracing the future, but the journey so often requires us to both put some things aside while at the same time clinging to the cross of Jesus Christ. This is essential to our Christian identity and forms the building blocks of the most important pattern and belief in all of Christianity – namely, the Paschal Mystery. Most often, we can only get to new life through suffering and death. Suffering often leads to death and, suffering and death, if viewed through the lens of faith, can lead to new life.
Our Cross of New Life implies that Jesus is coming out of the suffering and death experience. The cross shows us that he is still partially nailed to the cross and is coming at us, inviting us to new life.
You will notice construction in our welcoming area and front office beginning this week. This is the final phase of the Our Family, Our Faith, Our Future capital campaign, and those of you who pledged and fulfilled your pledges to the campaign have made this new area a reality. Later this summer we will begin replacing the projectors and screens in church as well as making other related technological upgrades. The new A/V system is a major element in helping Holy Family fulfill our mission: To engage all in the sacramental life through vibrant worship, life-long learning and passionate community. Your continuing support is essential for bringing our mission to life. We thank you for your generosity, whether through weekly collections, capital campaign or special directed donations. This upgrade will help us take a big step forward in integrating our audio, visual and informational messages that are critical to the uniqueness of Holy Family.