And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you. -1 Pt 5:10
Every Spring at St. Hagop we have the same friendly debate among our altar servers when selecting a cross for our Lenten altar. Should we use this same cross we use every year or not? It’s not an Armenian Cross one deacon says, we rarely have crucifixes with Christ’s body depicted in our tradition. Yes, but Lent & Holy Week are all about Christ’s crucifixion, another deacon says, so this crucifix is well suited to the occasion. This debate doesn’t just happen on the altar. We have many couples in this church with one partner Roman Catholic & the other Armenian Orthodox. One such family had a similar friendly debate when the time came for their grandchild to be baptized. The Roman Catholic side of the family brought a beautiful small crucifix for the baptismal cross, while the Armenian family brought a beautiful budding Armenian cross. Der Hayr, what should we do? Well Catholic family, your cross is beautifully symbolic of the cross of servanthood, which models how God’s love, true love encounters much suffering on the road to resurrection. And Armenian family, our beautiful cross is a cross of Resurrection, the absence of Christ’s body, the vines and growth all focus on the Easter Gift of new life we are granted in Christ.
So like Solomon, would could split the baby in half (I didn’t say that out loud). Or maybe, if we bring both of our devotions together, if we bring Catholics and Armenians together, we arrive at a fuller truth. For all Christians believe, as the Apostle Paul put it, “that we are united with (Christ) in a death like his, (and) we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his (Ro 6:5).” So it turns out that the solution to our baptismal cross dilemma and our altar cross dilemma also solves the main dilemma of trying to live as a faithful Christian in in a world rife suffering. The solution is to take up both crosses, the cross of suffering and the cross of resurrection, because you can’t have one without the other.
These are both sides of the story of Christ. These are two sides of the same coin of the Christian journey. These are the two sides of the cross. Imagine this, a cross on one side that is a crucifix and on the other that is a budding cross of Resurrection. These are the two sides of our salvation, and they are to be the two lived realities of our daily Christian walk. If you have trouble imagining this double sided cross, look to the sacred vessels of the church to help you. You will notice that our chalice has two icons of the suffering of Christ on one side and two of the Resurrection on the other. Our beautiful gold Gospel cover has one side engraved with the crucifixion of Christ, the other with His glorious resurrection. Likewise, the two sides of the cross are to be engraved in our hearts and minds as we make our journey through this life.
What would it look like practically to live out both sides of the cross in daily life? Well, in these times of global pandemic the suffering cross is all around us. In some places still, many are sick and dying. In our community our elderly are isolated and fearful. Families are stretched thin from closed schools, loss of routine and loss of income. Our natural response to such suffering is to avoid it, and we have so many ways of doing so. We can stuff it down and not talk about it. We can call it all a political game. We can dull it by over-working or over-drinking. Jesus, however, encourages not to flee form our suffering, but to lean into it; “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23) Somehow it seems that pain and suffering are not meaningless, they are to be our great daily teachers in loving God and others. Lean in to your sin, to your falling short, to your brokenness, says Jesus and you will be blessed. Lean in to other people’s pain and to the injustice of the world and you will be blessed. It seems there is no way around the cross of suffering in this world, but there is one way through it, to the cross of life.
For when we do face up to our pain and losses and ask Jesus’ help in bearing our cross, we one day find that the cross has turned and the burden has shifted. Suddenly our fall into bad health or hard times is not just a falling down, but a falling upward that brings us closer to God and closer to others bearing their crosses. Suddenly Peter’s words in today’s reading ring fully true; ‘And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, establish, and strengthen you.’ May every Armenian, every Catholic, every child of God, learn to abide by our two sided cross, to embrace our own losses as well as our certain resurrections, just as Jesus did, so that our lives will not be one sided, but full and abundant in Him, now and always amen.