Der Vasken's Sermon on September 30, 2018

Oct 2, 2018

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Today Armenian Churches all over the world celebrate a feast that is unique to the Armenian Church.  Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak.  Let me very briefly share a part of the story behind this feast day. 

Back in the 7th century, a devout monk saw an image of a brilliant cross come to rest on a monastery on Mount Varak in our ancestral homeland.  The monk raced to that monastery to see what was going on, and there he found what he has been praying to find for many, many years--a fragment of the True Cross of Jesus Christ.  Now how a piece of the Cross of Christ arrived to a mountain in historic Armenia is an interesting story unto itself.  There is more about this story in today's Sunday bulletin.  But let me just say, that over time, the hiding place of this small relic of the Cross was forgotten, and it laid buried in an unknown place for nearly three hundred years before the monk found it.  

Today's feast commemorates that discovery.  This fragment of the Holy Cross became a most highly-honored relic in Armenia.  To keep it safe, it was moved several times over the centuries from Varak to Sebastia to the City of Van, where it could be seen by pilgrims.   At the time of the Genocide, it was moved to Holy Etchmiadzin.  That's the history behind this feast day of the Holy Cross, but to me, that's not as important as the significance the Cross has to our lives today.

I think we will all agree that the Cross of Christ is a symbol of blessings in our lives.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that when we think about what it means to be blessed, most of us think of the good things that have happened to us over the years.  Perhaps a supervisor offered us a new position at work and we were blessed with a promotion; or we remember when our baby was born and how we were blessed with a child; or we may have overcome an illness and been blessed with renewed health.  Blessings and good times go hand in hand and it's easy to celebrate when things go our way.

But what about when we go through difficult times and challenging times?

  • The company is downsizing and lay-offs are coming.
  • Someone walks out of a relationship and the other person has to start over.
Where are the blessings when we go through times like these?  All of us will at some point walk through the dark valleys of life--the dark places of life--a sickness, a loss, an end, a child heading down a wrong path.  The dark places somehow find us, and it's easy to get discouraged, and it's easy to throw our hands into the air and give up.  The Bible has a beautiful response to this.  The answer is found in Psalm 23.  Psalm 23 is possibly the most well-known of all of King David's Psalms.  It's not a coincidence that this great king wrote these words:  "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters and though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."  In other words, King David is saying:  The same God, who leads us to the green pastures of life; the same God, who leads us to the still waters of life, is the same God, who will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death and back to the land of the green pastures and still waters.

All shepherds carry a staff with which they lead their flock.  Our shepherd's staff is in the shape of a Cross.  He holds it high in the air for us to follow.   He places it on our forehead and on our heart and soul at our baptism so that it protects us and guides us.  Under God's Cross we bless our marriages and bury our loved ones.  We make the sign of the Cross to mark our bodies with God's seal, and we start and end our prayers with His seal.  The Cross of Christ is a part of life for Christians.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross.  We venerate the Cross, not because it's an historic artifact like a volcano that went extinct centuries ago, but because it is a living "spiritual bridge" that connects us directly to God.  And when we venerate the Cross, it becomes a place to meet God.  The Cross is the intersection between this world and the eternal world, and at that intersection we meet our God; at that intersection we embrace the shepherd and we greet the Lord.

So think about this when you have a moment today.

  • Is the Holy Cross essential to your life?
  • And do you see it as a lens to view your life and the lives of those around you?
I will end with this thought. I'm sure that many of us tuned into the news programs coming out of our nation's capital last week, and like most citizens of our country, you took a side.  You believed him, but not her.  You believed her, but not him.  Or you watched a man, who entertained generations of people through his humor, being led off to prison because he became someone we never imagined he could become.  It was a hard week because of all of this.  The anger in the air.  The disappointment in the air.  There was tension in the air and I found myself asking:
  • "What is going on?"
  • "What happened to civil discourse?"
  • "What happened to the morals that we grew up with?"
What happened?

So today's feast reminding us of the message of the Holy Cross is very timely.  If we call ourselves Christian, we must bear the Cross at all times and know that we will be held accountable for what we do and say.  When we put on the Cross of Christ,

  • We no longer just see the world around us; we look at it.
  • We no longer just hear the world around us; we listen to it.
  • And we will no longer just be aware of the needs of others; we will be moved to help them.
This is what the Cross of Jesus Christ is all about--caring for one another; noticing one another; building each other up.  Psalm 23 urges us to follow the Shepherd's Staff.  Our Shepherd carries a Cross and He calls us to follow Him, and our lives should reflect that.

Something we should all take some time to think about.