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A profound paradox of the Cross

On September 14, 2016 (Holy Cross Day), Huron University College conferred the degree of Doctor of Divinity upon the Right Reverend Linda Nicholls, coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Huron.

 By Bishop Linda Nicholls

On my bedroom wall I have a rack of crosses. Clergy do tend to gather them – gifts or purchases – gold, silver, wood, beaded – large pectoral ones and small delicate ones.

I choose among them to wear one almost every day. I wear them proudly as an outward sign of the invisible cross indelibly marked on my forehead as an infant at my baptism.

14So I was taken aback as I approached the Wailing Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem during a trip with members of my episcopal Area. A woman sitting near the entrance to the area of prayer said in a disgusted voice: ‘Get rid of that – hide it’, as I realized she was pointing to me and at the cross around my neck. The cross I so proudly wore as a sign of my faith was, for her, a symbol of discrimination, prejudice, pain and linked to a history of anti-Semitism.

For a moment – just then – I glimpsed the folly of the cross. Where now we see it as a symbol of the depth of God’s love for humankind – where we adorn ourselves and our churches with it – I was reminded that for others it is a symbol of foolishness and a symbol of human cruelty; of power over others; of the irony between what it stands for and what has been done in its name.

And it is a profound paradox that we – followers of Christ – see the death of Jesus as a common criminal in all its crude, painful humiliation – as an ultimate sign of love giving all by submitting to this death – of God giving even God’s own life for the world. What is foolishness to Jews and Greeks is the revealing of the wisdom of God.

It is not surprising that this is seen as folly in a world that prizes success, achievements, wealth, power & status. How could it possibly be ‘success’ to allow oneself to be so weak.

Yet that is the message – that this weakness is actually strength, that dying is necessary for new life – that this ultimate moment of submission will release the power of God.

When we wear a cross or set it up in our worship space we cede our willingness to enter into this life of paradox – to be weak, foolish – to give up our life for others – to love & forgive – even and especially when the world around thinks we are crazy, impractical and unwise.

Only problem is that even though we wear it or see it in our churches, we are not always ready for its cost. As a disciple of Jesus Christ I love the result – but shy away from the path to it – the path of ‘foolishness’ that will ask me to lay down all else.

It does feel rather curious and ironic to be here today, being honoured with a D.D. from Huron College, with all the attendant pomp and formality – receiving it in recognition of my service in the Church, a Church that is built on the message of the cross. A cross that is a sign not of honour but of humility – not of power but of submission.

But maybe that is the best day to put these together – Holy Cross Day & an honorary degree – in order to juxtapose the truth that the honour must be rooted in service to the One whose path to glory was through weakness and death. This D.D. will not continue as an honour unless it is fulfiled by my continued faithfulness to God’s call – not seeking personal afrmation but laying all aside to give and serve. For when we wear the cross our lives are to honour its meaning. If we do not live it with integrity, then all people see and hear is the hypocrisy of our lives that are not reflecting the deep love of God that longs to reach out in sacrificial love. That is what the woman at the Wailing Wall had experienced.

Today, Holy Cross Day, is a reminder that if we follow Jesus Christ – if we have embraced the foolishness of the Gospel – then our lives are to show it.

+ Linda