16th after Pentecost Sunday after the Exaltation of the Cross

(On the photo is the largest known fragment of the True Cross in the world. It is treasured at the Holy Monastery of Xeropotamou, Mt. Athos. A hole from the nail that went through our Saviour’s right hand, can be seen surrounded by diamonds at the lower portion of the vertical cross-bar.)

Last Friday was the feast for the “Universal exaltation, or Elevation of the Precious and Life-giving Cross”, and the Feast carries over to today.  So the Gospel reading for today was from St Mark, but there are similar passages in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  This passage is headed in the Orthodox Study Bible “Jesus’ first prophecy of His Passion”.

It is made quite clear in the Gospels that, at a certain stage Jesus prepared the disciples for these events, but that they were unable to understand or even to accept what he was telling them. Yet what he says is quite clear.  St Mark states that “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” A series of very clear statements, but statements which, at that stage in his ministry, seemed to his followers to be completely incomprehensible and are to be understood only in the light of the fulfilment of these events

Perhaps to shed some light on the scene we need to go back a few verses.  Today’s Gospel begins at verse 34 when Jesus announces to his disciples that whoever desires to follow him must also deny himself.  He can then take up the cross and follow him because whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Jesus’s sake and the Gospel’s will the save it.

He goes further by asking what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul because that is the outcome of choosing the world.  It is to lose one’s soul.

He also continues that “Whoever is ashamed of me in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” To this he adds another statement that must have been very difficult to understand for his hearers, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power.”  It is important to note that we might see this statement in the light of the very next episode recorded in the Gospel – the Transfiguration of Jesus, but we should see also in in the light of the select group who were taken up the mountain by Jesus to witness this event.  We are told that this morning’s Gospel was related in the presence of the people and his disciples, by which we ate to understand the Twelve. The Transfiguration, the vision of Jesus in his glory took place in the presence of just three of them, Peter, James, and John as witnesses.  Only these three, at this stage were ready for this

I think that we are intended to understand the statement that I quoted above, “Assuredly, I say to you that there are some standing here who will not taste death till they see the kingdom of God present with power”, we are to understand this in the sense that the vision of Jesus in the glory that was his by right was, after all, to witness to the coming kingdom Of God.

In today’s Gospel we are told of things that, to the disciples, in their fullness were yet to be.  Even now, two thousand years later, they are still yet to be.

In the early Church, the return of the Lord in Glory was thought to be imminent, and Christians lived in faithful expectation of this wonderful event.  Today, two thousand years on we seem to have lost that sense of expectation, and yet what we should be for ever aware of is that although the return of the Lord seems to have been delayed, or rather not delayed, but the time has not yet come.  Millions more have died during those two millennia in the expectation that, although the return of the Lord seems have been delayed, we still await it, as our ancestors did, in God’s good time.  However there is another event that we cannot delay and that is our own death, an event that we need at all times to keep in mind.

The return of the Lord in glory needs to be seen in another way.  It will come about only when all who have been pre-destined by God to be included in this great in- gathering have been born and the vast majority have died.

If it had happened during the life times of the apostles, many millions of those who have lived throughout the intervening two thousand years would have been excluded.  They would not have been born – they would not have existed.  However it was a part of God’s good purpose that they should have been included, and for it to be possible for them –and that includes us – to have been included they needed first to have been born, and to have lived their lives according to God’s will and purpose.