Unexpected Cross

By Ken Asel

Reading from the Gospel of John, 3:11-17

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”


Today is Holy Cross Day. There are many legends surrounding the discovery of the True Cross. Generally, the cross of Jesus, together with those of the two thieves, are believed to have been discovered by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine I, in the middle of the fourth century, during excavation and construction for what became the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The gospel selection for this day focuses on the well-known night encounter between Jesus and a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, who comes to him with questions about the true way of salvation. In it, our Lord invites Nicodemus to do some excavation. He comes to Jesus with a list of questions about theology, intrigued but cautious. Jesus is kind to Nicodemus, yet gently challenges him to go beyond theological propositions, inviting him to explore God in a more expansive way. Our Lord invites Nicodemus to investigate what it might mean to become open to living the rest of his life not merely ethically and academically, but as an incarnation of the grace God bestows on those who manifest the character of the Creator.

While this evening conversation has been well known by Christians throughout the ages, it remains a mystery in many ways. Was Nicodemus entranced by Jesus’ holiness and power, or by his expression of daily servanthood to the neglected? Perhaps he wanted to understand the manner in which the Messiah engaged the crowd. Despite his budding interest in Christ from that night forward, we wonder whether Nicodemus ever fully braved the questions Jesus posed. Whatever answer he expected to hear from Jesus, it almost certainly wasn’t the cross. The same might be true for us as well.

(The Reverend) J. Kenneth Asel, D.Min. is a retired priest from the Diocese of Wyoming. Devvie and he have been married more than 28 years and reside in the Texas Hill Country.

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