St. John's Lutheran Church | 391 Mount Hope Road, Middletown, NY 10940 | 845.342.1963 |

Pastor's Page

March 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

You might have heard this story before, but it is true, and also one of my favorites:

Back in 2009 when we were nearing the end of the construction of our new sanctuary, I would often give tours to members who would stop by during the week.  One morning I was giving such a tour, very proud to show off our beautiful worship space that was taking shape.  We were only weeks away from our October Dedication.  One of our members was looking around, admiring the beauty of what would soon be our new worship space.  Then I heard this comment:  “It all looks so wonderful, so beautiful…except for that cross.  It does not match anything.  It seems like it doesn’t belong.”

Well at first I was offended, but I kept it well hidden (we pastors have to develop thick skin to overcome criticism).   I tried not to be defensive and begin to defend the placement and design of our large chancel cross.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in a way I agreed with the view expressed.  I came to realize that this is precisely the point.  The cross is not supposed to “match.”  It is not supposed to “fit in.”  It is supposed to grab your attention.  Force you to look at it, and see what you don’t really want to see.

The big, dark, rough hewn cross hanging above the altar is doing exactly what it was supposed to do.  Looking out of place.  Looking like it does not belong.  It’s not supposed to “match” like the altar matches the baptismal font.  No, the cross looks out of place because it is out of place.  It is the emblem of sin, our sin, and the Savior who died there to save us and bring us home to heaven.

When Jesus was crucified on that Good Friday afternoon long ago, the cross at Calvary was planted outside of the city, but on a main road so that it would be seen by almost everyone.  It was a warning that people had better follow the Roman Empire’s rules, or they might end up on a cross of their own.  The cross was offensive, grotesque, and that was on purpose.  It was a warning and a threat to all.

As the people of God, we should view the cross the same way.  Our cross reminds us of the violent death of our Lord and Savior.  His was not a “mercy killing,” but a painful, sadistic death for one we know as an innocent man.  Only when we remember the gruesome death that He died, can we remember the depth of His love.

This season of Lent is all about leading us to the cross.  When the rest of the world wants you to think about the coming of spring and warmer weather, the church wants you to see that cross.  See that innocent man on the cross.  That man, Jesus of Nazareth, hanging on that cross is your only hope, my only hope, for getting home to heaven.

So next time you enter our sanctuary, and see our “out of place” cross, remember Jesus and His “out of place” love for you.  He was bruised, beaten, and tortured, yet he never lost His love for you, for me, and for the world.  That’s what Lent is all about.  That’s what our faith is all about. Like we say at the beginning of the Good Friday Tenebrae Service:

“Behold the life-giving cross, on which was hung the salvation of the world.  O come let us worship Him”

In Christ,

Pastor Rustico +