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Devotion: In the shadow of the Cross

This is the devotion given by Tim Sheie prior to the 2 p.m. performance on Saturday, December 15 at Christ Church Cathedral. Each Christmas time, the National Lutheran Choir make a long day-trip to St Louis, Missouri to give two performances of its Christmas Festival. A little more than 24 hours earlier, news spread that a single gunman had forcibly entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six of their teachers. It is in this context that Tim offered this devotion.

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At a time like this, one can think back to Herod…

Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’"

I'm pondering the great words, "Peace on earth and good will toward all." Would that we might know the things that make for peace.

As a side note to the events of this week in Connecticut, let us take a moment of silence and pray for the families in their pain and loss.

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And now a word that some of you saw, from a saint named Fred Rogers, who I had the distinct honor of meeting in Minneapolis:

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." 

“Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else. I’ve felt that many times. My hope for all of us is that “the miles we go before we sleep” will be filled with all the feelings that come from deep caring—delight, sadness, joy, wisdom—and that in all the endings of our life, we will be able to see the new beginnings…”

Departing slightly from tradition, I am not beginning with text from our program this afternoon, but rather from the classic hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus:” I take, O Cross, thy shadow for my abiding place.

We’re all sitting here now a little excited, more than a little tired, many of us distracted – thinking of the fifty things we have to do when we get home, the fifty things we should have done before we left, and this is just one of the things we have to do. You are trying to focus, to concentrate on ‘the now’, and you also are secretly grateful that the person sitting next to you cannot tell that you’re thinking about something else…

Over these past few weeks, you’ve had little bits of the program floating in your head: text and tunes that stick with you for some reason. I believe that the Holy Spirit brings some of these to your attention. For me, this one appeared from my background with gospel hymns, and it always reminds me that “I take, O Cross, thy shadow for my abiding place.” 

As chair of a committee in the thick of details of a Sanctuary renovation at my home congregation of Zion in Anoka, the operative word is “change.” It is a word that strikes sheer terror in the hearts of many loyal and loving Lutherans. Early in the planning process, our kind and wise NLC Board member, Mons Teig, addressed our committee and tried to help certain individuals understand the theology behind some of the changes that were being proposed. I now pretty much know the number of days each committee member needs before they come around, sometimes even revealing to me privately that it was their idea in the first place. One change – still pending – is moving a brass cross off and away from a beloved rose window, and hanging it more forward, over the altar platform…or perhaps over the intersection of the aisles, in the classic ‘transept’ location. It’s only there that the suspended location catches the natural light and creates the shadow of the cross right there on the floor as you approach for communion, actually being in the shadow of the cross.

The shadow of the cross is where we live our lives, having been bought not with silver or gold, but with His innocent suffering and death. It’s the ultimate conclusion of this grand procession that we celebrate today, that God began long before the cradle…and goes to the cross…and then to the crown. You cannot stop with a celebration only at the manger, neither can you linger at the cross. You know the end of the Christmas story and because of that you know the end of your story.  We may celebrate – or even romanticize – a warm, fuzzy Christmas. Yet, all the while we must recognize that the Christ Child was the sacrificial gift to us, the perfect gift of victorious and abundant life.

“I take, O Cross, thy shadow for my abiding place.” 

Do not fear. There is no place for fear. We might live in the shadow – but we walk in the Light.

The Lord be with you.

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