Feast of the Holy Cross, St. Matthew’s Orthodox Church, Baton Rouge, La.

Today is the Feast of the Veneration of the Cross in the Orthodox Church. It marks the halfway point in Great Lent. On the feast, the cross is displayed in the center of the church, usually surrounded by flowers, basil, or some kind of greenery that reminds us that the Cross is the Tree of Life. Today, our priest Father Joshua began his homily by noting that one of the choir members said last night, when the rosy cross was presented at vespers, that there were “too many roses.”

“You can’t see the cross,” the choir member said. It was true. They took a few of the roses off so the cross would be clear.

Father Joshua said that the roses have to be there to represent the joy and the life that comes from the Cross. But you also have to be able to see the Cross clearly amid the life and the joy. “You cannot have real joy without the Cross,” he said.

His point is about the balance that Christians have to have in their lives. Too much starkness and suffering, and you distort the message of the Cross. It’s all crucifixion and no resurrection. Christians are supposed to fast, but we are also supposed to feast. The suffering of the Cross was not the final word.

But if everything is always coming up roses — in the prosperity gospel heresy, for example, or Moralistic Therapeutic Deism — you obscure the suffering and sacrifice at the heart of our faith, and create an idol. That is, you end up worshiping the roses, not submitting to the Cross, because everybody wants to get to heaven, but nobody wants to die. Cheap grace tells Christians that they can have joy without the cross — and that is why Bonhoeffer called cheap grace “the deadly enemy of our church.”