Wreaths and crosses Austin Farrer
The sermon I am going to preach to you came to me ready-made – it drove into the Front Quadrangle where I happened to be standing: a brisk little van with
this inscription painted on its doors, ‘Crosses and wreaths made to order’… Crosses and wreaths can be made to order, and that is a very comforting thought; for when something so un-made-to-order as death turns up, it is a pathetic sort of consolation for us to switch our attention on to something that can be made to order. Death cannot be called to order, the souls of the righteous, and of the unrighteous too, are in the hands of God, not in our hands; but we can get crosses and wreaths supplied to our order.
Is it your choice?
Well, but can you really choose your crosses? From whose hands, in fact, do crosses come? And for whose sake are you going to bear them? For your own credit’s sake, or for the sake of him who lays them on your shoulder? And if for his sake, must they not be what he assigns? We cannot, surely, be so childish as to do to God what children do to us, and imagine we are helping, while we work at the tasks we want to do, not at the tasks he wants to have done. All too often this is what
children call ‘helping mother,’ but it is not what Christ calls either loving God, or obeying him; for as to ‘helping God,’ that is scarcely an expression we should ever dare to use.
Never what we ordered
Crosses are never what we ordered, but always either greater than we ordered, smaller than we ordered, or other than we ordered—and it does not matter which; for God measures the love with which they are carried, and not the poundage of each particular weight. Wreaths are never what we ordered, either; but, unlike crosses, the wreaths all have the same fault—they are all ridiculously big and splendid; because God’s thoughts are not as our thoughts, and he prepares for man such good things as pass man’s understanding. So the wreaths he orders for us throw into the shade all the crosses he assigns us, and it becomes painfully obvious that our crosses will never deserve our crowns.
If you want to see a wreath and a cross to match it, you must go as far as the empty sepulchre outside Jerusalem; and there you may see the great garland of glory, with, lying beside it, a cross not unworthy of it: a cross which lately stood upright on Calvary, but now is laid beside the crown of fadeless flowers. Look closely at this cross, and there you shall see like a little jewel laid over the intersection of its arms, whatever cross you have faithfully borne for God’s sake. Alone, it would not be measur able against the glorious crown; but the great arms of Christ’s cross extend the spread of yours, and fit it to the heavenly scale. ND
From the sermon ‘Made to Order’ in Said or Sung, by Austin Farrer, edited by Arthur Middleton