Dear Friends in Christ:
 
On the 14th of September, we will celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross. I have images of the Cross in many places: in my home, my office, my briefcase, my car, and even around my neck. But today that is not the image I am thinking of.
 
The image I am thinking of has been all over the papers, all over the web: Aylan Kurdi, a child of three, face-down on a Turkish beach, his cheek being lapped by the waves. He looks asleep. His mother and brother have drowned as well, and their father is left alone.
 
He is only one of the tens of thousands who are fleeing the horrors of the Middle East. Innumerable others have died the same way as this little boy, thrown into the sea from flimsy boats, or worse. Hundreds of them have been children. And all the while, most of us simply shook our heads and turned the page. The governments of Europe quarreled and dithered. People festered in camps and under bridges.
 
But this image, and one of the boy and the Turkish policeman who found him cradling his body, had a peculiar catalytic effect. Outrage was unleashed. Politicians found their consciences. Things began to shift, and now (though the disaster is still overwhelming) more and more people are finding refuge and safety.
 
How did this happen? How does one picture, one event, hold such power?

In describing the coming of Jesus, the New Testament uses a curious expression. In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul notes that God's Son came in the fullness of time (4:4). The gospel of John uses a different phrase: the coming of His hour. God seems to care a great deal about the chosen moments of intersection between the eternal and the temporal, the infinite and the finite, the mortal and the immortal. Timing, it turns out, is everything. As with the image of the little boy, a bit earlier or a bit later, and the result might have been different. But when the moment occurs, in the fullness of time, when Judas goes out from the last supper and seals the Lord's fate, Christ's response is triumphant: now is the Son of Man glorified (John 13:31). God's timing is perfect. 
 
In the Cross of Jesus, the God of the universe invades every human tragedy. It is not just that God enters into the suffering of humanity. In the Cross He endows each sufferer- in their humiliation, agony and apparent defeat – with an immortal dignity. He joins Himself to the moment of every human death, and turns it both into a mirror of our condition and a fountain of His compassion. We look on the image of the Innocent One abandoned, stranded and killed, and we see ourselves. Moreover, we see our kinship with every one who has ever borne indignity, violation, and grief. Perhaps we even begin to sense our sin, our complicity in the circumstances that allow such horror its wholesale reign over human affairs.
 
Whether we know it or not, whether we recognize Him or not, it is Christ Crucified who shows himself in every such image, even that of a little boy face-down in the sand. He comes to us in the fullness of time. A week earlier or later and perhaps we would have simply turned the page. But by some miracle, now we see: we look on the image and grasp that we need nothing less than a Divine hand to pull us out of the abyss of our self-involvement, to wake us up, to cleanse our consciences with His mercy, and move us with all of His indignation and love, to extend that hand to others.
 
As we do so, we discover the power that flows through this hand. Jesus says, I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again. By enduring death, Christ conquers it. The Tomb is empty. The final word is not death but Life.This life-bestowing power of the Crucified and Risen Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God. The forgiveness of sins is shown, not merely in words, but in the actions of a forgiven and merciful Church extending ourselves in mission to touch the death-dealing ways of the world with the hand of Christ's life.
 
A year ago I called for a time of Jubilee, a period of sabbath for us to rest, pray and draw closer to one another. I believe the Lord is now asking us to step out once again. Where are the Aylan's within our reach? How do we learn the names of the young lives being snuffed out every day in Wilkinsburg and Homewood, in the Mon and Allegheny valleys, in Appalachia? Who are those who struggle in silence in our own parishes and in the neighborhoods around us? How can we better reach with the word of Christ's mercy those who need mercy, with justice those who need justice? How can we help stop the hand of death by making our lives a proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Author of Life?
 
Over a year ago, The Listening Committee was formed to take an inventory of our parishes' efforts in outreach and mission. Their work is complete, for the time being, and I have received their final report, concerning which you will be hearing much more. I have been impressed, sometimes very moved, by the multiple ways that the congregations of this diocese are meeting the needs of the world. And I think we are only beginning to see the outlines of the work to which God is calling us.
 
I believe that work begins in our fully grasping the reality of the Redemption accomplished in the Cross, immersing ourselves in its story so we cannot forget the face of the Crucified as we see Him in the world. This is the challenge of our formation as Christ's disciples, and I am aware that no other goal, neither a public Gospel nor any genuinely missional community, is possible without it. I believe this is the moment when we are being asked to take the matter of our formation seriously and to find new ways to accomplish it.
 
The Feast of the Holy Cross will come and go, but the reality it commemorates is here to stay. This year may we be so awakened by the power of the Crucified One that we see His image from moment to moment in the lives around us, and by our faith in His love show His power in our actions and our words.
 
Faithfully your bishop,

(The Rt. Rev.) Dorsey McConnell