Archive for September 14th, 2013

About Holy Cross Day:

One of the earliest annual celebrations of the Church, Holy Cross Day traditionally commemorated the discovery of the original cross of Jesus on September 14, 320, in Jerusalem. The cross was found by Helena, mother of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. In conjunction with the dedication of a basilica at the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the festival day was made official by order of Constantine in AD 335. A devout Christian,Helena had helped locate and authenticate many sites related to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus throughout biblical lands. Holy Cross Day has remained popular in both Eastern and Western Christianity. Many Lutheran parishes have chosen to use “Holy Cross” as the name of their congregation. (From The Treasury of Daily Prayer, published by Concordia Publishing House)


According to one story, Helena actually found 3 crosses and to determine which was the true cross, her son, the Emperor brought a dead person and they figured that if it’s the true cross and it touched the dead man, the man would come back to life and sure enough…

In Medieval Europe, there are many relics of the ‘true’ cross in the many, many cathedrals and churches.  Luther is attributed as quipping that there are so many relics of the true cross, you could rebuild Noah’s Ark (!)    The Cross is not a relic.  The true treasure of the Cross is Jesus Christ.  It is not the cross that’s important, but the One Who died upon it.  The cross can be denigrated into a superstitious amulet.     We become so fixated on it, when our eyes and hearts should be  fixed on the One Who was crucified upon it.  Protestants fall prey to this:  for instance, see the hymn, “The Old Rugged Cross”.  So a crucifix is a much more salutary Biblical pointer to Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, than is an empty cross. Yet, even an empty cross, made of  mangled I-beams from the wreckage and horror of the World Trade Center, gave hope to so many.  And the Cross is a scandal as shown that the WTC Cross was taken away. “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block (literally in the Greek, “skandalon”, scandal) to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24  It is not the thing but the the preaching of Christ crucified that is the central.  Many Lutheran Churches are named Holy Cross because the true point of pilgrimage is not a relic of the true Cross but where the Crucified is truly preached and His Sacraments administered for the faith and love of His people.  Who else than the One who died midst the wrecks of time has gathered our sin and our sorrow into His Heart?

I think the 4th century historical basis of this day is “over-the-top”.  Then again, God dying on a tree for you and for me, to atone for the sin of the entire world is  “over-the-top”… such is His love shown and given, changes us.  Holy Cross Day points us in this unlikely time of year of what happened upon the Cross and the reasons for it:

First:   as indicated, it comes at this time of the year:  the beginning of the school year, autumn is a week away, the harvest will be brought in. In Judaism and Eastern Orthodoxy, September is the beginning of their liturgical years.   It is appropriate:  life continues in the deadening of the year.  In school,  minds and hopefully even souls are educated in this change of season.  We give thanks to the Lord for the harvest.  Needless to say, we urbanites and suburbanites, are insensible to the rhythms of seed-time and  then harvest. But Holy Cross can remind us the Lord will bring in His Harvest by His Sacrifice upon the cross:  hearing, learning and growing in the good news of forgiveness once and for all. Jesus Christ is the grain of wheat planted, dead and alive (See  John 12:24 ) The cross is like a shepherd’s staff by which He gathers us to Himself.  (See John 12:31-33)

Second:   The reminder of the Lord’s crucifixion is not to relegated to Good Friday alone.  Sadly, many Protestants don’t even bother with Good Friday.  The way of His suffering, death and resurrection, the only Way,  is our daily forgiveness, salvation and bread unto eternal life. Making the sign of the cross upon our bodies is a good reminder that in Christ Jesus is our hope of salvation, body and soul,  the Resurrection unto eternal life. Luther said every morning, make the sign of the cross and say, IN the Name of the Father, and of the +Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Third:   The quote on the photo up top, We preach Christ and Him crucified  (see 1 Corinthians 1:22-24), is in present tense. St. Paul wrote to Timothy that “I am the chief of all sinners”, present tense. The present tense Savior is for present tense sinners to live faithful lives in Him, His Body the Church.  Pastors are called by the Lord to so preach.  Repentance is not a one time deal, but a daily life of dying and rising in Him. (see Matthew 16:23-25) His forgiveness, by the sign of His Cross, is our daily nourishment to live with ourselves and each other.  Our lives are hid in His (see:   Colossians 3:2-4)

Fourth:  He calls His whole Church on earth to Himself so that the very life of the Church proclaims the Cross. The Church is witness to Jesus Christ. The Christians of Medieval Europe had it spot-on when they built the great cathedrals in the shape of a Cross and at the entrance is the Baptismal Font,the way we die and rise in Christ Jesus to walk  in the Spirit (Romans 6: 1ff):  

We are to point as John the Baptizer did to the Lamb of God, as the blessed Martin Luther did, as all faithful preachers do:

If the Church  and her pastors and preachers do not then we are only pointing to ourselves and Jesus Christ is relegated to the background, as the wrong picture, ‘icon’ shows.   Jesus Christ does not “lead from behind”, Hebrews 12:1-3:

In the Orthodox Church this day is called, “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross”.  This does not necessarily mean a facile triumphalism or a theology of glory.  It is the exaltation of Jesus Christ and not to be ashamed of His sacrifice for us all, for the whole world (see Romans 1:15-17,  Hebrews 12:1-3) What the worldlings exalt in this sin-soaked world, which our Old Adam applauds,  can not compare to the exaltation of His love for sinners (see Romans 5:7-9) .  A blessed Holy Cross Day!

“Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ, the love of Christ proclaim, till all the world adore His sacred Name.”

Let us pray…

Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God,  now and forever.

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