“The word of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18) is the central affirmation of Christianity, demonstrating the depth both of human sin that made the death of Christ necessary and of the divine love of God that caused him to act to redeem humanity through the death of Christ. The Cross is a shorthand expression for the redeeming passion and death of Jesus Christ.
This feast day of the Cross is a celebration of the Johannine view of the crucifixion of Christ as the time of his glorification, the moment of death being the moment of his triumph and victory. His degradation on the Cross paradoxically corresponds to his exaltation. Against the darkness is lifted the beacon of hope, against the forces of evil and destruction is erected “the sign of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:30), against death and defeat is raised the sign of life and victory. It is therefore natural that Christian piety and devotion should attach themselves to the instrument on which the world’s sin was taken away. Made holy by its use, stained and washed with Christ’s blood, the Cross on which the Savior of the world died was surrounded with honor and pious legends. It replaced the tree of disobedience in Eden and became the sign of the perfect Man’s obedience. As the first tree brought corruption and death, so the second brought life and health. The sign of death is transformed into the sign of life, that where Satan, who by a tree in the garden once overcame the progenitors of the human race, by a tree is overcome by the Second Adam. Moreover, these is an eschatological dimension to the Cross as “the sign of the Son of Man”, echoed in a versicle and reponse in the old Divine Office and now in the Liturgy of the Hours a Responsory in Evening Prayer I of The Triumph of the Cross: “This sign of the cross shall be in the heavens when the Lord shall come to judge.”
In the year 355 the emperor Constantine built two basilicas in Jerusalem. One of the churches was on the supposed site of the Holy Sepulchre, and in the course of excavating for this church, the story goes, the Cross on which Christ was crucified was discovered. Cyril of Jerusalem, who seems to be reliable, writing in the year 350, says that the Cross of Christ was found at Jerusalem during the time of Constantine. According to a less reliable tradition, Saint Helena, Constantine’s mother, was the one who discovered the True Cross. Not one but three crosses were found, it is said, and Helena was able to determine which one was Christ’s Cross by applying the three crosses to a dead man. One cross brought the dead man to life, and this was declared to be the Cross of Christ.
The relic of the True Cross was preserved in a silver receptacle in the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre after pieces had been taken away by pilgrims and distributed throughout the world. The Spanish pilgrim, Egeria, who made a journey to Jerusalem ca. 385-388 and who describes the ceremonies of the Church there, tells of the practice of the veneration of the Cross on Good Friday and of how the deacons guarded it so the pilgrims who kissed it would not bite out pieces to carry away.
The Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross, first clearly mentioned by Pope Sergius (687-701), commemorated the exposition of the True Cross at Jerusalem in 629 by the emperor Heraclius after he had recovered it from the Persians who had captured it when they destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 614. This exposition seems actually to have taken place in the spring, but it was celebrated in the fall at the time of the anniversary of the dedication of the church.
from The New Book of Festivals and Commemorations,
the Revd Dr Philip H. Pfatteicher
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
And there is no other god besides me,
righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
“Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
all who were incensed against him.
In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall be justified and shall glory.”
Sing to the LORD a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
With his right hand and his holy arm *
has he won for himself the victory.
The LORD has made known his victory; *
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel, *
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the LORD, all you lands; *
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.
Sing to the LORD with the harp, *
with the harp and the voice of song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn *
shout with joy before the King, the LORD.
Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
the lands and those who dwell therein.
Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the LORD,
when he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world *
and the peoples with equity.
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
The Lesson, Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Bible. The Collect and Psalm are from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).
Holy Cross Day is observed on September 15 this year, September 14 having fallen on a Sunday (cf. page 16 in the Book of Common Prayer ).