September 14, 2012
Year B, Holy Cross
The Rev. Dr. Brent Was
Today we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross. This is the day for that remembrance because the Roman emperor Constantine had a massive religious complex in Jerusalem dedicated on this date way back in 335 on what is now the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Tradition has it that this was built on the site of Golgotha, the place where Christ was crucified. During the construction of the original complex, Constantine’s mother, St. Helena legendarily supervised the excavation of the One True Cross. That is the why we celebrate the Holy Cross today. The bigger question is why do we celebrate the Holy Cross at all.
It is a grizzly thing, the cross, an Imperial invention of torture, humiliation and execution. It was designed to terrify a local population with the horridness of the death of its victims and the desecration of the remaining bodies by the dogs and vultures that lingered on places like Golgotha where our Savior was crucified for us and for many.
It is all of that, a symbol of violence, oppression and imperial hegemony. And we mark our children with that sign at baptism. Our foreheads are marked with it on Ash Wednesday. Our sins are absolved in the Mass with the sign of the cross. We welcome Christ into our bodies in the Eucharist with this movement, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The Holy Cross is a sign of the fleeting and fragile nature of life. It is a sign, a reminder of the eschatological humility we share with Christ. Jesus Christ was as fully human as he was fully divine. We cannot really grasp that concept, the fully divine part at least, not really, but as Sam Potaro eloquently reminds us, “The greatness of God, and the holiness of Jesus, says Paul, is manifest in mortality and thus in humanness.
When we make the sign of the cross on our chest, when a priest moves her hands in that pattern at the absolution of sins, the blessings or in the consecration of the elements in the Eucharist, when that sign is made on our children’s foreheads in baptism, we bear that as a reminder of how precious is this gift of life we have been graced by God with.
The next time you hang a cross around your neck, or make the sign of the cross on your chest, or receive absolution or a blessing under that sign, remember the humbleness it evokes. Remember the preciousness of life it signifies. Hold delicately the fragility of life that it reminds us of, and the blessing God offers us in the gift of that life. All of this we say in the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. AMEN