Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Triumph of the Cross ... and Two Answered Prayers

Today, September 14, is the day we remember the Triumph of the Cross. Until today, I had never heard of this celebration, but the Saint of the Day e-mail from informed me of the historical and religious significance of this church feast:

Early in the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ's life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior's tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman.

The cross immediately became an object of veneration.
[My note: Veneration is NOT worship. Worship is only for God! Veneration is simply paying respect to because it points to Christ and His Gospel.] At a Good Friday celebration in Jerusalem toward the end of the fourth century, according to an eyewitness, the wood was taken out of its silver container and placed on a table together with the inscription Pilate ordered placed above Jesus' head. Then "all the people pass through one by one; all of them bow down, touching the cross and the inscription, first with their foreheads, then with their eyes; and, after kissing the cross, they move on." [Another note from me: This act is worship of Christ Himself, not of the cross. By kissing the wood on which Our Prince of Glory died, they symbolically kiss Christ Himself. I've practiced a similar "veneration" on Good Friday each year, and it's truly an act of worshiping Jesus.]

To this day the Eastern Churches, Catholic and Orthodox alike, celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the September anniversary of the basilica's dedication. The feast entered the Western calendar in the seventh century after Emperor Heraclius recovered the cross from the Persians, who had carried it off in 614, 15 years earlier. According to the story, the emperor intended to carry the cross back into Jerusalem himself, but was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim.

The cross is today the universal image of Christian belief. Countless generations of artists have turned it into a thing of beauty to be carried in procession or worn as jewelry. To the eyes of the first Christians, it had no beauty. It stood outside too many city walls, decorated only with decaying corpses, as a threat to anyone who defied Rome's authority—including the heretic sect which refused sacrifice to Roman gods. Although believers spoke of the cross as the instrument of salvation, it seldom appeared in Christian art unless disguised as an anchor or the Chi-Rho until after Constantine's edict of toleration.

"How splendid the cross of Christ! It brings life, not death; light, not darkness; Paradise, not its loss. It is the wood on which the Lord, like a great warrior, was wounded in hands and feet and side, but healed thereby our wounds. A tree has destroyed us; a tree now brought us life" (Theodore of Studios).

It is quite fitting that today two major prayers were answered, both of several years' standing. Thanks be to God for both answers!

Firstly, when I first starting researching Catholic, Orthodox, and Episcopal/Anglican Churches, I discovered a church tradition that I agreed with completely: the Reformed Episcopal Church. This denomination had separated from the Episcopal Church back in the 1870s when they saw that the Episcopal Church (TEC) was becoming too liberal, too separated from the Truth of the Scriptures. The more I read about the Reformed Episcopal Church, the more I liked about them. The only point that I wasn't sure about was infant baptism, but as we were done having children, that one didn't matter as much to me. But as I researched, I found out that there was not a single Reformed Episcopal Church in the entire county of San Diego. The closest one was in Santa Ana, near Disneyland on the way to Los Angeles. "So much," I thought, "for the Reformed Episcopal Church."

Today Bishop Boyce of the Anglican Province of America is making his yearly visit to Alpine Anglican Church of the Blessed Trinity. He will be confirming candidates, accepting members, doing baptisms, and generally taking care of bishop stuff. But Bishop Boyce also brings good news: The Anglican Province of America just completed a full merger with ... the Reformed Episcopal Church! I wasn't able to attend the services this morning to hear all of the details, but I do know that Bishop Boyce will remain the Bishop for Alpine Anglican. I'm thrilled at this news ... after all, it's only been eight years since I starting researching the Reformed Episcopal Church....

Secondly, as my post of last Saturday indicated, I have been praying for about seven years for Lake Murray to celebrate Communion weekly. Seven years ago, Lake Murray did not celebrate ANY Communion on Sunday mornings because our pastor at the time believed that Communion would be difficult for guests to handle. So Communion took place each month on Sunday evenings, which were an impossibility for us with small children, toddlers, and babies who would have dinner hour interrupted and would get to bed too late, plus no adequate child care was available, so I ended up in the crying lounge, tearfully watching everyone in the church partake instead of me. In fact, I went for three years with NO Communion because the only time I could receive was at our annual women's retreat, but I had nursing babies with me for a couple of years and they were too fussy during Communion for me to stay to partake. During our first nine years at Lake Murray, I think I received Communion fewer than ten times. Talk about being HUNGRY for the Presence of God! I was starving for Him.

After we elected a new pastor six years ago, Communion was celebrated on the first Sunday morning of the month ... definitely a vast improvement! Over the years I heard whispers of the possibility of weekly Communion, but it had not come to pass. Last Saturday I wrote a post about this very issue. I doubt my post had any influence, but the timing certainly was fortunate: this morning after Sunday School I saw Julie and Tom preparing the matzoh and grape juice in the kitchen. But wait Today is the *second* Sunday of the month, not the first. Then I heard the wonderful news: weekly Communion! If I had felt any better, I may have turned a somersault in sheer joy! Another answered prayer.

So, despite how tired and in pain I feel today, it's a joyful, beautiful day: two long-time prayers answered so wonderfully, plus the Triumph of the Cross. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, amen. (And hip-hip-hooray!)

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