Monday, September 14, 2009

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today's Feast Day, also called the Triumph of the Cross, is one that I am not been familiar with, so I did a little research about it this morning for my own education as well as to share here. I love learning more about the history of the Christian Church and the Holy Days celebrated by the vast majority of Christians around the world, even though they often worship very differently than I do. The more we know about each other and our different modes of worship, the more easily we can extend the brotherly and sisterly love of Christ Jesus our Lord to one another.

From today's Saint of the Day e-mail from

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. 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."

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).
From on today's celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross:

Celebrated since the early days of the Church, this feast is meant to remember Christ’s victory over sin and death. It is also meant to commemorate the successful search of Emperor Constantine for the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ.

It was in 312 A.D., while Constantine the Great was in combat with Maxentius for the throne of the Roman Empire, that he prayed to the Lord God of the Christians to help him in his battle. According to stories, in response to Constantine’s prayer, a sign appeared in the sky. A radiant cross was seen with the words "IN THIS SIGN YOU WILL CONQUER" inscribed on it. Eventually, Constantine won the battle over Maxentius and he attributed the victory to the God of the Christians. The emperor then commanded that the sign of Christianity be inscribed on the Roman standards and on the shields of all the soldiers.

Believing that the cross was a very powerful sign, he sought the true cross of Jesus Christ. It was on September 14, 326, that Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found it in Jerusalem and Constantine decreed that two churches be established on Mount Calvary.

The cross of Jesus Christ is a very powerful symbol for it is a symbol of Christ’s selfless love for all humanity. Jesus transformed the cross from a symbol for punishment into a symbol of redemption. He transformed it from a symbol of meaningless death into a symbol of life-giving sacrifice.

The challenge of today’s feast is for us to look favorable at our suffering today. Our suffering, if united with the suffering of Christ, can also bring life. Like Saint Paul, we can also say that we rejoice in our sufferings because we know that "Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." (Romans 5:3).

May the cross remind us all of the hope and love that Jesus offered us. May we also be able to transform our sufferings into grace-filled moments of life and love.
Yesterday Pastor Stephen at Lake Murray Community Church preached on Romans 14:1-12 which is about how the stronger in the faith should not judge the weaker in the faith. Dr. Stephen made some perceptive statements that I'm still pondering -- about how what we may look on as strength in faith, God may see as weakness. He stated early in the sermon (taken from my notes), that genuine believers will not always agree on spiritual matters or theological points, but all are welcomed into the family of Christ. We are not to judge those who are true Christians and may practice the Christian faith differently than we do because God includes them in His Family. Differences in issues of preference (not issues of sin) are not to be judged by other believers. We cannot judge them because God is their Master and Sovereign, not us. Christians who practice their faith differently than we do need to be accepted by and loved by us as brothers and sisters in the faith.

Dr. Stephen didn't mention Roman Catholics by name, but I think his words can apply to a current specific situation. Within the last six months, a very prominent and beloved family left Lake Murray for the Roman Catholic Church. This family had been members of our church for over twenty years, raising their children up in the church; the wife had been our long-time choir director, and the husband often served as an elder and was my favorite Sunday School teacher. I recently e-mailed the wife who feels somewhat shut out of the friendships at church, and she wrote back, saying I was one of the few who had contacted her to see how they were doing, how their new church was working out, etc. She feels shunned. I am hoping that we can listen, hear, and apply what Dr. Stephen taught us yesterday about truly loving each other, even if we practice the faith in different ways. "If God doesn't judge them, then we shouldn't," he preached. "Iron sharpens iron, and we need each other." God has called us to live a life of love and acceptance among other Christians who worship differently than we do. We are not to judge them by our own standards, but by God's. There is a huge difference between following God's Word differently and those who are walking in sin, contrary to God's Word. So love and acceptance, even if we can't agree, should be the rule of life for our relationship with Christians who worship differently than we do. And I say, "Amen!"

So I love researching special days in the Church that I have never heard of before, such as today's Exaltation of the Cross, believing that my cursory knowledge may build a bridge to the lives and practices of other Christians who practice their faith in Christ differently than I do. Learn from each other. Love one another. These are what Christ calls us to do, in His grace and for His glory.

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