Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Feast of the Cross

Today marks the Feast of the Cross, at least in many Christian churches.  To those of us more outside of the Orthodox traditions, it must seem a strange tradition, with its veneration of the cross itself.  And the history of the day seems beyond belief, to those of us thousands of years away from the actual events of the Crucifixion.  Early legend has it that St. Helena, the mother of Constantine, discovered the cross upon which Jesus hung when she was in Jerusalem in 326.

Skeptics will ask, "How could she know it was the cross of Jesus and not one of the other crosses used in the Roman system of capital punishment?"  Helena was so convinced that she commanded a church be built on the site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was dedicated 9 years later, with a portion of the true cross kept inside.

The Persians took that cross fragment in 614, according to legend, and in 628, the Byzantine emperor Heraclitus got it back, and in 629, the fragment was returned to the church. 

Many of us worship in Christian traditions that tell us that the cross is the vehicle of our salvation, but the veneration of that cross may seem strange, even if we're part of that tradition.  After all, the cross was a unique instrument of torture.  Why gaze upon it lovingly?

Even those of us who don't accept the Anselmian theology of atonement can benefit from thinking about the cross today.  Crucifixion was the punishment reserved by the Romans for enemies of the state.  What is it about Jesus' message that so threatens the Roman Empire?  Is it still threatening today?  Are we living that message in a way that puts us on a collision course with the forces of Empire?  If not, why not?

Here are the readings for today:

First Reading: Numbers 21:4b-9

Psalm: Psalm 98:1-5 (Psalm 98:1-4 NRSV)

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 78:1-2, 34-38

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-24

Gospel: John 3:13-17

Here's a prayer for the day from Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours:  Prayers for Summertime:

"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 the 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."

2 comments:

Wendy said...

Funny (or something) how many things like the story of Helena (or Elene) I know from Medieval Literature classes and have never heard in the church.

Kristin said...

So true. I never heard about early church history, by which I mean pre-Martin Luther, in church. And I had to teach myself post-Luther church history in terms of Protestant movements, to better understand the British literature of those times as I taught it in Lit survey classes.