Holy Cross Day, Monday, September 14, 2020
By Father Lawrence Bausch
Background: The Cross is the central image in the Christian religion, as it is the means by which God in Christ won our redemption. It is the focus of two days in the Church Year: Good Friday and Holy Cross Day. Each of these days has a different focus. On Good Friday, the emphasis is on the suffering of Christ, the loving sacrifice he makes there for us. On Holy Cross Day, the emphasis is on the victory Christ achieves through the Cross, defeating sin and death out of love for us.
Introduction: We will use the Collect to outline our reflections today, highlighting 3 phrases to guide us. We will start with the middle phrase, as it opens the way for us to consider the Cross in both its Good Friday and its Holy Cross Day emphases.
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the Cross and 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.
1. “We…glory in the mystery of our redemption”
The use of the word “mystery” reminds us of the central belief we have that the true depths of God’s actions are beyond our understanding. We cannot think our way to their meaning, but can only receive this by revelation. Paradoxes which express this include the Incarnation itself, Jesus fully human and fully divine, the virginal conception and birth, and Jesus’ teaching that one must give up his life in order to gain his life. Here, the mystery is how Jesus’ death destroyed death and opened the way to eternal life. For us to truly glory in this mystery, we need to allow God’s actions in our life to surpass our understanding and abilities.
2. “Our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself”
In this phrase, we hear echoes of Jesus’ own words from the Gospel for today, “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 to die” (John 12:32-33). This message is central to today’s Epistle, Phil. 2:5-11. To receive this “mystery”, we are challenged to keep both aspects of the cross in mind. Our relationship with Christ should not be light-minded and sentimental, focusing only on his exaltation; nor should it be heavy-minded and melancholy, focusing only on his humiliation and suffering. Jesus’ victory over sin and death on our behalf gives us our deepest joy when we keep in mind how he defeated these enemies.
3. We pray for the “grace to take up our cross and follow him”
These words come from Jesus, when he said them to the disciples following the Confession of Peter and his announcement of his coming passion (Matthew 16:13-28 and parallels). Therefore, this description of discipleship is given in the context of his passion and death. In the context of this Day, we are to undertake this life sacrificially of behalf of others. We are exalted in self-giving, loving service of others. How can we do this under our challenging circumstances? Should we reach out to a difficult relative or neighbor? Should we use our unused entertainment budget for charitable work, local or beyond? If we have extra time, should we participate in local outreach, spend more time in prayerful study, engage more deeply in intercessory prayer and living? God will surely communicate with patient, open hearts and minds.
Conclusion: As we celebrate Holy Cross Day, let us hold before us an image of the Christ the King Crucifix or Christus Rex, Christ robed as a priest and crowned as king while on the cross; he is not suffering here, but reigning, declaring for all the great mystery of our redemption: “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12). Inspired by this vision, may we engage in our discipleship with joy and love.