Friday, September 14, 2012

Exultation of the Holy Cross

     In the rendering of the fall of Adam and Eve, we often see the image of the serpent in the branches of a tree and the two of them turning away in shame as they obviously have bought into his lie.  I was reminded of that image as I prayed the Preface for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross this morning and read

"For you placed the salvation of the human race
on the wood of the Cross, so that, where death arose,
life might again spring forth
and the evil one, who conquered on a tree,
might likewise on a tree be conquered,
through Christ our Lord."
     The tree in the garden and the tree of the Cross are shared images of life changing importance.  One was the source of condemnation and death, the other the source of redemption and life.
     We are so immune to the ugliness of the cross because of the glory that we place upon the instrument of death that has been transformed by the love of Christ.  The Cross stands as an inspiration, a sign of hope, a thing of beauty.  Just outside of my hometown of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, there is a huge white cross on the top of the mountains.  It is located on the grounds of a Methodist Church Training Center at Jumonville Glenn (named after a Revolutionary War general), and is lighted at night and clearly visible for miles.  I grew up with the cross so prominently displayed for all to see (and no one finding objection).  I remember as a young child having a super large metal covered cross that would top the church steeple placed in the old Saint Joseph Church as the tall steeple was being repaired.  In size alone, it was impressive and inspiring.  I remember gazing upon a simple Byzantine style image of the crucified Christ on a wooden cross in the Basilica of Saint Clare in Assisi, the image of whose Cross spoke to Saint Francis of Assisi and told him to "rebuild the Church".   I find great blessing in carrying into the Church a large, roughly formed Cross for veneration at the Good Friday Liturgy and chanting the words:  "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world."
     But the cross was an instrument of the death penalty, so cruel and unusual a punishment that a Roman citizen would be put to death in some other way rather than crucifixion.  While we always need to celebrate the glory of the Cross and the role that it played in our victory over sin and death, the Cross must also remind us of our sin and the death that it brings with it.  Without that stark reality before our eyes, we can never truly appreciate the awesome sacrifice of love that Christ made when he embraced the tree of the Cross.  As the words of the hymn goes;
"Lift high the Cross, the love of Christ proclaim!"

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