Exhaltation of the Holy Cross

Today in the life of the church we celebrate not a person so much as a thing: the cross.  The liturgical color for today is red, the color for martyrs.  We celebrate the Holy Cross today because back in 335 A.D. the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated during a two-day festival on September 13 and 14.  The dedication took place on the 13th and the cross which she discovered was brought out of the church on the 14th where the priests and congregation prayed at the foot of the True Cross.  The church was built at the order of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great who in 326, it is rumored, discovered the remains of the cross of Christ’s crucifixion while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on the site of her discovery.

The gospel reading that the Anglican Church uses to commemorate this feast, also called the Feast of The Holy Cross is John 12:31-36a:

“Jesus said, ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.'”

Archbishop Rowan Williams, while still Archbishop of Wales preached a sermon in Hong Kong on Holy Cross Day to the Anglican Consultative Council.  He said, “All I want to say about the image of the Holy Cross this morning is that the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is where we wake up. ‘Awake, sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you life.’ Our sin is like sleep, like a bad dream. We are locked in ourselves. The serious tangled insides of the human mind, the human heart, human speech trap us more and more. Here the reality of God stands against the reality of our minds and hearts.”

“…believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”  It seems that we are, at moments, asleep…living as those who walk in darkness.  And when we come to the cross of Christ, where that Roman death device was gloriously turned into the instrument of our eternal salvation, we are woken up.  In waking we become aware of our sins, we become a-tuned to the discord in our lives.  We recognize that we have been walking in darkness because we are aware that there is another path we can choose.

Becoming the children of light is not an easy thing.  Nor is it something that can be switched on and off like our earthly light switches.  No, it is an awakening and the setting out, purposefully, on a journey toward becoming children of light.

Today as we commemorate the Holy Cross, let us look around the interior of lives.  Let us give thanks to God for the life and ministry and light of His son Jesus by whom we are saved from darkness and who gives us the light of eternal life.


About matthewhanisian

Associate Rector at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
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