Photo: Just a dream, just an ordinary dream by Wade Brooks / CC BY-NC 2.0

September 14, 2017
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Numbers 21:4b-9    Ps. 78:1-2, 34-38    Philippians 2:6-11    John 3:13-17

On the Feast of the Holy Cross, Sr. Karen Rossman, OP, briefly reviews a few different theologies of the Cross and then focuses in on what it teaches us and challenges us to be and to become.

Happy Feast Day! This feast is special because today the cross is the universal image of Christian belief. While some churches have realistic-type crucifixes, the cross is often fashioned with great beauty – it may be constructed of fine wood or adorned with silver or gold. But the cross had no beauty for the first Christians who would see people dying on crosses outside their city walls.

The early Jewish Christians would remember that in Deuteronomy it is recorded that anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. (Dt 21:23). The early Gentile Christians would recognize a cross as a sign of execution – capital punishment. The Cross became a more revered image after Constantine (remember, his mother Helena) but this particular feast was not added to the liturgical calendar until the seventh century.

Through the centuries there have been many thoughts about the meaning of the cross.

One familiar view is that the cross was required by God as atonement for human sin. This view believed that God was not only loving but also just, so it was a necessary requirement of justice for Jesus to save us. In other words, Jesus’ death was payment for our sin – that’s why on Easter we sing, O Happy Fault that merited so great a Savior!.

Richard Rohr writes about another view. He suggests that the cross is a dramatic portrayal of God’s non-violent, suffering love – that Jesus on the cross portrays the mystery of God’s vulnerability. In other words, Jesus on the cross incarnates and proclaims God’s way of loving.

What we know, is that Jesus was executed on the cross because his message of love, equality, and care of the marginalized was considered to be a threat to the social establishment. And yet it is through this message of Jesus that we learn who God is and how God wants us to live, often revealing a perspective radically different from our own and that of our culture.

We learn that we are to love one another (even enemies) and that love is greater than law;

we learn that we are to forgive, not 7 times but 70 x 7 times;

we learn that we hold the Sabbath rest as sacred but never at the expense of someone who needs healing or release from pain

we learn that human disapproval or even sin does not obscure the value of a person – remember, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and

we learn that God is living among us – that our prayer is meant to be time spent with this God and that being obsessed with rules and rituals is unnecessary.

As Christians, we commit to being followers of Jesus. We commit to bringing Jesus’s message to our world. Therefore, when we make the sign of the cross we are saying

  • That we cannot be silent when there are racist, hate marches in Charlottesville or when there is violence in Ferguson, London, or Nice.
  • That we do not support an interpretation of the right to life which excludes the rights of the dying or those in prisons.
  • That we cannot support a system that denies health care to the less privileged or one that ravishes earth,
  • That we see the crucified Jesus in those who suffer,
    • the poor who live in neighborhoods with factories, chemical plants, and landfills – their homes often have peeling lead paint (or lead in their water as in Flint!)
    • those who are battered by storms and have nowhere to go,
    • those who are refugees of war,
    • those who are immigrants being torn from their families and deported.

We are disciples of the crucified Jesus, and God is at work in us, just as God was at work in Jesus. So, when we make the sign of the cross, we are promising to be faithful to the Good News preached by Jesus. In every Eucharist, we hear this admonition after the consecration, do this too with your lives and remember me. Unfortunately, given our today’s social establishment, if we do this well, we too may be at risk for crucifixion!

As Christians, we commit to deepen our spirituality and to witness to the mystery of God in our midst. Therefore, most importantly, when we make the sign of the cross, we are promising to spend time with God, allowing our God to transform us into vulnerable, interdependent, loving, and hope-filled people even in the face of suffering.

Sr. Karen Rossman, OP