Today the church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Cross. It’s not a well known celebration in our era, but its origin goes back to the early decades of the 4th century. St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had undertook an archeological search in Jerusalem. She uncovered the areas which were presumed to be the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.
The legend says, according to Socrates, that in September of the year 320 AD, when those sites were unearthed, 3 crosses were found. They were immediately believed to be the 3 crosses that were erected on Good Friday. The question, however, was which cross was the one that held our Lord.
In order to figure that out, St. Helena is said to have taken the 3 crosses to the home of deathly ill woman, where each cross was placed in turn upon her. And, according to legend, when the 3rd cross was placed upon her, she revived. So that cross was believed to be the true Holy Cross upon which our Lord Jesus was crucified.
It is superstition; a tall tale; foolishness. We scoff at it as nonsense. But in the end, it doesn’t matter if the tale is tall or not. For even if the legend is not true, that is nonetheless, what the Cross truly does.
It imparts the healing of Christ Jesus. It gives the soothing salve of the Gospel to fallen men. It delivers all the forgiveness of sins won for you upon the wood and the nails. Except it does not do so through wood and nails. That’s where this legend falls flat. The healing that St. Helena supposedly witnessed is that which comes through Water, Word, Bread, and Wine.
The cross is merely the instrument by which our Lord atoned for the sins of the world, the tool used to defeat death, crush the head of the serpent, rescue man from the jowls of Hell, obtain salvation, and glorify the name of the Father.
And it does look like foolishness. We see the absurdity of it when the Israelites were afflicted with serpents because of their sin. At that time, God did not send a medical antidote of any kind, but ordered Moses to “make the fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten when he sees it shall live.” That is the foreshadow.
No wonder the world mocks us. We believe that God Himself came down to take human flesh, and be born of a poor nothing virgin. It is absurd. And what is crazier still, is that we believe this same God-Man to have lived the perfect life in the place of those who are not, to care for those who sin against Him, and to care so much that He die to save us. And not to die in just any way, but that the Father in heaven would take His own Son born of human flesh and affix that flesh to a cursed pole, like it was a fiery serpent in the wilderness.
Yet, we who are bitten and infected by the poison of sin, often struggle to really look at the crucifix. We are reluctant to seek refuge in our Lord during times of great trail. We first attempt to get by on our own, to make excuses and self-justify, to indulge in anxiety and fear and self-pity.
Repent. Look to the crucifix, yes it shows what you deserve, but it is what you need. And when you gaze in faith upon Jesus hanging from the accursed pole, you shall live. For by that cross you are made holy before God.
That’s also why we call the cross itself “Holy.” It’s not because we’re referring to the wood. The nails are not holy of themselves. The beams crossed in hate are rough and crude, an unholy object of wrath much like you O Sinner. But the cross has been bathed in Blood that is Holy. We call the cross “Holy,” because it has been made so by Jesus’ Blood, just as it is with you.
The Baptismal water is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word. That is, it is combined with Jesus. The blood which the nails siphoned from our Lord has washed you at the font and it is what sustains you at the rail. By the Blood of Christ you are touched and revived, that you now look to the crucifix in faith.
See it preach your redemption. Behold it like the Israelites in the wilderness. If the world mocks you, so be it. For there your guilt is removed and your forgiveness is won. The innocent Lamb of God took away the sins of the world there, covering you with His own holy and precious blood.
Which is why we join with St. Paul in knowing nothing but the cross, preaching nothing but the cross, boasting in nothing but the cross. For from that same cross, lifted up in foolishness, you are given to eat and drink what the Greeks longed to see. Jesus places His body into your mouth, He pours His Blood across your lips, thus, your dying ends and your life is secure, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Merciful God, Your Son, Jesus Christ, was lifted high upon the cross that He might bear the sins of the world and draw all people to Himself. Grant that we who glory in His death for our redemption may faithfully heed His call to bear the cross and follow Him, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.