A True Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Each September the Church celebrates a very special Feast Day – the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. According to tradition, early in the fourth century Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places in the life of Jesus. As part of her search, she excavated the second-century Temple of Aphrodite which had been built over the tomb where it was believed Jesus had been buried on Good Friday. During that excavation workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when a dying woman touched it and was miraculously healed.
That cross immediately became an object of veneration by visitors to the Holy Land. It was kept safe, locked away in an ornate shrine. And once a year on Good Friday it was taken out of its precious silver container and placed on a table for viewing and veneration by pilgrims the world over.
In 614 AD Jerusalem was conquered and the cross was carried off to Persia. It was recovered from the Persians 15 years later by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The emperor intended to personally carry the cross back into Jerusalem by himself. But, according to legend, he was unable to move forward until he took off his imperial garb and became a barefoot pilgrim. That legend contains a powerful message for us 21st century Christians.
The true Cross of Christ is more than just a piece of wood: it is a sign and symbol of unconditional love and healing. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to carry and exalt that Cross by bringing love and healing into our world. But we can’t do that unless we first do what Emperor Heraclius did: we must take off the imperial garb of our own ego and self-centeredness; we must let go of any anger or negativity that we carry. Like Heraclius, we must become barefoot pilgrims carrying God’s love into every corner of our life.
To truly exalt the Cross of Christ we must live as Jesus taught us to live – with unconditional love and forgiveness and inclusion for everyone – not just for the people we like but for the very least and most disliked of our fellow human beings as well. That kind of true exaltation of the Cross of Christ will bring healing into our world – much more than by keeping it locked away in a precious silver container. Today and every day, let us truly exalt the Cross of Christ by living as Jesus calls us to live.
With love, Deacon Lex