Saturday, 13 September 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross. To the outsider, it must seem a rather strange affair. What are these Christians doing, exalting an instrument of torture and execution?

First of all, we are celebrating God's transformative power. Even something as stark and wicked as a crucifix is transfigured by His grace into something noble and good, even the opposite of its intention: this tool designed to give one man a gruesome death is made the tree of eternal life for all people. Even evil is not destroyed, but by grace perfected into goodness.

Second, this feast brings home the concreteness of Christianity. The crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord is not a myth or abstract spiritual typology, but a real event that happened to a real man at a real moment in time on a real, wooden cross. The Word was made flesh, not abstracted away into theories and books.

Theology and thought are helpful to guide us on the Way, and for some of us, essential (and there's little to be said for the sort of church that orders you to leave your brain outside before entering the building). But all our theological thinking comes to nothing without the real historical events of God living among us and dying for us on the Cross. Take it away, and our religion is just another ancient Greek mystery cult. 

That is not what the martyrs of the faith died to bequeath us.  This Sunday, in particular, we remember the reality of the suffering they bore and in parts of the world, such as Iraq, bear still today, with their Lord and ours nailed up alongside them.

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