This coming Sunday we step outside the cycle of Ordinary Time to celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast has its origins in the year 326. According to St John Chrysostom, St Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, longed to find the Cross of Christ. So she travelled to Jerusalem and organized a dig at the hill of Calvary. The diggers uncovered three wooden crosses. They could not tell which was the Cross of Jesus and which were the crosses of the two thieves crucified with him. Finally they brought a sick woman and a dead man who was being carried to burial. The three crosses were placed one after the other on those two folks. Two of the crosses had no effect, but on contact with the third Cross, the sick woman was healed of her infirmity and the dead man came to life.
News of the finding of the true Cross quickly spread and believers gathered to see the true Cross and to venerate it. The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Makarios, standing on a raised platform, lifted high the Cross, “exalting” it, for all to see. The people fell to their knees, bowing down before the Cross and crying out repeatedly: “Lord, have mercy!” St. Helen then commissioned a church to be built over the site. The church of the Holy Sepulchre was consecrated on September 13, 335. The feast of the finding and exaltation of the Cross was appointed to be celebrated annually on the following day.
It does seem strange to exalt a cross; that’s like exalting an electric chair, for it was an instrument of execution. And yet, for we Christians, it is also an instrument of tremendous hope and ultimately great triumph. I don’t know how many times I’ve looked upon Jesus’ Cross, or held a small crucifix in my hands, somehow drawing strength and hope to make it through suffering and pain.
I’m not sure what life would be like if I didn’t have the Cross from which I could draw that strength and hope. Without the Cross, it seems to me that all suffering would be absolutely futile and meaningless. There is nothing more tragic than wasted suffering.
Love deeply, pray faithfully, laugh often!