14th September Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This is a bit of an odd feast (nothing unusual in that, as there are many such). It celebrates St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, and British, finding three crosses in Jerusalem which she believed to be those of Jesus and the two thieves, and her son then built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre over the site. The feast became more commonly celebrated after a later Emperor recovered the cross from the Persians and restored it to Jerusalem. But the Cross in itself is a strange image with which to cover our churches. Catholics nearly always have the figure of Christ on the cross, usually of him dying, sometimes as the Risen Lord. A man in the Chaplaincy at Lancaster University said to me once, ‘Father, I find the cross so depressing, why do we have to have it in front of us all the time?’ But the point of the cross is to make us think. In a way it is to remind us that faith is not something comfortable. God offers everything God has for us out of love. The cross is the point at which he reveals the depth of his love for us. We are often trying to find ways to improve our lives, to take control of them, to avoid the nastiness in our world. When things are not going well for us we are depressed, when they go well we are happy. The cross says to us, life is not about self, our selves. Life is about what we can offer each other. Pleasure comes, should come, in how we can love those around us, our fellow brothers and sisters, wherever they may be. The cross, as Karl Barth says, faces us with a decision. Are we going to choose comfort and the short term happiness that brings or are we going to choose to offer our lives for others and God out of love? Are we ready to accept that our lives are not for ourselves, but for all, and not in our control? The ‘all’ that we form a part of, the community of creation. The image of Jesus on the cross asks us that question repeatedly, out of love not challenge or threat, and he knows only too well that our response is rarely selfless, but he loves us nevertheless.

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