For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.1 Corinthians 2:2
One of the feasts that is listed on the Feasts and Festivals section in the hymnal (LSB, xi) that may cause us to scratch our head is that of Holy Cross Day. The Augsburg Confession proclaims that the remembrance of the saints is a good practice so that we should imitate their faith and good works in accordance with our calling (AC XXI). That is right and good to do and fits with the many men, women, and events which we commemorate. But what about Holy Cross Day, which appears this month, September 14.
Historically, the roots of this feast go back to the days of Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor. While in Jerusalem, his mother, St. Helena, is said to have found the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. On this spot a church was built (this still exists as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem). As part of the celebrations, it was said, that the very cross which our Lord was crucified on was found and displayed on the day after the dedication of the church (September 14, 335).
However, we are not commemorating this event concerning St. Helena (whether what was found was the true cross or not), but instead remembering the cross itself. Why? Because that is the instrument which our Lord had used in bringing about our redemption. We call it holy because Jesus’ cross was indeed holy, that is, it was set apart. It was set apart as the altar on which the Lamb of God gave Himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. That cross, that one particular cross, in its nature no different than any other used by the Romans to execute criminals, became the very real means which our Lord used in overcoming sin, death, and the devil for us. Of all the thousands of crosses that existed, that one which our Lord died upon is unique in all the world, not because anything in itself was special, but because what happened upon it.
Thus it is good to remember the cross on which our Lord had died for us, where He made atonement, where He brought reconciliation, and where He displayed the righteousness of God. For, in our baptism we have been crucified with Christ and raised to new life with Him. When we receive the Lord’s Supper we receive the fruits of this sacrifice: the true body and blood of our Saviour who gave His life upon that cross.
And so, like any other day when we commemorate the saints we are remembering the grace which God has shown in the faith and lives of His people by His working through them, on this day we remember the grace of God shown to us by using the cross as an instrument of bringing about our salvation.
Prayer:* 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.
*Both the prayer and readings accompanying this meditation are from the appointed propers for Holy Cross Day.