by Laurie Gudim
It’s Holy Cross Day. This is a Feast Day about which I knew nothing before discovering it in my lectionary this week. So I did a little reading on the subject.
Holy Cross Day began clear back in 335 at the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, which was built over the site in Israel upon which Saint Helena, Constantine’s mother, discovered what she believed to be the True Cross. It is the celebration of the cross itself as the instrument of salvation.
For the first Christians, the cross was not a symbol with which one would want to be associated. The Romans used crucifixion commonly as a means of punishing wrongdoing and insurrection, and crosses, with their gristly burdens of dead and decaying bodies, were frequently to be seen at the edges of towns. It must have been terrifying to imagine winding up on a cross. Why would a person want to use one as an emblem?
These days we Christians use the cross almost universally to signify who we are. Crosses are all over the place – on the fronts of churches, on stationary, tattooed onto people’s arms or legs, worn as jewelry. Priests make the sign of the cross when they bless people. Our foreheads are marked with the cross when we are baptized or anointed.
And, musing about it this week, it seems to me that this is a pretty dangerous thing to do. The salvation of the cross means a relinquishing of all our ego control and all our authority. We mark ourselves with the symbol of powerless submission to the awful behavior of government authorities. And by doing that, don’t we align with the people who are systematically and systemically subjected to mistreatment, torture and death? With the poor, the refugees, the captives, people of a different color or religion, people who have no homes, no food and no hope of influencing society – here we take our place. These are our people. Redemption is a letting go, an emptying out. As the letter to the Philippians says, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.
This is exactly where Jesus would have us be – emptying ourselves. Like everything else about him, the way Jesus died represents the upside down way he asks us to live. Marked as Christ’s own forever, we are not meant for the comfortable halls of the safe, moneyed minority. We belong in the streets, in the shelters, speaking truth to power, healing broken bodies and minds. We are supposed to be the ones to whom bad things happen instead of the ones who perpetrate bad things. We are to be marked with the real suffering of a broken world and to work to heal it from our own vulnerable hearts in active, living relationship with the God of love.
Next time you hold your favorite cross or receive or give a blessing, remember Jesus dying in shame and isolation. And then think about living in a way that reflects that kind of self-emptying. Being willing to put yourself on the line for those for whom justice and equality are but distant dreams, those who are hungry and cold, those who struggle alone in foreign places for the smallest chance at life and liberty, those who suffer and those who yearn for God, you link yourself with the Holy One. That’s what we are celebrating today, that uniting with Christ, that dangerous, upside down salvation.