“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those who are being saved.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
What is Holy Cross Day?
Holy Cross Day is a major feast observed on Sept. 14 in honor of Christ’s self-offering on the cross for our salvation. The collect for Holy Cross Day recalls that Christ “was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself,” and prays that “we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him” (BCP, p. 192). The themes of Holy Cross Day are powerfully expressed by the hymn “Lift high the cross”.
Historically, the feast has been associated with the dedication on Sept. 14, 335, of a complex of buildings built by the Emperor Constantine (c. 285-337) in Jerusalem on the sites of the crucifixion and Christ’s tomb. This shrine included a large basilica and a circular church. Constantine’s mother, Helena (c. 255- c. 330), supervised the construction of the shrine, and a relic believed to be the cross was discovered during the work of excavation. Claims by the Church of Jerusalem to have the cross date from the mid-fourth century, and the pilgrim Egeria mentions a feast commemorating the discovery of the cross in Jerusalem in the late-fourth-century. This feast has also been associated with the exposition at Jerusalem of the cross by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (575-641). He recovered the relic from the Persians who took it from Jerusalem in 614 when they destroyed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Although the authenticity of alleged relics of the cross may be questionable, Holy Cross Day provides an opportunity for a joyous celebration of Christ’s redeeming death on a cross.
Foolishness to the Greeks
In 1992 I read a book that forever altered my understanding of Christianity, Lesslie Newbegin’s Foolishness to the Greeks. As a new pastor who was baptized in Pentecostal waters filled with charismatic theology loosely aligned with Methodism but more attune to the gospel of prosperity, it had never dawned on me that our faith is more about a cross, than a crown. That Christianity is grounded in cheek turning, rather than cross burning. Shaped by sacrifice, not consumption. Love rather than lust for power.
Being the illegitimate son of a couple who were shaped by 1960’s morality, my parents lived apart almost all of my life. I spent many years traveling between Raleigh, NC, where schools were freshly integrated, and rural Johnston County, the last bastion of the KKK (at least until recently). My urban neighborhood was diverse, not because we were progressive, but because we were poor. My rural community was starkly segregated at every level. One of the last times I visited my father I questioned this inequality and received a slap across my adolescent face for not knowing my place and respecting the way things were supposed to be. For the record, if I had been stronger, I’m not sure I would have turned the other cheek.
Cheek turning is foolishness. It is perceived as weakness when really it is strength. It is an act of rebellion not to answer Pilot, and not to bow before Herod. There isn’t much cheek turning anymore, maybe that is why the church is in decline?
Sacrifice is foolishness. We are measured by what we accumulate, not what we give away. The bigger home, the newer car, the nicer stuff. Open hands invite nails; closed hands cling to whatever we can hold on to. Maximillian Maria Kolbe OFC, a Polish Coventual Franciscan volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in a German death camp, Auschwitz. That is foolishness. Who, other than Jesus, dies for strangers who mock them, abuse them, hurt them? “God so loved the world that he gave…” I guess God is also foolish.
Love is foolishness. Contempt seems to be the language of the culture. Power is the ultimate prize. Ironic, isn’t it, that the Roman Empire was conquered more from the kindness in catacombs than the armies from outside. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those who are being saved.” (1 Cor. 1:18)
That is the funny thing about power; it destroys all who wield it. It is the weapon that kills the user. Love, on the other hand, redeems both those who celebrate it and those who receive it. Love is foolishness.
The cross is foolishness. Let us all be foolish.