The Exaltation of the Most Holy Cross
or the Triumph of the Cross
This is an ancient feast which dates back to the seventh century and was originally brought into being to celebrate the return of the true cross to Jerusalem by the emperor Heralius in AD629.
Over the centuries the feast has shifted focus from one of celebrating this return of the cross to Jerusalem and focused more on the Triumph of Jesus over death through the Cross.
In the Office of Vigils for today, St Andrew of Crete tells us that it is in and by the cross that Jesus defeats death. Although for the Jews there was a curse on any man who hung on a ‘gibbet’, Jesus used this horrible death to overcome all death and to win for us redemption from our sin.
While we were saying the Office of Readings this morning the thought hit me that modern people have lost the whole idea of sin in their lives. If we have no concept of sin then we can have no concept of redemption.
And yet God lets every person on earth know that we are in need of redemption. We know it by the way we feel uncomfortable with life and when we reflect upon the life we have led. Growing older we become more aware of how we have affected other people and how we have hurt many people as we have journeyed through this life.
There is a constant call from God in our hearts to repent. He has his own way of letting each one of us know that we are sinners and that we need his help. When we turn to him he makes the coming home as easy as he can.
But there is something else in the triumph of the cross, something deeper and more lasting. The Triumph of the Cross is more than anything else the guarantee that death is defeated once and for all.
Death on the Cross was not the end of Jesus. He rose again. And today we remember that not even the cross could overcome the love of God for his people.
The cross is Christ's glory and triumph
We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.
Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.
Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honourable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation – very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honourable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.
The cross is called Christ’s glory; it is saluted as his triumph. We recognise it as the cup he longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings he endured for our sake. As to the cross being Christ’s glory, listen to his words: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified, and God will glorify him at once. And again: Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world came to be. And once more: “Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” Here he speaks of the glory that would accrue to him through the cross. And if you would understand that the cross is Christ’s triumph, hear what he himself also said: When I am lifted up, then I will draw all men to myself. Now you can see that the cross is Christ’s glory and triumph.