Afterfeast of the Exaltation of the Cross
On Friday of this past week we celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. As we read from the Epistle on that day, the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
What kind of madness is Christianity, that we would venerate the Cross – a symbol of torture and the cruelest of deaths? And yet, the Cross is indeed precious and life-giving to us – for through the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ, the Cross has become our symbol of hope and its message is one of unutterable love.
For our Lord has said: ‘Greater love has no one that this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.’ Our Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t just speak about this as an ideal… He demonstrates this for us in laying down His life for us upon the Cross. The God Who created us; Who established us in Paradise; Who gifted us with the tremendous and terrible grace of freedom… the freedom to respond to His love with our love or to choose to turn away; Who taught us by the Law; Who spoke to us by the Prophets. This God finally takes flesh upon Himself and submits to all the miseries that we have created, and suffers through it all, and submits to death upon a Cross for each of us Whom He calls His friends. There is no greater expression of love than this and this is why we exalt and venerate the Cross.
Our God deigns to lay down His life for His friends. Moreover, Christ tells us:‘You are my friends if you do whatever I command you.’
Today’s Gospel reading spells out quite clearly what are the commandments of Christ: ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
Christ’s distillation of all the Law and the Prophets is that we are called to love.
This world makes strange use of the word ‘love’… I can say I love a good cup of coffee, I love good music, I love to take a nap. What semblance to these ‘loves’ have to do with the love which Christ calls us toward? Not much. These are all things that please me and give me pleasure.
And perhaps we might elevate our meaning of the word ‘love’ a notch or two and liken it to the love two people might feel for one another. In this modern age such love is generally referring to the way we feel about another person who makes us feels good, who pleases us. If such love is again focused on the person that pleases me, then this kind of love can also be incredibly self-serving… as soon as the other person no longer pleases us, we no longer love them. From such an understanding comes the alarming divorce rates we see in our society. Such love also has little to do with the kind of love Christ is calling us toward.
Christ calls us to a love which is best symbolized by the Cross. Christ calls us to a love which is not self-serving and self-pleasing, but is self-sacrificing. Anyone who has truly loved another, knows that with love comes pain of heart. We no longer live for ourselves and for the pursuit of our own pleasures. We live for another… we long for their presence, we co-suffer with them in whatever tribulations they may encounter, we make ourselves vulnerable to them, and we would willingly sacrifice all that we have for their good. In a word, we would lay down our life for them.
This is the way of the Cross. This is what the Cross stands for and this why we glorify the Cross! It is the symbol and the reality of the love of God. It is the signpost pointing us to the way upon which we should walk. It is a path of denying ourselves, taking up our Cross, and following after Christ.
St John Chrysostom said: ‘Christ endured all of His sufferings, that we may follow in His footsteps.’
We must follow Christ along the path of love… emulating His kindness and mercy, His courageous resistance to temptation and evil, and even daring to embrace His way of suffering and death which lead to resurrection.
We can find an excellent and practical definition of love in the writings of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. There he writes: ‘Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.’
It is a revealing and humbling experience to insert yourself into this description… substituting your name for the word ‘love’… Listen while I recite this passage this way and judge no one but yourself… ‘I am patient and kind; I do not envy or boast; I am not arrogant or rude. I do not insist on my own way; I am not irritable or resentful; I do not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoice with the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. I never fail – or fall short of the call of love.’
How do we measure up? This, dear brothers and sisters is what love is, and it is the call and the expectation for those who would call themselves Christian. If we fall short… and we all do… then let us call upon our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive us and grant us the grace and strength to align ourselves more closely with such a definition of love.
And so, as we celebrate this feast time of the Exaltation of the Cross, let us exalt and elevate the Cross in our lives. Let the world call it foolishness, for us it is our symbol of hope and of victory and of love. And may the power of the precious and life-giving Cross guide us in living a life of true love… loving God with all of our heart and all of our soul and all of our mind… and loving our neighbor as our self.