Exaltation, Triumph and Redemption:
Why do we have a feast in the calendar called “Holy Cross Day” – when we already reflect so much on the passion of Christ during Holy Week? Well, consider that it has now been five months since Easter. We’re more than due for a reminder – not just of the sacrifice made by our Lord, but of his ultimate triumph over death.
“Holy Cross Day” is a feast that is observed in many corners of Christendom and – astonishingly – on the same day, September 14. The Eastern Orthodox call it “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross” and the Roman Catholic Church calls it “The Triumph of the Cross.” When we take the words “Triumph” and “Exaltation” together, I think we get a fuller picture of how to think about this day. We do not celebrate the cross as an instrument of torture, nor is it an empty relic. Rather, it becomes a way in which we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and we worship him. We see in the cross his great love for us, and we see that even something as ugly and cruel as the cross has been redeemed. It has become a reminder of divine love, and of a cosmic battle that has already been won.
Our reflections on Holy Cross Day do not end without the challenge to follow and to proclaim.
The collect for this day (from the Book of Common Prayer) goes like this:
O blessed Saviour,
who by thy cross and passion
hast given life unto the world:
Grant that we thy servants
may be given grace to take up the cross
and follow thee through life and death;
whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit we worship and glorify,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
An old but powerful anthem
This hymn is not heard as often these days as it was a generation ago, but it is still somewhat familiar throughout the Protestant world. This anthem is meant to be one that does not leave us in a place of contemplation, but that moves us forward to proclaim and live the Gospel.
“Lift High the Cross”
by George Kitchin (1887)
(Performed below by Broadway Baptist Church Choir, The Oratorio Chorus, and The Festival Brass)
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.
Come, Christians follow this triumphant sign,
The hosts of God in unity combined.
Each newborn servant of the Crucified
Bears on the brow the seal of Him who died.
O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As Thou hast promised, draw the world to thee.
So shall our song of triumph ever be:
Praise to the Crucified for victory.