Wednesday Word: The Veneration of the Cross

This is Holy Week. This is the time when the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ takes center stage. This is when we remember that God's “most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified.”

This is when we pray that “we walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

This week offers many opportunities for prayer and worship as we are drawn into the Holy Triduum and Passion of Jesus. The most common form of prayer and worship this week is the Stations of the Cross, offered Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 12:15, and again on Good Friday at 12:15 and 7 p.m. The Stations (or, Way) of the Cross is a 14-step path commemorating Jesus' last human day on earth. Christians use them as a mini-pilgrimage, recalling not only his suffering and death, but our complicity in those events. And on Good Friday, the Veneration of the Cross, is added at the end of the Stations.

In the 4th Century, the Spanish nun Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She recorded the various worship services she experienced, and the Good Friday ceremony of the Veneration of the Cross was one of them. She described how fragments of (what she believed) the true Cross were brought out, placed on a table in front of the bishop, and people came forward to bow and kiss the relics. This liturgy eventually spread throughout Christendom. People today will often genuflect and/or kneel before the cross as they offer prayers and respect. On a side note, the 1979 BCP is the first prayer book to restore this ancient liturgy.

During Holy Week we are called to contemplate those mighty acts whereby we have been given life and immortality. And at the center of our prayer and contemplation is the Cross.

The Cross is a complicated symbol of our faith. On the one hand, it is a symbol of unimaginable horror and pain. It was designed to torture and extend the death process for as painfully long as possible, sometimes lasting days. It is the place where Jesus spent his last hours of humanity, clinging to life, eventually succumbing to either cardiac arrest or asphyxiation. It is the place where Jesus willingly and humbly went. And crucifixion is the symbol of ultimate power of the strong over the weak.

Used incorrectly, the cross can be a symbol of sanctioned abuse. It can be used to keep battered women in their place, abused children cowering in their rooms, or for subjugated, enslaved, or marginalized minorities to remain passive. At its worst, the cross can be used to tell people, “Jesus sanctified suffering, therefore you must also take up a cross of suffering.”

Used correctly, however, the Cross can be a symbol of unity, defiance, and victory. It is a symbol of unity when we recognize that God does not visit pain and suffering upon us, but that God is with us in our pain and suffering at the hands of others. It is a symbol of defiance when we recognize that fidelity to the mission of God will bring us up against what the world demands, and nothing the world puts in our way will sway us from that mission; even if what the world presents to us is a cross. And it is a symbol of victory when we recognize that through death Christ has defeated death, delivering us from the dominion of sin, and bringing us to life everlasting. Used correctly, the Cross allows us to sing, “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!”

All this, and more, is what we venerate and what we submit to as Christians. This Good Friday you have the opportunity to venerate and contemplate that which both takes and gives life. This Good Friday, you have the opportunity to seriously think and pray on what the Cross means to you.



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