by The Rev. George F. Borghardt III
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Holy Cross Day goes all the way back to Pious Helena. If you don’t know her, you most likely know her son, the Emperor Constantine, the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity.
Helena went to Jerusalem to find landmarks about her faith – to find Jesus in the dirt of the Holy Land. There, she found the sites for the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus – sites which scholars today believe to be the actual historic places where these things happened.
But, along with these important New Testament landmarks, she found not one, but three crosses. Three is what you’d expect – one for Jesus and two for the robbers. But, which one is THE Cross upon which our Lord Jesus died? How do you tell?
A miracle helped her – a sick person touched one of the crosses and was healed. There ya go, that one must be it! So, she took the true Cross and placed it in the church built on Golgotha, the place where Jesus died. That church is called “the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.”
Finding the Cross where the Son of God was nailed is certainly reason to celebrate, isn’t it? Gotta have a Potluck or something! But, the Christian Church never has parties on Good Friday. The day is too solemn. So, the date set aside for the celebration of the Cross was September 14, 335 A.D.
There, in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher,the Cross remained until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and carried the Cross off as a trophy. Not cool.. Not at all.
But the Christian Emperor Heraclius was victorious over the Muslims and returned the Cross to its place in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem on, you guessed it, September 14, 630 AD.
Now, Did Helena really find the true Cross? Well, like many of the early church stories in history, it’s hard to distinguish between the myth and the reality.
And myths don’t save. Not one single myth ever saved anyone from sickness, from death, or hell. Your faith is founded on the Word. The Word which is true and certain – even when we may not be.
So, what’s a myth and what’s real about your faith? The world will ask you that question. How will you answer? The answer is a matter of life and death!
Some Greeks today have the answer for you. They show up out of place in the Gospel lesson. They aren’t supposed to be there. Greeks were certainly too intelligent, too wise, to be participating in some Jewish Feast.
But, here they are and they come up to Philip with a request, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” Philip directs them to Andrew, and Andrew and Philip get them Jesus….
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The hour. Jesus’ hour. Actual time.
And He is not glorified by victory, or conquest, but by dying. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But, if it dies it bears much fruit.
His hour, is the hour that He dies. The hour that He won’t avoid! The hour is why He came – He came to die on the Cross.
And there on the Cross, we see the reality of how God is… He dies to save us from our sins. Then, He rises to be our justification!
This One, Jesus is true Man like you, born of the Virgin Mary, but also is true God, begotten of the Father before all eternity.
This One suffered under Pontius Pilate (a real governor in Roman history). Then, This Jesus was crucified on an actual wooden cross – whether we have it or not, and then He died and was buried. After three days, this Jesus who died on Good Friday, rose again.
“Sir, we would see this Jesus.” True God and true man. And those Greeks saw that day saw an actual man. The One who died to save us. For the Greeks. For you. For me.
That’s what Holy Cross Day is all about. Holy Cross Day reminds us, dares us, to contemplate the Cross of Christ. To say with St. Paul, “I desired to know nothing among you other than Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
The Cross is the center of your faith. When Jesus is lifted up, He drags all – even you and me – to Himself.
For here is salvation. Here is faith. Here is the reality of your world. Here is heaven itself. Here is the glory and majesty of Almighty God – Jesus Christ crucified for you.
Then, Easter morning.. In the empty tomb speak the angels. “You seek Jesus who was crucified, He is not here, see the place where He lay.” The Jesus who rises on Easter morning is the same Jesus who died for our sins on Good Friday.
Whether or not Helena found the actual Cross and the tomb – the “sepulcher”, where He once was laid is irrelevant, because there is a place where He was laid and He lays no longer.
The place where He isn’t any more, for He has risen from the dead and conquered your sins, and smashed death all up.
Crucified. Cross. Not a myth or a symbol, but a reminder of an event that is true whether you believe it or not.
That bears repeating: Christ and Him crucified on the Cross is not a myth that is made true by your holding it dear. No, it’s not something that has a moral to the story that is important to remember.
No, the Cross of Christ is a reality, a historic event, which shows you God’s glory. God’s glory is seen in how He gives up His Son to save you.
It actually happened. Not a myth. Not a fairy tale. A life changing event. The Jesus who died on Good Friday rose on Easter morning. When He is lifted up on the Cross, He draws all to Himself. You too.
So, stop living as if this is all a myth! Stop living as if He’s still in the tomb, dear Saints of God. Come out of your sins. Stop doing them. Stop the evil you do – the immorality, the despair, the hatred, the idolatry, stop your sins. Stop judging others for the things you do. Stop the hatred, stop the negativity, stop the tearing one another up. Just stop. For Jesus died and rose again.
I know you know He died and rose. I’m asking you to let the reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus draw you out of your despair, your sin, your selfishness, and your death.
For when Jesus is lifted up – when He dies on the Cross, He draws all, even you and me, to Himself.
Seek Jesus. Find Him in the Word. Then, teach your children that these are not just stories, but real events.
The Cross shows you the reality of your faith. That’s the best way to celebrate Holy Cross Day! Remember the Crucified Jesus. Remember it when you wake up. Remember it when you go to sleep.
That’s the other thing Holy Cross Day teaches us. It reminds us to make the sign of the Holy Cross.
When you have some free time some time, look up Ezekiel 9. Yep, Ezekiel, in the OLD Testament- look it up. There you will find God marking His people to protect them from wraith. He does this again in three different chapters of John’s Revelation. The mark was the Hebrew “tau” which is like an “t” or “x.” Those marked are those rescued from God’s wrath.
So, the custom rose out in the Christian Church to trace the mark of a cross as a blessing, as a remembrance, a reminder of how Jesus was lifted up for us on the Cross. I’m talking early – like 190 AD, a Pastor named Tertullian said that Christians don’t do anything without the sign of the Holy Cross.
Morning, noon, praying, and bedtime. All done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Now, I’ve heard before folks tell me that making the sign of the Cross isn’t Lutheran. But, I have three different Catechisms here and they all say the same thing: In the morning, when you pray, make the sign of the holy cross and say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In the Evening, repeat.
It’s also in your hymnals! Anytime you see that little red “plus” sign in the text. That’s the good folks at CPH telling you that it’s ok to make the sign of the Cross here.
You can’t get more Lutheran than your Scriptures and Catechism!
Now, you are, Of course,free to or not to make the sign of the Cross. Just remember that you were marked with the Cross at the Baptismal font and His name was put on you.
Remembering your Baptism, who you are, what He did for you – that’s how to celebrate Holy Cross Day – in His Name, with the watermark of His cross on you.
He died for me. He rose for me. He made me His own in the waters of my Baptism. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
A real Jesus on a real cross. God dying for you. This is not a myth. Not a story. It’s a fact. Your salvation.
And all of it is remembered…. With His Cross. So, a blessed Holy Cross Day tomorrow to you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.