Speaking of Faith: The Backstory Behind Holy Cross Day
By George F. Borghardt
Holy Cross Day goes all the way back to Pious Helena. If you don't know her, you most likely know her son, the Roman emperor Constantine, who converted to Christianity in the 4th Century A.D.
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 was THE Cross upon which our Lord Jesus died? How could she 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 to which the Son of God was nailed seems like reason enough to celebrate, doesn'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 A.D.
Reality or Myth?
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. Instead, 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 in John 12:20-26 have the answer for you. They show up seemingly out of place in verse 20.They aren't supposed to be there. Greeks were certainly too intelligent, too wise, to be participating in some Jewish feast like the Passover. 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" (1 Corinthians 2:2).
The Crux of the Matter
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 lain is irrelevant, because there is a place where He lies no longer. It's the place where He doesn't anymore, for He has risen from the dead and conquered your sins, smashing death to pieces.
Crucified. Cross. Not a myth or a symbol, but a reminder of an event that is true whether you believe it or not.
This 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, an 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. It's not a myth. It's not a fairytale. It's a life-changing event. The Jesus who died on Good Friday rose on Easter morning. And when He is lifted up on the Cross, He draws all to Himself. That means you, too!
This article was originally published on the Higher Things website in September 2009.
Rev. George F. Borghardt is the pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bossier City, Louisiana and serves as the president of Higher Things.
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