Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Exultation of the Cross

Hail precious cross that received honor and beauty from the limbs of the Lord! Hail cross that was hallowed by the body of Christ and by his limbs was enriched as with pearls.

Tradition credits Constantine's mother Saint Helena with the discovery in Jerusalem of the buried cross of Jesus during the second quarter of the 4th century. Immediately this relic became the object of tender devotion and lavish ritual. The pilgrim nun Egeria has left us a vivid account of the ritual for exposition and the procession to venerate the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem. The true cross became a nexus of holiness, sacred presence and healing. Egeria even writes of one overzealous devotee caught biting off a chunk of the cross during the liturgy! 

The Fathers of the Church loved to find in every reference to wood or tree, staff, rod or ark in the Hebrew Scriptures a type of the cross of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem will declare, "Life ever comes from wood!" Paulinus of Nola chants to the cross, "You have become for us a ladder for us to mount to heaven." And in an anonymous Easter homily inspired by Hippolytus, the tree of the cross reverses the destruction wrought by the tree of Eden: 

For me this tree is a plant of eternal health. I feed on it; by its roots I am rooted; by its branches I spread myself; I rejoice in its dew; the rustling of its leaves invigorates me...I freely enjoy its fruits which were destined for me from the beginning. It is my food when I am hungry, a fountain for me when I am thirsty; it is my clothing because its leaves are the spirit of life. 

We exalt in the Cross of Christ because this Cross is a throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 

The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20. Attributed to Ugolino da Siena  (Italian, Siena, active by 1317–died ?1339/49). Tempera on wood, gold ground. Overall with engaged frame, 25 1/4 x 18 5/8 ". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.