Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross, Triumph of the Cross or Exaltation of the Holy Cross — recognized respectively in the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox (Sept. 27) traditions as a day to reflect on the meaning of the cross.
As Christians, regardless of denomination, the cross carries easily-recognized significance. It is our symbol of salvation, its meaning captured in Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Christ’s sacrificial, atoning love is the bedrock of Christian faith, no matter how the cross is (or is not) displayed in our sanctuaries.
But the cross, in its true meaning, isn’t about death. It isn’t even entirely about crucifixion. It is about life. It is about victory. And, it’s about our duty as followers of Christ.
Eternal life and victory through Christ’s atoning sacrifice — that much is clear (look back at Romans 5:8). But, the meaning of the cross doesn’t begin and end at Golgotha. It begins with the willingness to face it, which Jesus showed in Mark 8.
When Peter protested Jesus’ premonition of his own suffering and death, Jesus replied strongly:
“Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Mark 8:33
Jesus wasn’t rebuking Peter so much as the human tendency to self-preservation, a tendency that could lead him away from the cross if he listened to it.
Jesus overcame that temptation and faced down death at the cross. He did that for our salvation — absolutely. But, he also walked willingly to the cross to show us how to follow him.
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus tells us in Mark 8:34-35. “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the Gospel will save it.”
The meaning of the cross, then, isn’t just about Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the way for us to follow. It is the path we must walk.
In a literal sense, it’s unlikely we will face crucifixion. But we all face the same temptation Jesus rebuked before Peter.
Will we live for this world? Will we give power to greed, self-interest and fear? Or, will we take up the cross, die to those human concerns, and live a life in Christ’s victory?
The former is the life of human concerns. The latter is the life of the Kingdom, a life of surpassing love — love that bought our eternal lives, love that calls us to put selfish concerns behind us and to live self-sacrificially for God and for each other.
From the Book of Common Prayer, I have this prayer for today:
Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.