Holy Asides
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April 20, 2015, 12:00 PM

Reflections on the Veneration of the Cross

In my initial post to this blog, I defined “Holy Asides” as something that is a prompting or movement of the Holy Spirit outside of the normal liturgical flow. As I was reflecting upon these past Holy Week and Easter services, it occurred to me that our liturgy has a couple of wonderful built-in Holy Asides: the Foot washing and the Stripping of the Altar on Maundy Thursday; the new fire and sudden shift from darkness to light at the Easter Vigil; and Veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.

The Veneration of the Cross has become one of the most meaningful aspects of worship for me, both personally and pastorally. On Good Friday we are met with a devastating number of images and themes about the cross, which bombard and overwhelm our senses and emotions. By the cross “[God] has made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life.” (BCP, 220) The cross is simultaneously a source of shame and sacrifice, cruelty and love, pain and healing, defeat and victory. We experience the sacrifice of Christ, the torture and torment that he took upon himself for us and for our sins. We acknowledge his innocence and our guilt, while also understanding the new reality of forgiveness, grace, and healing offered to us. We are called to take up our cross in discipleship—that is to die to ourselves (and maybe just to die); and we are called to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross to relieve ourselves of the weight of sin. We wince at the pain and suffering that Jesus endured, while rejoicing that the cross has become the throne of the King of Kings, and it has brought forth the Kingdom of God. All of these feelings and thoughts swirl around, as I approach the cross… touch it… kiss it.

However, it is not really my own interaction with the cross that has made this “holy aside” so important to me. It has been the experience of watching the congregation wrestle with that same flurry of emotions as they come forward. In some cases, it has been life-changing. During an ecumenical service on Good Friday, a local minister left the career path he was on at the foot of the cross, and began following in a new and radical way. Through those same ecumenical services, I have witnessed hundreds of people from a variety of denominations come forward: grandparents and grandchildren; husbands and wives; Methodists and Baptists. At our own services, I am privileged to be near the cross as the congregation comes forward, to see their faces, and to witness the overwhelming emotion of pain and sadness, with the glimmer of the Easter joy we know is coming soon (but not today).  This cross, two simple crossbeams of wood, is the throne of Christ. I suppose, then, that it should be no great revelation that encountering this throne would be one of the most powerful moments we experience in worship each year, reminding us again why this is indeed Good Friday.

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