September 14, 2017
Message from Pastor:
Today, September 14, is the feast of the Holy Cross. Like much of Christian history, this celebration is a mixed bag. It originated with the discovery of the “true cross” by Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, in 326. The location of this discovery became the site for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to legend, the cross was split into three places: a third stayed in Jerusalem; a third was brought to the basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome; and the final third was taken to Constantinople (modern Istanbul). So far, so innocuous.
Yet the feast also recalls the legendary return of the “true cross” to Jerusalem by Heraclius after a military conquest of Palestine and the defeat of the Persian king Chosroas in 614. After the relic was returned to the city, it was cut up into small relics and scattered throughout the world. So numerous were shards of the “true cross” in Luther’s day, that he commented of such relics: “What lies there are about relics! One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the Bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses’ burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve?”
Clearly, this celebration is somewhat odd in terms of its history, and we do not celebrate it in order to commemorate a piece of wood that we have not seen. But there is value in this day for us to consider; it is an opportunity to consider the cross of Jesus. Think: God could have come as conqueror, as judge, as a floating deity smiting with lightning bolts, as an infinitely wealthy and invincible king. God did none of these. Jesus came to die, to be lifted up so that those who are in danger might look to him for salvation. Christ was crucified so that we might believe.
So, on this day, consider that God does not want us to pay lip service. God does not want us to lie. God does not want us to pretend that we are okay, to hide our weakness, to deceive ourselves and our communities. We are weak and failing and foolish and dying. We don’t know what we are doing. We are not okay! And it is the faithful one who, in need, looks to the one who is reliable and faithful. God raised Christ on a cross, and raised Christ from the grave, so that we would know to look to Jesus Christ for life and salvation.
That is what the feast of the Holy Cross is about: God’s saving action, God’s gift of faith, God’s decision to be our God and to save us even from ourselves. God really knows us, really loves us, and really will stick with us no matter what! God comes down to work salvation even in our ugliest messes, like this feast day, or like the cross it celebrates. God can turn our murder weapon into the tree of life. God will do all of this, because that is who God is; and we will continue, in all our failure, to look to the cross. That’s who we are.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Gary
The Reverend Gary Andrew Bruce Woodruff, Pastor
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Atonement
308 1st Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ 07712