The cross—a method of ignominious execution in the ancient world—often strikes non-Christians as an unlikely object of veneration. Yet to the followers of Jesus, it is ultimately emblematic not of a cruel death but of a life-giving sacrifice that generates forgiveness, redemption and immortality. The tree of death becomes the tree of life.
Across the Christian world, churches set aside a day for honouring the holy cross in a more joyful atmosphere than is appropriately done during the solemnities of Good Friday. In the Anglican Communion that day is September 14, and the Book of Common Prayer designates specific readings, psalms, collects and hymns for Holy Cross Day, also known as the Feast of the Holy Cross or the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the Anglican lectionary the day’s liturgical colour is red.
The feast has ancient origins. According to Christian legend, it commemorates the dedication, in 335, of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was built at the location where St. Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, allegedly “discovered” the true cross during her famous archeological pilgrimage to significant sites of the Holy Land in 326. The relic’s authenticity was verified by its ability to heal a local sick woman, and a piece of it was placed inside the church. September 14 is also the feast day of the Episcopal Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross.
The Rev. Warren Wilson, priest-in-charge at St. David’s Anglican Church, in east-end Toronto, plans to use the recommended propers for Holy Cross Day on Sunday, September 14, and to work them into his homily. In addition to the message of hope and redemption, “the cross for me symbolizes our vertical relationship with God in the context of our horizontal relationship with each other,” he said.