Holy Cross Day 2011

Today Christians across the world will celebrate Holy Cross Day. This day in the Christian calendar celebrates the Cross as a symbol of Christ’s triumph over death and a reminder of His promise that, “…when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32) The history behind this day can be traced back to the time of Constantine. Holy Cross Day is celebrated on September 14th because it was on this day in 335 A.D. that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in Jerusalem. Constantine’s mother Helena though this to be the site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. There is much archaeological evidence to back up this claim.

You may want to commemorate this day by taking a look at these Scripture readings designated by the Common Lectionary:

Old Testament Lesson (KJV)
Numbers 21:4-9

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food. 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us. So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live. 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Gospel
John 3:11-17 (KJV)

11 Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Or you may want to look into the practice often associated with this day for many historical Christian traditons…The Sign of the Cross. Many Christian traditions use the Sign of the Cross to bring to mind the significance of the Cross, and the continuing call to discipleship. This practice has become a physical act of prayer in my own life. It has a rich history that may even precede the birth of Christ. Here is an extended quote from James Keifer explaining the background to the Sign of the Cross:

Tertullian, in his De Corona (3:2), written around AD 211, says that Christians seldom do anything significant without making the sign of the cross. Certainly by his time the practice was well established. Justin Martyr, in chapters 55 and 60 of his First Apology (Defence of the Christian Faith, addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius and therefore written between 148 and 155 AD), refers to the cross as a standard Christian symbol, but not explicitly to tracing the sign of the cross as a devotional gesture…The Christian custom of tracing the sign of the cross on persons and things as a sign of blessing is very old. Some think that it goes back to the very origins of Christianity and earlier. In Ezekiel 9, we read that Ezekiel had a vision of the throne-room of God, in which an angel was sent to go through Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the faithful few who mourned for the sins of the city. Afterwards, other angels were sent through the city to destroy all those who had not the mark. We find similar visionary material in Revelation 7:2-4; 9:4; 14:1, where the mark on the forehead again protects the faithful few in the day of wrath, and it is said to be the name of the Lamb and of His Father. Now, the Hebrew word used for “mark” in Ezekiel is TAU, which is the also the name of the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (the ancestor of the Greek letter TAU and our letter T), and it refers to a mark like an X or a +, two short lines crossing at right angles. When the Essenes (the Dead Sea Scrolls people) received converts into their community, they baptized them and then signed them on their foreheads with a TAU, in token that they were part of the faithful remnant who mourned the sins of Israel, and that they would be spared in the day of God’s wrath. It seems probable that John the Baptist and his followers were in some measure influenced by the Essenes, and they had certainly read Ezekiel. Accordingly, the tracing of a TAU on the forehead may have been a part of John’s method of baptism, and may have been adopted by the earliest Christians. (We remember that some of the Twelve disciples had previously been disciples of John the Baptist — see John 1:35-37,40.) Very possibly they began by tracing the TAU without asking what it meant — it was simply a mark, the mark mentioned by Ezekiel. Later, they may have identified it with the Name of God. The Essenes, in some of their documents, used four dots in place of the four letters of the Name of God, and sometimes arranged them in a square. It would be easy to interpret the four ends of the TAU as representing the four letters of the Name of God. Later, Christians, especially Greek-speaking Christians, might interpret the sign as a CHI, an X-shaped letter, the first letter of the word XPICTOC, or Christos, meaning the Annointed One, the Messiah, the Christ. Again, Christians might understand it to be the sign of the Cross of Christ, and it is this interpretation that has prevailed…connection with Baptism may very well go back to the Apostles themselves, and back before them into their Essene and other Jewish roots, having its origin in the vision of Ezekiel. In fact, the concept may go back further than that. We read in Genesis 4 that, when Cain had killed his brother and was sent into exile, God set a mark (TAU) on Cain, so that no one would slay him. Thus, from the start, the Sign of the Cross has been the protection of the penitent and justified sinner.

What is the significance of the sign of the cross? Well, in the first place, we often place our initials or other personal mark on something to show that it belongs to us. The Cross is the personal mark of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and we mark it on ourselves as a sign that we belong to Him, just as in the book of Revelation, as noted above, the servants of God are sealed or marked on their foreheads as a sign that they are His.

Again, as one preacher has said, if you were telling someone how to make a cross, you might say (at least to an English speaker), “Draw an I and then cross it out.” As we make the sign, we first draw a vertical stroke, as if to say to God, “Lord, here am I.” Then we cancel it with a horizontal stroke, as if to say, “Help me, Lord, to abandon my self-centeredness and self-will, and to make you the center of my life instead. Fix all my attention and all my desire on you, Lord, that I may forget my self, cancel my self, abandon myself completely to your love and service.”

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