Holy Cross Day: Upon a Cross the Victim Vanquished
This day, Sept. 14, is observed in both Western and Eastern churches as the Festival of the Holy Cross. It was on this day, in 335, that what was said to be a portion of the true cross upon which Christ was crucified, was brought outside of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher so clergy and laity alike could venerate it. Sept. 14 was the second day of a two-day celebratory dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the site where, in 326, Helena, mother of Constantine, discovered the true cross. Obviously, the origin of the Festival of the Holy Cross is shrouded in uncertain historical assumptions, but it is a wonderful festival in the Church, and provides a great opportunity to shine a bright light on the instrument by which the world’s salvation was purchased and won by our dear Lord Christ.
Venantius Fortunatus‘ glorious hymn, “Sing My Tongue” is sung at this festival, and I can’t think of a more perfect hymn to set next to Cranach the Younger’s magnificent painting for the St. Peter and Paul Church in Weimar. I was reminded of the painting in church today as the Old Testament lesson was read, the account of the bronze serpent. And then the Epistle lesson in which Paul asserts what the Church’s proclamation is always to be all about: Christ and Him crucified!
A blessed Holy Cross day to all. May the blessings and grace that flow from the atonement won on the cross for you and the whole world fill you with joy and peace, as you live in the promises of your Crucified Lord, raised victorious over sin, death and hell. All glory to our Holy Triune God. Amen.
Eating of the tree forbidden,
man had sunk in Satan’s snare,
when our pitying Creator did
this second tree prepare;
destined, many ages later,
that first evil to repair.
Such the order God appointed
when for sin He would atone;
to the serpent thus opposing
schemes yet deeper than his own;
thence the remedy procuring,
whence the fatal wound had come.
So when now at length the fullness
of the sacred time drew nigh,
then the Son, the world’s Creator,
left his Father’s throne on high;
from a virgin’s womb appearing,
clothed in our mortality.
All within a lowly manger,
lo, a tender babe He lies!
see his gentle Virgin Mother
lull to sleep his infant cries!
while the limbs of God incarnate
round with swathing bands she ties.
THUS did Christ to perfect manhood
in our mortal flesh attain:
then of His free choice He goeth
to a death of bitter pain;
and as a lamb, upon the altar of the cross,
for us is slain.
Lo, with gall His thirst He quenches!
see the thorns upon His brow!
nails His tender flesh are rending!
see His side is opened now!
whence, to cleanse the whole creation,
streams of blood and water flow.
above all other,
one and only noble Tree!
None in foliage, none in blossom,
none in fruit thy peers may be;
sweetest wood and sweetest iron!
Sweetest Weight is hung on thee!
Lofty tree, bend down thy branches,
to embrace thy sacred load;
oh, relax the native tension
of that all too rigid wood;
gently, gently bear the members
of thy dying King and God.
Tree, which solely wast found worthy
the world’s Victim to sustain.
harbor from the raging tempest!
ark, that saved the world again!
Tree, with sacred blood anointed
of the Lamb for sinners slain.
Blessing, honor, everlasting,
to the immortal Trinity;
to the Father, Son, and Spirit,
equal praises ever be;
glory through the earth and heaven
to Trinity in Unity. Amen.