The dirt had been cleared away, and the three wooden crosses lay carelessly in their grave one on top of the other. No honor, no respect, no veneration had been shown these instruments of death. And why should they have been? They were used to execute criminals: traitors, murders, serial thieves. The worst of the worst. The people who threaten our bodily life, and so scare us more than he who can destroy the soul. For we fear all threats to our quality of life, and are too glib about threats to our spirit, to our life in God.
Yet one of these crosses had been used to rescue us from threats we don’t take seriously; threats we put off for another day. One of these killing implements was actually life-giving: in a way we too often take with indifference. One of these murderous tools was the sweetest wood which had soaked in the blood of the Just One, pierced by sweetest iron. One of these was Faithful Cross above all other, the one and only noble Tree, the Tree of Life Himself whose fruit is our redemption, whose foliage and blossom cures us from the contagion of fear.
Which one? How to tell? That was the question that confronted Empress Helen. Looking down, she and the others with her had no way of knowing if they had simply found more Roman artifacts or the wood of the True Cross on which had hung our salvation.
The Bishop knew. He knew that the Cross of Jesus, the Cross of Sorrow, was where God’s blood was shed to heal and restore and transform not just humans, but all of creation. And if it healed all, then it could heal one.
So the Bishop fetched a woman wracked with infirmity, the very picture of our weakened state, one whose illness made people shrink back in fear and cringe in horror. That one woman, like the mother pleading for her daughter’s healing, like the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years, like the little girl lying dead on her bed—that woman was brought to the blood of Jesus, embedded and inseparable from the wood. Instead of reaching to touch the hem of His garment, the healing, life-giving wood was gently applied to her disease-riddled body.
And as the relic of the True Cross touched her, all death and disease fled in fear. Now the virus that frightened ran away. Now the fatal illness was cured. Now the Grim Reaper’s grip was broken.
Not that the lady nevermore died. Lazarus, Talitha, the man from Nain, and the bodies of the saints that came out of the tombs after Our Lord’s resurrection: their bodies eventually gave out. Because their rising at that point was a sign of what was to come, and so not yet the glorification and transfiguration of their bodies. But that doesn’t mean that nothing happened to this dear woman and the others. Rather, it means that Tartarus and the grave, and we in our fear of death, all learned that death’s grip is not permanent; that mortality is terminated one day; and, in fact, that death is converted from the decay to transformation.
All of that the Holy Cross gains for us. All of that Christ’s death and resurrection opened up for us.
And so the woman was cured, by the touch of the relic of the True Cross. And since that relic has not changed; since Christ’s blood is still mingled with the wood; since Our Lord’s Cross remains the means of salvation—such a cure from disease, such a delay of the grave is also available to us, when it pleases Our Lord, in our own relic of the True Cross.
That is why this relic is prominent on our tabernacle; why I bless you with it especially during this pandemic; and why, when we are able, I encourage you to venerate our relic of the True Cross. For it is not a piece of religious art, but connects us to Our Lord’s saving work in a way that is only exceeded by the Holy Sacraments.
Yet there is another reason why I bless you with the relic of the True Cross; another reason why the Finding of the Holy Cross is such an important feast; another reason why this sign of execution is a symbol of our faith.
Our life in God is lived not individually, holed up in our homes. It is lived together, beneath of shadow of the cross. For now, for every sensible and prudent reasons, we are necessarily apart. But this separation is not, and can never be, normal for us. We must, in time, come together. Not merely because we like each other, or miss each other, or just want to be together.
We must, in time, come together because our life is no life unless it is lived together, in the community, in the Body which is Christ’s and of which He is the head.
The cross is the symbol of this: of our life together. And it is that symbol especially now, as we bear one another’s burdens in prayer, in acts of charity, in ensuring that justice prevails over greed, and in protecting each other not in fear but out of self-sacrificing love.
All of that, and most especially a love which sacrifices our convenience and even our life for another—all of that is both seen and made real in the Cross of Christ. Looking to the Cross should both bring this to mind, and inspire in each one of us a spirit to live heedless of our selves and mindful only of the lives of the weak, the vulnerable, the unborn, the helpless, the marginalized, and those who place themselves in harm’s way.
That is part of what Christ means when He tells us to take up our cross. Which is really a small portion of His Cross. To take up the cross is to realize that we must be together, because our way, our pathway to sanctity, our road to the resurrection of the body—that is always a route of charity, of selflessness, or love that thinks of no one but another. That is the love that flows from the heart of Christ, whose blood from that pierced heart adheres to the relic that sits on our altar. In that precious blood, which is stuck to the Cross, we see what love is; and most of all, what it means to be united with each other in Christ.
Not yet, but soon we shall be together. While we wait, let’s not get too comfortable with how things are now—with our separation, with the unreal way we connect. We should be grateful for this small mercy which we need in our weakness. And let us recall that, in fortunate and unfortunate circumstances, we are together in Christ. But let us also yearn, and pray earnestly, for that time when our words of concern for each other are met with a true and sincere commitment to be gathered at the foot of the Cross in our parish; and to use that love which flows from Christ’s side on the Cross to live unafraid, unanxious, not giving into passion, but looking forward to that day when the healing that has begun in us is brought to its full completion in the heavenly kingdom; where, by the prayers of the saints, Our Lord Jesus Christ is glorified with His Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end.