Theologian Robert Barron tells about an interreligious dialogue between Catholics and Buddhists. At one point, one of the Buddhists said to him, “Why is that obscene image on every wall in your buildings?” He was, of course, referring to the Cross. The Buddhist explained that it would be considered a mockery in his religion to venerate the very thing that killed their leader. The truth is, of course, that it is obscene. It is strange, and Barron wrote a whole book about it called The Strangest Way.
And we all must have thought about this at one time or another. Why is it that God could only accomplish the salvation of the world through the horrible, brutal, and lonely death of his Son? That question goes right to the root of our faith. We know that we had been alienated from God, separated by a vast chasm of sin and death. But into this obscene world, Jesus becomes incarnate; he is born right into the midst of all that sin and death. He walks among us, and goes through all of the sorrows and pains of life and death right with along with us. If sin and death have been the obscenities that have kept us from God, then God was going to use those very things to bring us back. Jesus comes into our world and dies our death because God wants us to know that there is no place we can go, no experience we can ever have that is outside of God’s reach.
Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, also called the Triumph of the Cross, was celebrated very early in the Church’s history. In the fourth century St. Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went to Jerusalem in search of the holy places of Christ’s life. She razed the Temple of Aphrodite, which tradition held was built over the Savior’s tomb, and her son built the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher over the tomb. During the excavation, workers found three crosses. Legend has it that the one on which Jesus died was identified when its touch healed a dying woman. The cross immediately became an object of veneration.
About this great feast, St. Andrew of Crete wrote: “Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.”
Because of the Cross, all of our sadness has been overcome. Disease, pain, death, and sin – none of these have ultimate power over us. Just as Jesus suffered on that Cross, so we too may have to suffer in the trials that this life brings us. But Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us, a place where there will be no more sadness, death or pain, a place where we can live in the radiant light of God for all eternity. Because of the Cross, we have hope, a hope that can never be taken away.
The Cross is indeed a very strange way to save the world, but the triumph that came into the world through the One who suffered on the cross is immeasurable. As our Gospel reminds us today, all of this happened because God so loved the world.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.