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Standing Before the Cross

venerationcrossMany years ago I served a church in the northern part of Michigan. At the time I was there, the nearest town had a well-attended Ministerial Association.

The Ministerial Association had one program which was very successful and that was the Annual Community Good Friday Service. Because the local Roman Catholic Church had the largest sanctuary of all the churches in town, it was always the location of the service. Years before I came to town, one of the Roman Catholic priests who had been there  had written a liturgy for this service.  It involved recruiting young people to carry in certain symbols associated with the crucifixion. There was a large wooden cross standing at the end of the center aisle, for all the people to see. The young people would carry the symbols of the crucifixion story up the center aisle, past the cross and place them in the chancel area. Then, there was a reading of the passion story, in which several of us pastors took part. There was a message (the newest pastor in town always got that). Then, there was something called The Veneration of the Cross.

Strictly speaking the veneration of the cross is the kissing of a crucifix. But, our service was attended by both Protestants and Roman Catholics. It was a bare wooden Cross that stood before the people. And, they were invited to come up to remember and honor the Cross in whatever way was appropriate for them

So, during the Veneration of the Cross in this particular Good Friday Service, people were invited to come and stand before the large wooden cross. And, they came. They filled the aisle. Some just stood before the cross, some bowed down before it, some reached out to touch the cross, some kissed the cross — the responses were very individual. It seemed like it was a very Roman Catholic thing to do — yet, it also appealed to my more evangelical instincts — it was a personal and corporate response to the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf.

It was a way of responding. It was a way of making it personal.

cross_w_mtsAnd, I still remember this vividly. As a member of the Ministerial Association, I was seated with the other pastors in a semi-circle of chairs, facing the people. As a result, I could see the faces of the people as they came. They came as a group, and yet their responses were very individual. Some were in tears as they looked up at the cross. Some stayed a long time. For some it was just a moment.

Each person represents a unique story. And, the Cross says that their lives matter: their struggles, their failed hopes, their sins, whatever it is. The Cross touches us us where we live, for there Christ takes on the powers of sin and death. And, though the Gospels tell us, the world turned dark, the Cross still stands as a symbol of hope.

I found this quote on the Internet:

We know from the pilgrim Egeria that Christians have been honoring the cross . . . for centuries. The church in Jerusalem believed it had a relic of the actual wooden cross on which Jesus died, and the practice of venerating the cross spread throughout the church as the pilgrims returned home. Egeria notes that occasionally there were excesses in devotion: “It is said that someone (I do not know when) took a bite and stole a piece of the holy cross,” she wrote. “Therefore, it is now guarded by the deacons standing around, lest there be anyone who would dare come and do that again.” The veneration of the cross can seem an odd or even superstitious practice to many today, with our focus on more “spiritual” or “intellectual” worship, but many others find it important to honor Jesus’ suffering and death in such a tangible, physical way.

— Vicki K. Black, Welcome to the Church Year: An Introduction to the Seasons of the Church Year (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2004), 91.

When I stand before the Cross I remember my sin. I remember my failure to live up to my best instincts about life and about myself. I remember my struggle. And, amazingly, I meet God there. The Cross of Christ is God meeting me in my sin and failure. My response is individual to me — yet all people are invited to come. And, the Cross says that our lives matter to God.

If the infinite Son of God went to the Cross for the human race, then every person is of infinite value to God.

I don’t think people have ever looked so beautiful to me than when I saw them coming to stand before the Cross — each one, loved of God.


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