This Friday we celebrate the patronal Feast of our monastery, the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross. Blessed John Henry Newman said that the mystery of the cross of Christ is the heart of our religion. As with so much of Jesus’ teaching and life, the cross is a paradox to our human perception. And, of course, we do not worship a cross! That was nothing but an instrument of torture and death, an image that the first few centuries of Christians could not bring themselves to represent. As long as the Roman Empire used crucifixion as capital punishment, we find no representation of it in Christian art.
What we worship is Christ suffering on the cross, Christ’s act of embracing an agonizing death, Christ redeeming us on the cross, Christ passage through the veil of the flesh transformed into something beautiful for God.
There is the paradox: this is nothing beautiful in itself. In itself the cross is hideous and death on a cross is horrible. But the cross of Christ is perfect love, divine, self-emptying love expressed humanly, expressed even to the depths of human misery. God fills it all, fills our total experience: even suffering and pain do not have to separate us from God. God shuns none of it. This is God’s dreadful love for us. Who can escape it? Would we try to flee our pain and suffering or would we dwell with God even there? Can we trust to share God’s triumph from even there?
from a Chapter Talk by Abbot Robert Barnes