As Christians we have become so accustomed to seeing the crucifix in our churches and homes that we can perhaps forget the horrific suffering it represents. When we do reflect on that suffering, the Exaltation of the Cross—that cruel instrument of torture and execution—can seem scandalously insensitive to what Christ underwent for our salvation. Indeed, certain forms of spiritual devotion would have us meditate on those sufferings of Christ as a way of stirring us to tears of repentance, conversion, and reparation.
However, the Exaltation of the Cross is not the exaltation of suffering or an attempt to romanticize (in any way) Christ’s agonizing death. Instead, it is an exaltation of God’s, love for humankind, considering that it was God’s love that led to the cross—something Jesus makes clear to Nicodemus. And, ultimately, it is this infinite love which even the most atrocious human violence and hate could not destroy, that saves us—and not simply the suffering so bravely and meekly borne.
As such the cross becomes the culminating sign and proof of what we have come to call God’s unconditional love. The revelation of this love began with creation itself and continued throughout the eons of human history to that moment when, hanging in agony on the cross, he breathed forth his Spirit. And whereas the cross manifests God’s unconditional love for us (and is thereby exalted), unless we open our hearts completely to receiving that love, it avails us nothing. Indeed, to those who close their hearts to God’s love, the Exalted Cross serves to accuse them and stands as a witness to their condemnation.
And in opening our hearts to receive the outpouring of God’s saving love, we repent in deep sorrow for our sins and for having had our part in the death of Christ. However, as the saints have taught us, this awareness needs to end, not in crippling guilt and humiliating shame, but in a wondrous gratitude for God’s seemingly unfathomable love for us. This gratitude then finds expression in heartfelt conversion through which we are restored to grace and are taken up (through divinization) into the heart of our Triune God.
So let us look to Exalted Cross, firstly, to awaken compunction for our sins, and then amidst the hard labor and the long journey of conversion and transformation let us also look upon the cross in hope since it bears witness to the ultimate triumph of God’s love over sin and death. Yes, let us gaze on the Cross for it proclaims that: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.