A Reflection from Victoria for the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross
As supposed lovers of Christ, it must seem to many an absurd tradition for us to even look upon a crucifix, much less venerate (kiss) one. Isn’t a cross, without the murdered body of Our Lord, enough to remind us of His sacrifice? Do we really need the added, gruesome detail of a bloodied, naked corpus? In the Canon at Matins every Friday, we express the anguish felt by the Theotokos: “Seeing Christ sacrificed on the cross as a lamb, His Mother cried out: O long-suffering and eternal Son, where has all your beauty gone?” Imagine the awful sight it must have been for the Bridegroom’s own mother to have momentarily lost perception of His beauty.
The crucifix should be embarrassing. This is when Jesus, the Anointed One, who was expected by the Jews to come in waging war, emerging victorious, appears to be at His weakest, most human moment. Yet therein lies the beautiful sacrifice of our King! At any time He could have snapped His fingers, descended from the cross, and sent all around Him into the pit of Hell. Instead He chose to be in the muck of humanity, to take on every aspect of being human…even death…even a humiliating, public death. He nailed our sins to the cross and yet we struggle to even look at the scene. Our attention should certainly be on the crucifix, a constant reminder of our goal to climb up onto the cross with Him, our nuptial bed. If we truly want to be in union with Him, this means union in every way. As Catherine Doherty wrote, “Christ occupied one side of the cross—you must be crucified on the other side. From its height, you will get a first glimpse of the land of love.”
Now, it may seem that to venerate the cross the third Sunday of the Great Fast is a bit…premature. He won’t be crucified for nearly four more weeks! But as we sing during Matins this Sunday, “Today we have the joyous veneration of your life-giving Cross as a foretaste of your holy Passion, which you endure to save us, O Christ our God and almighty Savior.” So you could say this feast does something to whet our appetites, to really help us hunger to reach out and take Christ’s hand on the cross. Often, however, I view this feast as more of a reminder, a time to refocus on our goal. If any of you have ran a marathon, you’re familiar with “pacers.” These are the people who run the marathon at a much slower pace than they’re actually capable of running, holding up a sign with a time on it. If you stick with the “3:50” pacer, you’ll finish in 3:50, etc. In truth, though, I find the pacers real job to remain peppy, encouraging, and ever-optimistic. They strike up conversations with runners, cheer them on, and remind them of all the intense training they went through to prepare for this very moment. This is how I see the crucifix on the third Sunday of the Great Fast. I hear our Bridegroom calling down to me, “Keep it up! Run the race! Keep your gaze fixed on Me, purge yourself from sin, and we will forever be one.” Then I get to respond to that call with a big old smooch and a renewed zeal to take on whatever cross He wishes for me to bear.
I encourage you all to gaze upon the crucifix today with new eyes. Examine our Savior’s face, touch His wounds, and fall in love. Let Him be your “pacer,” constantly calling you on to keep running the race. Know that He is the best of all pacers because He never leaves your side and always desires to whisper words of encouragement into your heart.