The feast of the Exaltation of the Cross is a reminder of something many good and generous people try to forget: that our salvation was wrought on the wood of the Cross. Sometimes we are so keen to race ahead to the Resurrection that we do not allow Christ’s death to register with us as it should. The terrible drying wind that blew over Calvary was the greatest torment, according to Julian of Norwich, who saw the parching of Christ’s skin and the great drops of blood falling from his brow, like raindrops from the roof-thatch after a shower of rain. For years I ate my meals beneath a large crucifix which bore the single word, Sitio, I thirst; and somehow, in my mind’s eye, the agonizing thirst for our love and the cruel dessication of Christ’s flesh became one. Only with the Resurrection would the thirst be ended, the flesh become supple again; but first there was a death to undergo, as violent and painful as any.
This year the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross coincides with Yom Kippur. There is much in that we could reflect on, but perhaps what we most need to be reminded of today is that death and dying are not meaningless nor is sin ultimately triumphant. Death comes to each of us, but none of us knows how we shall approach our last moments. I hope — I pray — for the grace of a good death, one that is a sharing in his death; but I do not presume upon it. For the rest, nothing is lost; nothing is gone for ever. Even our moments of apparent defeat can be transformed by grace into victories. Today our processional cross will be adorned with bay leaves as a sign of Christ’s victory, a victory won for all time on the wood of the Cross. In a world where there is so much violence and death is all too common, it is good to remember that.