The Gracious “Electric Chair” – Part 2

In my previous posting I discussed the matter of the cross and the general horror that it evokes. I would like to continue with a further observation. My focus this time is specifically on the appellation “holy cross,” as in the sentence used on the cover of the service folder for last Wednesday’s Holy Week worship service, viz., “We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

In what sense is our Lord’s cross “holy”? Not literally, I would aver. It does not possess holiness in and of itself. Indeed, one would be hard pressed even to contend that it has been set aside for sacred use, what with all sorts of men handling it and there being no ritually-restricted use of it. No, the cross can be called “holy” because of who was on it and/or because of what happened upon it or was accomplished through it.

In other words, Christ’s cross can be called “holy” only by metonymy, i.e., because the referent of this adjective is associated with some closely connected referent. In this case, the quality of the cross referred to is associated with the quality of the one who was on it or with the quality of the activity of the one who was on it. But it is not holy in the literal meaning of the word.

Now, this distinction is important, because it helps to focus piety and to keep it from going far astray. Because the cross itself is not holy, it should not be an object of devotion or veneration. Pieces of it should not be sought out and made a “relic” for worship by the faithful. It does not have intrinsic value beyond that of other crosses used for execution. Rather, the cross is a reminder of what was accomplished upon its limbs and a reminder of the unspeakable and incomprehensible sacrifice which it enabled. Only with this proper understanding of the value of the cross will we be enabled to keep our eyes focused exactly where they should be, viz., upon Him, now risen, who redeemed us through its horror.

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