Friends, today we celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. How strange this feast would have sounded to someone in the ancient world! The triumph of the cross! It would have been analogous to someone speaking today of the triumph of the electric chair or the exaltation of the noose.
The cross terrified people in Greco-Roman times, and that was the point. The cross was state-sponsored terrorism, a form of capital punishment reserved for those who had in the most egregious ways undermined the authority of the Roman state.
So why are we celebrating the triumph of the cross? There is only one possible explanation, and that is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. All the attempts to soft-pedal and explain away the Resurrection are ruled out by this feast. If Jesus was a victim of that terrible cross tout court, then we should all go home.
Once they had taken in the experience of the Resurrection, the first Christians turned with rapt attention to the cross, convinced that in it they would find something decisive. Somehow, in the strange providence of God, that cross was ingredient in the very process by which God would save the world.