One of things I treasure about our tradition is that on our High Holy Days our liturgies pretty much preach themselves. They carry us; we can relax into them.
With some exceptions, and today I’ll use the sermon slot to focus on one of them. Toward the end of the service there’s the Veneration of the Cross. What do we do with that?
There may be, I suppose, parishes in which everyone comes forward, and there the pastoral advice would be to resist group pressure. Don’t worry about what they’ll think of you if you don’t come forward. I’m told that’s not the problem here.
So what do we do with it? There are many possible answers. Here are a few; perhaps they’ll spark better ones.
Some of us are carrying burdens, some out of faithfulness, some because of the cards dealt. We might come to the cross for company. Jesus is no stranger to heavy burdens. As the Lord put it in Isaiah, “even to your old age I am he, / even when you turn gray I will carry you. / I have made, and I will bear; / I will carry and will save.”
Some of us: the language of 1928/Rite I comes too easily (“there is no health in us…miserable offenders;” “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table”). We might come to the cross to hear—as clearly as Jesus can say it—you are worth it. Jesus: “If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”
Some of us carry some anger at God’s choices that seem to bring on apparently unnecessary suffering for God or us. We might come to the cross to remind God that we’re still here, that the anger is still here, even if we have no idea how the conversation can productively go forward. From Isaiah again: “Come now, let us argue it out, / says the Lord.”
Some of us: there are no words to adequately express the gratitude we sometimes feel. We might come to the cross to say—with our body—thank you. We come up every week to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood; this time to say thank you. Jesus, the New Temple: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, / and his courts with praise.”
Some of us: well, as the years have gone by we’re more puzzled than we used to be, and not obviously in a good way. There’s something good here—that’s why we’re here—but bringing it into focus… We might come to the cross to say something like “Jesus, I’m not sure why you’re there, what it’s all about. But I’m here.” From Luke’s Passion narrative that we heard last Sunday: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
As I said, many possible answers. There’s no obligation, but perhaps the Veneration can be a means of expressing something important in your heart.