The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross seems like a strange concept. Why on earth would something like the Cross be exalted. Would we proclaim the glory of the guillotine or the ecstasy of the electric chair? Of course as Christians we shouldn't be shocked by paradoxes such as the exaltation of a weapon of execution. Our Faith holds to notions such as the Incarnation, which states that Christ is both God and human; the Trinity, which tells us that God is both one substance and three persons; and of course Jesus' teaching which proclaims that the last shall be first just to name a few. Our theology of the Cross is no different.
As we prepare to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in October, I am reminded of the extensive writing of Martin Luther on this very topic. For Luther all of Christian thought retains this paradoxical structure, and nowhere is it more evident than in his theology of the Cross. Luther uses the phrase fröhliche Wechsel und Streit, the happy and quarrelsome exchange, to describe what's going on with Jesus' crucifixion. For Luther the Cross is not simply a sad event from the life of Christ, it is an exchange, an exchange that is at once glorious and sorrowful. The Cross is about Christ taking on the sin, death, and darkness of humanity and exchanging it for the redemption, life, and glory of God. It is a trade that at once reminds us of the fallen nature of humanity and the infinite mercy of God. Thus the Cross becomes our salvation, a glorious exchange, and something worthy of exaltation.