Today our church celebrates Holy Cross Day to honor of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice of dying on the cross for our salvation. The collect for today says that Christ “was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself … (that) we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him” (BCP, p. 192).
We celebrate Holy Cross day on September 14th because it was on this day in 335 CE that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was dedicated in Jerusalem on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. How do we know that’s the site of Jesus’ death? Emperor Constantine’s own mother Helena discovered broken pieces of the cross itself while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 CE. In the late 4th century a Christian woman named Egeria wrote a detailed account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and mentions a feast celebrating the discovery of this cross. So while Holy Cross Day is new to The Episcopal Church calendar (our current prayer book is the first to include it on the church calendar), it’s far from a new feast day for Christendom.
The details about Helena discovering the cross vary depending on your source, but I find one of the versions particularly fitting for children. According to this account, on her pilgrimage, Helena happened upon a mound of unfamiliar greenery that was full of a rare fragrance. She stuck her hands in the dirt to unearth this sweet-smelling plant so she might transport it home, and in doing so found pieces of three crosses. The plant turned out to be basil and named as such because basileus in Greek means king… this herb has been tied to Jesus King of Glory and King of Peace for nearly 1700 years!
My children adore digging, planting and discovering new treasures and I adore the idea of connecting these interests to Helena. Imagine an annual spring tradition in which you plant basil seeds in an herb garden while retelling the story of Helena digging up her own basil and finding Jesus’ cross. And then in September, you can harvest the final basil leaves left on your plants to enjoy a meal on Holy Cross Day. Our family recently relocated to Dallas, Texas and in doing so we left behind our herb garden. So rather than reaping what we sowed, we are enjoying the bounty of Sprouts Grocery Market on this Holy Cross Day.
It’s too hot here for a delicious fire roasted tomato basil soup. It’s too hot for me to even stand over the stove boiling noodles that can be served with pesto, so today we are trying out an antipasti platter with a basil yogurt dip.
Breakfast for dinner is a thing, so why not snacking for dinner? Kids can easily rip the basil leaves and drop them along with other ingredients into a food processor to whip up the dip with adult supervision, of course. We will serve it with breadsticks, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, tomatoes, carrots and also salami slices, cheeses and whatever nuts we have on hand.
Our family asks a series of questions every night around our dinner table, but for Holy Cross Day we’ll alter them a bit so that as we dip our veggies we can more easily talk about Helena’s discovery, Jesus’ selfless and loving sacrifice for us and what the holy cross means for us today.
What is something you discovered today?
What is something you had to sacrifice today?
When do you feel pain or sadness today?
How did you feel God’s love today?
How did you share God’s love?
How might your family observe Holy Cross Day?