On the Third Sunday of Lent, the Veneration of the Cross stands exactly at the mid-point of the season of Lent. The Cross on which our Lord was sacrificed for the sins of the world is manifested as the hinge, or fulcrum, of our entire spiritual life. The Cross is not just an element of Christian history. The Cross is the indispensable component of a properly functioning journey to the Kingdom of God. St. Paul writes: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
The significance of our observance is expressed perfectly in the particular hymn we sing on this occasion: "Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy Resurrection we glorify"(making a prostration before the Cross placed in the middle of the Church). One, worship of God is performed through our veneration of the Cross of Christ, literally as we go to our knees and touch our foreheads to the floor in front of the Cross. "Come, let us worship and fall down before Him, and let us weep before the Lord who made us…Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at the footstool of His feet; for He is holy" (Ps. 94:6; 98:5).
Two, in our veneration of the Cross on which our Lord died for the sins of the world, we glorify Christ's Resurrection, the inevitable result of His crucifixion – "whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it" (Acts 2:24). The dual operation of the Cross – death and resurrection – forms and shapes all we do as people saved by God. "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2).
Set here in the middle of Lent, the Cross serves as a sign-post that we are on the right track to the Kingdom of God. In Christ God has called us “to enter by the narrow gate…difficult is the way which leads to life” (Matt. 7:13-14). Through fasting, vigil, and prayer, through Confession, through concentrated study of God’s Word, through serious reception of Holy Communion, through control of passionate desires, through forgiveness of enemies, through works of mercy and charity for others – we humble and abase ourselves in obedience to the Gospel, putting to death our selfish, sinful desires. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mk. 8:34-35).
Now the Cross shows us what lies ahead, the inexpressible joy of everlasting life in the Resurrection. It does not merely show us what we leave behind. "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). The Cross, a device of torture and execution, becomes for us the instrument of deliverance from death and our "weapon of peace" (hymn of the Cross; Eph. 2:14-16).
The Cross gives hope amid despair, joy instead of sorrow, and strength through weakness. The Cross of Christ is the proof that all our endeavors of faith are worth it because it is the Symbol of victory over every conceivable opponent separating us from the indestructible love of God (see Rom. 8:31-39).
Since the beginning of the Church, Christians sealed themselves with the sign of the Cross: on the forehead, over the heart, over their bodies (at Chrismation); and, the faithful have worn Crosses, adorned buildings with Crosses, and held Crosses for blessing. During Lent, we once again locate the Cross at the center of our existence and venerate it as the focus of all our Christian activities, for through the Cross of Christ we are delivered from death and preserved unto life eternal.