Jerusalem has been leveled twice. That means that there is all manner of dirt covering over the sacred places we read about in Holy Scripture. It makes it more difficult to locate sites as hills and valleys are reshaped by the debris of other times. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine, had his mother in charge of the excavation of the site of the crucifixion and burial. A huge basilica was built as well as a circular church over the tomb, where the daily office was prayed. The celebration of the Word took place in the basilica and then the congregation would go to the circular "Church of the Resurrection" for the liturgy of eucharist and communion. Between the two buildings was a walkway from which one could see the top of Calvary. On Good Friday the faithful venerated the cross and each day the congregation gathered there for the last prayers of the day.
The buildings were dedicated on September 14, 335 (the seventh month of the Roman calendar; so it corresponded to 2 Chronicles 7:8-10 and the dedication of Solomon's Temple). Today we commemorate those structures built to worship and praise Jesus Christ and His self gift on the cross.
Different times, different cultures, different understanding of the Christian life--that is the diverse reality of the world and the church. Some would be offended by the ancient church, others aspire to its piety. I wonder what it would be like to live in constant contact with the geography in which Jesus lived and died, and rose. What would it be like to have a congregation eager to gather many times a day to pray the office, to celebrate word and sacrament in the Eucharist, and to end each day together in prayer at the site of His self sacrifice? It is easy to romanticize a more communal faith, lived in simpler conditions. My guess is the majority of Christians have never had great success in carrying the cross and following Jesus; although I fear many have done much better than I.
Today the church is in disrepair. Unbelief is on the rise and the rejection of church/religion in the name of self determination is popular. Faith is too often an individual, private affair and worship communities are losing active members. The culture is secularizing rapidly. Sacred sites are suspect. Jesus' claims are troubling. Those who would pray and worship are even considered a danger by a growing number. The Christendom instituted by Constantine has always been a mixed success. Perhaps as it dies among us we are being purified into a more faithful, cross shaped discipleship. Society will take on the hard edges of pagandom and the values of Jews and Jesus will be less powerful in shaping societal behavior. But sin is sin and no age was sinless.
So today we remember the cross. We read that God loved the world so He sent Jesus, and Jesus, when He was lifted up (like those serpents in the desert of Israel's wandering) became the source of salvation. That is why God the Son became incarnate. He wants to save the world. All of it. That is why we love His cross, we love Him, and we follow, whether in the holy land of Israel, or in the land in which we live, made no less holy by the same Lord.