Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
Today we celebrate the feast of the exaltation or the triumph of the Cross. The word ‘exaltation’ simply means lifting up or keeping a person high esteem in order to appreciate. In John’s gospel Jesus says: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.” Historically, this special Feast of the Cross originated in the 4th century. In those days, on September 14th, two Churches in Jerusalem were dedicated to the cross, that special event being remembered annually since that time. It was not until the 7th century that Rome adopted this Feast, commemorating it as the “Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” More recently, the title of the Feast has been changed to the “Triumph of the Cross.” Its purpose was to honour the work of Jesus Christ. And that is the reason as to why, on this date, we are united here in the Church of God.
For one thing, the cross is a triumph of love over hate. All his life Jesus preached on love, the love of God and love of humankind. At the same time he just did not talk about it; he practiced it. When he touched the leper or forgave the adulterous woman, Jesus lived love. And most of all, he lived it on the cross. Jesus could have hated the ones who were torturing him, insulting him and crucifying him. Instead he said from the cross: “Father forgive them.” His love triumphed over everything.
The cross is also the triumph of faith over despair. There are people around us and some of them we know very well are persons whose lives have been shattered by tragedy and who then live a life of hopelessness. Jesus the son of God could have easily given in to despair in the midst of the challenges and sufferings. Instead he prays saying if you will let this chalice pass by but your will be done. On the cross he dies saying Father into your hands I commend my spirit. His faith triumphed. The struggle that Jesus went through 2000 years ago is still present in our midst and in our life even today and the cross is given to us by Jesus.
In the First Reading we have the recall of the infidelity and grumbling of the people of Israel and God sends fiery serpents and those bitten by them, die. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food. The saving factor comes when a bronze serpent is made and raised high and all those who look at it are saved. Today’s Second Reading began with the words, “Though Christ Jesus was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” In other words, while Jesus possessed Divine equality and the right to appear like the Heavenly Father in the fullness of His glory, he refrained from adopting such honour. Jesus did not treat His divinity as something to be exploited during His incarnation. Instead, Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” When Jesus died on the cross, His obedience was not an ordinary one. It was a heroic obedience, one expected of a “servant.”
During today’s Gospel Reading, we heard Jesus say to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” Some may claim to know of heavenly things and speak accordingly. But, no one can speak of heavenly things with “authority” unless He has come down from Heaven and ascended into Heaven as the Son of Man has done. Jesus was raised up and he became the symbol of salvation and in the old testament the bronze serpent was raised up and it became an event that saved people from death. In both cases, the lifting of the bronze serpent in the wilderness and the lifting of the Son of Man on the cross, salvation came through a “raising up.” Through the raising of the Son of Man, the Spirit of salvation was given to man so that he may qualify to enter into the Heavenly Kingdom, this exalting our Lord Jesus Christ above all creations.
The Gospel indicates, Jesus’ ‘lifting up’ finds a reminiscence in an experience of the Israelites in the desert. They had been – as was often their wont – grumbling against God and against their leader, Moses. Their ungratefulness brought on God’s displeasure and they found themselves being attacked by a plague of poisonous snakes. We see Moses begging forgiveness and asking him to save them and Moses was told by God to make a bronze serpent. Jesus, too, though in a very different way was also ‘lifted up’ and his ‘lifting up’ has two meanings: first his lifting up on the cross. The cross is at the very centre of our Christian faith. An event of man’s shame now becomes the instrument of Salvation. Secondly, it is the expression of glory through which God involves himself with the universe. St John says, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that, through him, the world might be saved.”
As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us remember that the Son of Man had to be lifted up so that we may obtain our salvation through Christ, Our Lord Jesus. Let us praise His Most Holy Name and always be grateful for the undeserved gift of life that we have received. Praise be the Lord Jesus! The cross is the sign of every Christian. Every Christian, the little child as well as the great saint makes the sign of the cross, bearing witness the sacrifice made by Jesus. The cross for us no more the symbol of shame and suffering but a sign of salvation and through the cross we will be saved, says St Paul. For the Christians, the cross has become a sign of God’s saving action. Paul who expressed saying how could the one who died on the cross, be the sign of salvation. But he says thanks be to God, through the cross we are saved.
(for extra material on the history of the Holy Cross kindly move to the blog: godinallthings.stblogs.com)