To read the texts click on the texts: Num 21:4-9;Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17
The Exaltation of the Cross is one of the twelve great feasts in the yearly Church cycle. Because the cross is at the heart and centre of all that we as Christians believe, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the triumph of the cross of Christ over the power of sin and death. And so this feast provides us with another opportunity to reflect on the central mystery of our faith: that the one who was lifted up on the cross in crucifixion has triumphed over the power of sin and death because God highly exalted him.
This feast commemorates two historical events: first, the finding of what was considered the Cross of Christ in the year 326 by the mother of Constantine the Great, St Helen, and second its recovery from Persia in 628.
A story is told of Emperor Heraclius who in the year 628 after making peace with the Persians carried what was considered the Cross on which Jesus hung back to Jerusalem on his shoulders. He was clothed with costly garments and with ornaments of precious stones. But at the entrance to Mt. Calvary a strange incident occurred. Try as hard as he would, he could not go forward. Zacharias, the Bishop of Jerusalem, then said to the astonished monarch: "Consider, O Emperor, that with these triumphal ornaments you are far from resembling Jesus carrying His Cross." The Emperor then put on a penitential garb and continued the journey and carried the Cross into the Church of Holy Wisdom where it was triumphantly exalted. It was then resolved that the Fest of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Cross be celebrated by the Church in all parts of the world.
The Cross -- because of what it represents -- is the most potent and universal symbol of the Christian faith. It is a constant reminder -- and witness -- of Christ's ultimate triumph, His victory over sin and death through His suffering and dying on the Cross. The cross, once a tool of death, has become a means to life, an instrument of our salvation; it gives strength to resist temptation, it gives hope to seek new life and it dispels fear and darkness.
As Christians, we exalt the Cross of Christ as the instrument of our salvation. Adoration of the Cross is, thus, adoration of Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became Man, who suffered and died on the Cross for our redemption from sin and death. The cross represents the One Sacrifice by which Jesus, obedient even unto death, accomplished our salvation. The cross is a symbolic summary of the Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ.
In the first reading of today we read of how Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in order to heal and bring wholeness to a broken people. This was God’s way of showing the people that He was primarily a God who wanted to save and redeem and not condemn and destroy. The Church and especially the evangelist John interpreted this lifting of the bronze serpent by Moses as a foreshadowing of the salvation through Jesus when He was lifted up on the Cross. The Triumph of the Cross is the Triumph of Jesus Christ whose love for us and obedience to his Father climaxed with his death on the cross. The deeper meaning of the Cross is presented in The Christological hymn in today's second reading from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Jesus emptied himself completely, not just becoming a human being but accepting the worst public death of the society he lived in to demonstrate the extent of the love of God for us. He died making a willing statement of love, filling the world with the love he had for his Father and his Father had for him. We are saved from the horrors of evil, from meaningless lives due to the love of the Lord. Because Jesus died on a cross for us we are able to proclaim to the world: Jesus is Lord. His love made this possible. When we venerate and adore the cross we are saying: Jesus is Lord of our lives.
To the world this act of surrender on the cross was an act of utter humiliation and subjugation and the height of folly. To the world this death on the cross was a wasted life. To the world this death on the cross was a sign of utter defeat. But what the world calls wisdom, God calls foolishness, and what the world calls strength God call weakness. Therefore God highly exalted the crucified one by raising him from the dead. God gave Jesus his own name so that every creature on earth must now call Jesus “Lord.” What human beings did, God contradicted. And so in the weakness and foolishness of the cross we see the wisdom and power of God: Christ crucified. In him and his cross, surrender becomes power, waste becomes gain and death and defeat become victory and new life.
The cross is at the centre of our lives every time we face sickness and death. The cross is at the centre of our lives in frailty and old age. The cross is at the centre of our lives every time we feel utterly alone and abandoned. The Cross is at the centre of our lives every time we are tempted to give in and give up. It is at the centre of our lives every time we are tempted to throw our hands up in despair. It keeps reminding us that only when we embrace the cross in the midst of suffering and abandonment can we understand the power of the resurrection. Only when we have the courage to keep on keeping on can we like Christ become victorious and conquer. Only when we embrace the cross is it possible for God to raise us up and give us new life.