Friday, September 12, 2008

September 14: Exaltation of the Holy Cross

September 14: Exaltation of the Holy Cross Year A
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17

This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Exaltation of the Cross (or Triumph of the Cross). The veneration of the Holy Cross of Christ originated in the fourth century. It began with the miraculous discovery of the cross on September 14, 326, by Saint Helen, mother of Constantine. She found the Holy Cross while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the same day that two churches built at the site of Calvary by Constantine were dedicated. The observance of the Feast of the Exaltation (probably from a Greek word meaning "bringing to light") of the Cross has been celebrated by Christians on September 14 ever since. The First Reading from the Book of Numbers recounts the infidelity and grumbling of the Israelites. In punishment, God sends fiery serpents and many people die from their bites. After the people repented, God asked Moses to prepare a bronze serpent, which was raised high and all those who looked at it were saved. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians speaks of the humility and self-emptying of Christ: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” In other words, 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.” Because of such heroic obedience to Father, “God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every kneel should bend…. and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the exaltation of the cross referring to the event in the Old Testament.- “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. When Moses made the bronze serpent and placed it on a pole, those who looked at it with faith were healed. It is interesting that a similar symbol - serpents on a pole - today represents the medical profession. That bronze serpent on a pole prefigures the great instrument of healing - the cross. The Israelites were dying because desert snakes were biting them. You and I have been bitten by another more terrible viper called the Original Sin. We cannot heal ourselves no matter how advanced our medicine and can be. Only the Cross can heal us. 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 and Resurrection of Christ -- all in one image. What is the message of this Solemnity? The Exaltation of the Holy Cross has no other message except that of the Cross itself. 1) The Cross before us, the Cross we wear, the Cross in our homes or in classrooms expresses God’s profound love for us, to the extend that God allowed his Son to die on the Cross for our sins; 2) That symbol of death, defeat and weakness becomes for us a symbol of life, triumph and strength; 3) The Cross is the most powerful symbol of our Christian faith by which we recall Christ’s death and resurrection, and by which Christ invites us too to carry our own cross as his disciples. “We adore you O Christ and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

©2008 John M. Mbinda

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