Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17
Humiliation, exaltation and triumph on the Cross are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross celebrates two events: 1) the finding of the True Cross in 326 A.D. by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine; and 2) the dedication of churches built by Constantine on the site of the Holy Sepulchre and on Mount Calvary. But in a deeper sense, the feast celebrates the Holy Cross as the instrument of triumph and salvation. There is another fascinating story behind the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. It all began with a battle for the conquest of Rome in 312 A.D. On the eve of that battle, Constantine had a vision of a Cross in the sky and heard a voice tell him, “By this Sign, you shall conquer.” The following day, Constantine using the image of the Cross he had seen, won the battle over Rome and become the Emperor. This miraculous victory led to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. He then declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
In today's Gospel, Jesus predicts his own humiliation and triumph on the Cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus is lifted up in order to save us all from sin and death. “For God so loved the world…” (Jn 3:16) In the first reading we hear that many died in the desert. Therefore God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and place it on a pole. Those who looked at it with faith were healed. It is interesting that a similar symbol of 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 of snake bites, but an even more terrible viper has bitten you and I. We cannot heal ourselves. No medicine can heal that bite. Only the Cross can heal us. The Cross stands at the center of creation - and the center of human history which makes no sense apart from the Cross. St. Paul says it the best in the second reading. “Christ Jesus, though he was …God… he emptied himself." He took the form a slave. He humbled himself even more, accepting death; death on the Cross. Because of such humility - the humility of the cross - the Father exalted Jesus. At his name every knee should bend. For that reason, we genuflect or bow when we come into the presence of Jesus in our church. What good news do we take away this Sunday? 1) The Cross expresses God’s profound love for us, to the extent that God allowed his Son to die on the Cross for our sins (Jn 3:16); 2) The symbol of death, defeat and weakness becomes for us the symbol of life, triumph and strength. The Cross is the Banner that we carry ahead of every liturgical celebration to symbolize the victory of Jesus Christ. 3) The Cross is the most powerful symbol of our Christian faith by which we recall Christ’s passion, death and resurrection at each Eucharistic celebration. At the end of each Holy Mass, Jesus sends us as disciples and stewards to go and live the mystery of faith we have celebrated – the good news that the Cross is a symbol of life and victory.
©2014 John S. Mbinda