Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Numbers 21:4b-9; Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-38; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
The first day of the week, Sunday, is usually set aside in our church calendar to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Very rarely is anything else to take its place. Yet today we remember something that is intimately connected to his resurrection and that is his tragic death on the cross.
Initially, the cross was not used as a symbol for Christ. Images in the catacombs depict Jesus as a young shepherd boy with a lamb over his shoulders. With the discovery of the true cross on which Jesus died, this feast celebrated the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
A most sacred place for all Christians, it houses the sites on Mt. Calvary of the empty tomb and the traditional place of the discovery of the Wood of the Cross by St. Helena, the Catholic mother of Emperor Constantine. The latter had given freedom of religious practice to all people of the Roman Empire in 313 AD, by the Edict of Milan. His mother, St. Helena, used the resources of the Empire and went to Jerusalem to find the holy places. She talked with the local bishop and people. And, removing a Roman temple, found the true Cross on September 14, 320 A.D. She had the first church built over the spot.
A cross is a pole and a cross beam on the upper portion to show the way some criminals were executed. A crucifix is in the same shape yet has a likeness of Jesus crucified on it. Some crosses today have a risen, priestly or kingly Jesus on them. There is a big difference between a cross and a crucifix. Why do most Roman Catholic churches have as a major symbol the crucifix? We do that to keep before our eyes what God’s Son, Jesus Christ, had to do to take away the sins and disobedience of the entire human race until the end time on earth.
The reading from Numbers 21 gives a prophetic description of God forgiving the sins of the people. Moses had a serpent put on a pole. If those who had been bitten by the snakes looked at this symbol they would be healed. You still may see this symbol at some medical places.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians quoted today, we see the reason why God had to send his Son to earth. Since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, sin kept getting worse in human history. Instead of destroying everyone on earth, God kept promising to save us. In a sense the Son or Word of God put aside his radiant glory and came to earth, taking on a completely human nature except sin. As a human person he could show us clearly how much God loved us and the way he wants us to live here, loving him and one another.
After three years of forming his disciples, Jesus was condemned to death for saying he was God’s Son. Jesus suffered scourging, carried his cross, was crucified on Calvary and was buried. On the third day however, he rose from the dead, showing that his suffering and death took away our sins if we take up on cross and follow Jesus. St. Paul says in the second reading today:
“Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In John 14:1-6, Jesus told us he was going back to heaven to prepare a place for us. Then one day he could come back to take his faithful followers to be with him in glory. In the meantime we all have a cross specially designed by God to help purify us as we try to live the way Jesus wants us to live. Hopefully our goal is heaven.
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is not dead. He is alive and glorified. Study his resurrection appearance and have more hope of getting to heaven. Let us not give up the fight. Amen.
Thank God he kept us safe this 9/11. Have a good week.
+ Fr. Bob Hilz.
(© 2014 Fr. Bob Hilz, TOR)