Monday, September 15, 2008

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Readings for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today the Church celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. This feast, this celebration, is also referred to as The Triumph of the Holy Cross.

The world may ask, "how can you celebrate the Cross? How can this device which so clearly destroys life be celebrated as triumphant?" St. Paul gives us the answer in his first letter to the Corinthians, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Today is a celebration of the paradox of Christianity. We celebrate that which, to the world, appears as nothing more than a device of capital punishment. We celebrate that which they believe was merely the ultimate and fitting punishment of criminals and, if we so believe, our God.

However, what we celebrate today is the Cross which is the throne of Christ. From this throne Christ rules the world, not by force but by love and sacrifice. St. Paul sees the power of love, the power of obedience to the Father in the second reading today. He sees that Jesus, the second Adam, through His obedience, un-did all that Adam's sin had done, "...he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him..." We celebrate the Cross because it is the altar upon which the price was paid for our sins. The spotless Lamb of God was offered in atonement to God on this Cross and it has become for us a sign of our redemption.

The Church helps us to better understand this celebration by choosing Her first reading from the Book of Numbers which recounts the story of the seraph serpents in the desert. Here we see the paradox of the cross prefigured. The people of God are only healed when they look upon an image of the very thing that has injured them.

In the Gospel Jesus tells us, "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.” Jesus is not speaking of His Ascension into Heaven. He is not speaking of being hailed as King. Rather, Jesus is associating Himself with the serpent on the pole. He is to become and image of the very thing that has injured them, sin. St. Paul tells us that this association was more than just an image, "For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin..."

This shows us the weight of what Paul is speaking of in the first reading. Jesus' obedience was not superficial. He so associated Himself with our fallen nature that He appeared as sinful, He appeared guilty. Sin was nailed to the Cross. Sin was crucified in the flesh of Christ so that whoever looks upon this image that is lifted up for all to see, they may be healed. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." And that salvation comes to each one of us through the Cross, "And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself."

We adore you O Christ and we praise you. For by your Holy Cross, you have redeemed the world.

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