Lord God, take my lips and speak through them; take our minds and think through them; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Amen.
On this special day in the Christian Calendar I am always reminded of a beautiful hymn:
Lift high the cross
The love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world
Adore His sacred name.
Today we celebrate this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a celebration of the Cross, it’s saving grace, and the way we should all carry the image of the cross within our hearts and souls; not only for our salvation but for the salvation of all.
In my time as a non-Catholic Christian this is a feast day that we didn’t celebrate and so when I converted to the Catholic faith I had a desire to learn about this history behind this feast. The Cross of Jesus Christ, as a physical object, has had a long history in the Christian Faith.
In 326 Helena the Mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor (Constantine) made a trip to the Holy Land. Her intention was to become closer to the faith by exploring those places that Christ and the Apostles had walked some 300 years earlier. Sadly the most important location, the garden tomb and the site of the crucifixion had been covered over and a temple to Jupiter rested on top of it. However, for the mother of the Emperor this was not an obstacle and she had the temple demolished site excavated.
When the excavations were complete the site of the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus had lain were discovered. This area had a number of cisterns and within one of these three crosses were found and the plaque that had rested atop the cross of Christ. There are a variety of stories surrounding how the true cross was identified; the most popular being that the crosses were taken to a woman who was dying and were placed upon her. When the True Cross touched the woman she was miraculously healed.
Helena immediately began a building project at the site and a basilica was dedicated on September 13, 335. The day after the dedication a portion of the True Cross was brought to the basilica and enthroned there; from that day forward we celebrate the life giving cross on this Holy Day.
Today’s gospel reading may be among the shortest that you will hear throughout the Church year, however in my mind it is one of the fullest readings that we have. It is chocked full of meaning and points out for us not only the love of God for each and every person but also lays the whole of the plan of salvation out before us.
The reading starts by relating to us an incident from the Old Testament. In the times of Israel’s wandering in the desert the people were plagued with attacks by venomous snakes. To combat this the Lord told Moses to place an image of a serpent on a pole and lift it high. When the people afflicted with snake bite looked up to the image they would be cured of the venom. Now I am sure some of you are thinking “what the heck does this have to do with Jesus?”
Well, the lifting up of a life giving image upon a pole by Israel was a pre-figuring of the life giving crucifixion of Christ. As believers cast their eyes up and behold the crucified Christ upon the cross, pierced and wounded for their salvation, the power of sin and death are overthrown in us. So just as the image of the serpent became a weapon to destroy the serpents grip on Israel so the cross becomes for us the destroyer of death itself.
And not only for us; the scripture goes on to tell us that Christ came to save all who will call upon his name as the means of salvation. It is for this reason that each and every one of us should carry the cross with us in our heart. In doing so, as living a Christian life of witness and example, we can become the living image of the cross and help bring others to Christ and salvation in His name.
It is my greatest wish that each and every one of us puts the cross, and Christ’s sacrifice upon it at the centre of our lives. Not only for our sake, but for the sake of the Church and the whole world. Look every day to the Cross and remember that Christ has died to take the sting of death away and that without the Cross there would be no life.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.