Honouring the Cross of Christ: Exaltation of the Cross ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Liturgical colour: White.

Reading 1: NM 21:4B-9

Responsorial Psalm: PS 78:1BC-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

Reading 2: PHIL 2:6-11

Holy Gospel Reading: JN 3:13-17

Today we come together to celebrate the symbol of our Christianity,  We have marked ourselves with it upon entering the Church. We begin Mass with it. We end Mass with it. We begin almost every period of prayer with it. Most likely, every one of our homes has them in pride of place adorning our room walls. People wear it around their necks in necklace form, From clergy,  to pop stars, to housewives, to newly baptized babies. The priest holds his arms in the shape of it during each Eucharistic prayer. And it is the centre and focal point of every Christian Church. We of course, are talking about the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ. . The Cross is the greatest summary of our faith. St. Francis of Assisi used to call it his “book,” where he learned all of his wisdom. The Cross is also the key which opens wide the doors of heaven for us. St. Rose of Lima, the first saint of the Americas, said, “Apart from the Cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” If we wish to get to eternal life with God, we must climb up with Jesus by means of the Cross. We celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross each year on September 14th, because this is the day in 335 when the relics of the true Cross that had been miraculously rediscovered nine years earlier were brought outside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem for public veneration. Because September 14 falls on a Sunday on average only once every seven years, only daily communicants regularly celebrate this feast liturgically. But all of us indeed are called to celebrate this feast existentially, We need to allow its meaning to penetrate our the whole of our daily lives. In order to do so, however, we first need to grasp better the shocking aspect of what we’re doing.

To those who do not have faith and believe, to celebrate the feast of the Cross makes no  absolutely no sense whatsoever. They may even sadly see it as being sheer lunacy. To those who don’t believe, the Cross is merely a symbol of pain and o a  horrendous death. Crucifixion was the worst and indeed the cruelest death imaginable in the ancient world. The modern day equivalent would be the electric chair. To the mind of the unbelievers, celebrating or “exalting” the Cross would be likened to our “lifting up the electric chair” in jubilation. To centre every Church with an image of Christ’s suffering on the Cross would be likened to constructing a place of worship in which one would put a gruesome image of someone convulsing and dying in an electric chair or placing a sculpture of someone baying and broiling at being burned at the stake. We’ve become so used to seeing the Cross that we’ve become somewhat anaesthetized to the normal shock that should be any person’s first reaction to it and we need to recover a little of the initial human horror we should have before the Cross.

St. Paul wrote that Christ on the Cross is “a stumbling block to the Jews and is foolishness to the Gentiles.” The pagans used to mock the early Christians for worshipping someone who was killed on the Cross, someone who suffered such a horrendous death. Because that derision was still happening even centuries after his death, many of the first Christians were somewhat embarrassed by the Cross and didn’t use it as the main Christian symbol until the 300s. Today, there are sadly still some Christians who are embarrassed by the Cross. We see it in those places such as in Christian schools who have removed the Cross from their classrooms just in case anyone would be “offended.” by it’s  presence. We’ve seen similar happen in some hospitals who have removed crosses from the patients’ rooms even though in the hospital people need to derive meaning from their sufferings from uniting them to Christ’s. We’ve seen them in various “modern” Church parishes that, instead of putting up a Crucifix in the sanctuary as is required in every Church, they erect an image of the Risen Jesus, as if that “book” of St. Francis no longer had anything to teach. Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, too, but there’s a reason why the Church requires a Crucifix instead of a sculpture of the Resurrected Jesus: it’s because the Risen Jesus is a sign of the fact of his triumph over sin and death but a Crucifix is the image of his unbelievable love for us.

The true message of the Cross

The Cross, for all who believe, is not merely a symbol of pain, but rather, is mainly the symbol of the great Love for us of Our Lord  and Saviour  Jesus Christ that made even that much suffering worth it. Jesus said during the Last Supper, “No one has any greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” and that’s precisely what Jesus as our Good Shepherd did for each and  every single one of us, when he gave his own life on the Cross so that we, might live. The Cross is a picture not principally of agonizing suffering but of this mind-blowing love of God for us. St. Paul — after he stated that the Cross is a scandal to the Jews and a folly to everyone else — declared that “to those who are called, the Crucified Christ is the ‘power of God and the wisdom of God.’” Christ on the cross manifests the power of Christ’s love and the wisdom of God’s plan of salvation

We can clearly this message of love in today’s Holy Gospel Reading of JN 3:13-17

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

“No one has gone up to heaven

except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.

And 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.”

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.

Each one of Jesus’s  wounds are clearly telling saying to each of us, “I love you this much!” God’s love was so great that he was willing to bear such torture and death for each of us. The Cross is the great sign of God’s humility. Real love is willing to do anything for the beloved, and God was willing not just to come down from heaven and take on our human nature, but to allow those he created, those he was about to redeem, to torture, abuse and kill him in order to save them and us. Jesus was willing out of love to undergo everything we might undergo as human beings, and much worse. Whatever pain we might suffer, Christ has suffered more. Whatever injustice we might bear, Christ bore it before us. Whatever loneliness we experience, Jesus felt it, too. This is what led the writer of the Letter of the Hebrews to exclaim one of the most consoling truths in all of Sacred Scripture: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tested in every way that we are, yet he never sinned.”

The cross marks the victory of Our Lord and Saviour. On Calvary, those who mocked him would say to him: ‘If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross’ (cf. Mt. 27,40). But the opposite was true: precisely because he was the Son of God, Jesus was there, on the cross, faithful to the end to the loving plan of the Father. It is precisely this reason why God ‘exalted’ Jesus (Phil. 2,9), conferring on Him a universal kingship.”  Each of us should prayerfully look at Jesus on the Cross. “What do we see, then, when we turn our gaze towards the Cross where Jesus was nailed? We contemplate the sign of the infinite love of God for each and every one of us and the roots of our salvation. From that Cross flows the mercy of the Father who embraces the whole world. Through the cross of Christ, evil is overcome, death is defeated, life is given to us, hope is restored.”

Let us pray:

O God, who willed that your Only Begotten Son should undergo the Cross to save the human race, grant, we pray, that we, who have known his mystery on earth, may merit the grace of his redemption in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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