Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)
Beholding jeweled crosses and hearing how perfect the cross is as geometric design, we have difficulty contemplating its scandal for early Christians. It is said that people mocked the first followers of Jesus when they found out that he was nailed to a cross. We might as easily chide a teenager today for idolizing a rock star. In Jesus’ day crucifixion was the basest of punishments the state imposed because it entailed the most gruesome suffering. We do not consider it an alternative form of execution today precisely because it comprises “cruel and unusual punishment.” Yet the cross is the instrument by which Christ won our salvation.
The gospel today curiously does not mention the cross. It merely states that those who believe in Jesus “lifted up” will be saved. In the Gospel of John Jesus is lifted up twice – first on the cross and then in the resurrection. Either time when we look on him with faith, we find ourselves in the magnetic field of salvation.
However, faith is more than paying lip service that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. Faith indicates our willingness to make sacrifices for his sake. But the cross in its utter barbarity, as much as the resurrection in its sheer magnificence, indicates that faith in Christ, and not in the quality or quantity of our works, brings salvation. As when we were little children with nothing to repay our relatives for the gifts they brought us at Christmas, we cannot earn eternal life. We can only say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you” for his death on the cross.