Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)
Some see in the figure of a cross the hope of transcendence. A horizontal line signifies a never-changing end of life. Things may improve from one generation to the next, but everyone is terminal. The cross, however, has a vertical component breaking through the relentless movement toward death. This pole promises glory beyond the struggles of the world. Paul expresses this work in the passage from Philippians. Because Christ accepted death on a cross, God raised him to glory.
Early Christians especially saw the cross as a sign of contradiction. To them the cross represented Rome’s cruelest form of execution. It meant torture and death. Yet Christ, by dying on a cross and then rising from the dead, turned the cross into an instrument of life. Today’s first reading reveals the cross as a sign of contradiction. The Israelites having been bitten by serpents were dying from infection. But when they looked on the serpents mounted on the pole, they were cured of the snakes’ venom.
Today’s gospel expresses still another Christian view of the cross. The cross becomes the sign of God’s love for us. When Jesus tells of the Son of Man being lifted up, he is speaking of both his crucifixion and his resurrection. When we look upon him as our savior, we avail ourselves of God’s love that enfolds us into eternal life.