Homily (2) The Exaltation of the Holy Cross Fr. Michael U. UdoekpoNumbers 21:4b-9; Ps 78:1bc-2, 34-38; Phil 2:6-11 and John 3:13-17
Christ's Cross: A Symbol of Hope and Salvation
Today’s feast reminds us what we hear in the Passion Week, especially in the Gospel of John, chapters 18-19 that the death of Christ on the cross was not a defeat, but victory. Christ’s Cross is a symbol of hope and freedom for all. The early Christians embraced this. Its public veneration spread from East to West, especially during the time of Constantine, the Roman emperor. We are told, Helen, the Emperor’s mother went to Jerusalem, discovered, and brought the cross of Christ to Rome, sparing it from the enemies’ desecration.
This Cross is Sacred, powerful, and salvific. It is the center of our Christian faith. We make the sign of this cross at worships, at baptism and when we receive various other sacraments in the Church. We began every (this) Mass with the sign of the Cross. Soccer and Football players, in fact sport men and women, even none practicing Christians sign themselves with the cross for success and protection, at the beginning and at the end of their competitions. Christ’s journey to the cross teaches us, everyone, especially, through the Bible readings of today some fundamentals of our faith: courage, endurance, hope, patience, humility and appreciation of all that the Lord has done for us in the past.
Psalm 78 drums this home, “do not forget the works of the Lord!” What works of the Lord is the psalmist refereeing to? I believe the “cross of the exodus,”’ the freedom from the tyranny of Pharaoh; alleviation from their pains, feeding them when they were thirsty and hungry in the desert and liberating them from various exiles during the course of Israel’s relationship with God.
But how easy it is to forget the goodness of the Lord, to murmur, to complain as was the case in today’s first reading, the Book of Numbers. The same people that God has once assisted said to Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert, where there is no food or water?” God sent a snake to challenge them. But when they finally repent God instructed Moses to put up a fashioned bronze serpent so that the afflicted or those once bitten, could be saved by looking up to the serpent on the tree. The bronze snake no doubt is a symbol of life and wisdom. It is a symbol of Christ who did not count equality with God, but humbled himself on the tree of the cross, to save us. His humility, courage and endurance exalted him (Phil 2:6-11). And his volitional journey to the cross raised us and our loved ones from the death.
Many of us have also watched the Passion of Christ reenacted in movies. Some of those scenes are very brutal. The weight of the cross, the blood, the nails, the violent soldiers, the dusty road, those who spitted on cross or those who shouted Crucify him, Crucify him! The thorns and crowns! All these reminds us that there are different forms of crosses in our lives. It could be illness, poverty, and threats of terrorism, violence, war, tiredness, and pains on the knees, eyes, legs, heart problems, kidney, high blood pressure, or sugar in our blood. Others could be anger, bad habits, lack of team spirit, inability to live or work with one another; lack of tolerance. What about gossips and lack of self-control? You name them!
All these can lead us to whine, murmur, and complain like the Israelites, in the desert. But the good news is that these bitter experiences can also be handled with faith and trust in the goodness of the Lord. We can always look back and trust in his work, knowing that the Lord has the experience of dealing with these types problems, in the past. It requires our patience, courage, and endurance to embrace the cross of Christ. It also takes humility to raise our eyes, and look on to that cross, hanging above our pains, and sorrows. Christ’s cross is also superior to our failures, setbacks and other forms of sufferings.
This is the same conversation that Christ is having with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel (John 3:13-17). The Lord is good, merciful and loving at all times. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert for those bitten, and afflicted to be saved, so must the son of man be lifted up, so that each of us who look upon him in our sufferings and illnesses, in our bitterness, in our sorrows, in our disappointments, loneliness and uncertainties may be saved. Christ's Cross is a symbol of hope and salvation for all.