Sunday Sermon for September 14, 2014, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, Year A
Readings: Num 21:4b-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3: 13-17
As we celebrate this glorious Feast of the Triumph or Exaltation of the Cross we must first recognize that it is not the tree or the wood that makes up the Cross of Christ that we are celebrating. This is indeed important to understand because the Cross is the primary symbol of our holy Faith. When we come into church, we see the Cross front and center. In our homes we have a crucifix prominently displayed and usually have one in every bedroom. Many people where a cross around their neck daily.
These practices are all excellent and they serve as reminders of our faith. But the Cross is not an end in itself; rather, it is a means to something far greater. The Cross is the means for God to demonstrate His love for us. St. John tells us in the Gospel reading today that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son so that all who believe in Him might not perish, but might have eternal life.
The Cross is the Tree of Life, in place of the one that was in the Garden at the time of Adam and Eve. The fruit of the original tree was not eaten by our first parents, but the fruit of this new Tree is the Eucharist. Our Lord said of the Eucharist that those who eat this bread will live forever. So the Cross is the means by which our Lord is able to give Himself to us in a personal way. The Cross is the greatest sign of love humanity will ever know because it is where the greatest act of love took place.
We have to marvel with St. Paul at the love and the mercy of God when we consider the Cross. He speaks of Jesus taking the form of a slave and humbling Himself, being obedient even to death on the Cross. So often we doubt God’s love for us. Perhaps it is really doubting that we are lovable which, in turn, would mean that God cannot love us. This is not because He does not love, but because we cannot be loved. The Cross debunks this lie in a most expressive manner.
Jesus accepted the Cross, heedless of its shame, as St. Paul says, because He loves us. In case we doubt how much He loves us, all we have to do is look at the Cross and remember that while He did go to the Cross for everyone, He did not do so generically. Instead, He accepted the Cross with each person, individually, in mind. Of course, He could only do this because He is God, but He did it to show each of us, to show you personally, how much He loves you.
This love provides the ransom for our souls so that we could be redeemed by His Precious Blood and have the opportunity to share in eternal life. Now we have to consider our response. We hear in the first reading that after freeing the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt and feeding them miraculously with the Manna, the people complained and even stated their disgust with the food God was giving them. We know from other passages that they wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves all over again. There was no gratitude to God for what He had done for them.
In the desert we are told that God sent serpents which bit the people and many died from the snake bites. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole so that when the people would look at the bronze serpent, the affects of the bite in their flesh would heal. Jesus uses this image to describe what He was going to do on the Cross. St. Paul said that He Who did not know sin became sin for us. We look at the crucifix and we see the cost of our sins. At the same time, we see the price of our redemption from sin which was paid in pure love.
All too often we fail to be grateful to God for what He has done for us. We grumble and complain when He allows us to bear a little of the weight of the Cross. We fail to recognize the greatness of the gift of the Eucharist. In a word, we fail to love as we have been loved. How do we bend the knee and confess with the tongue of our heart, to the glory of the Father, that Jesus is Lord? Look at the Cross, see the love of God for you, open your heart and receive that love, then love Him in return. This is the triumph of the Cross in our hearts.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.