Scripture: 1st Reading: Num21,4-9; Resp. Psalm: Ps78,1-2,34-38; 2nd Reading: Phil2,6-11; Gospel: Jn3,13-17
Today's feast celebrates three important aspects of our history: the discovery of the relic of the true cross on which our Lord died by Empress Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine on August 18, 320. The true cross on which our Lord consummated His sacrificial offering of Himself for the salvation of the world had been for the ancients as it is for us, an object of the most solemn reverence and pious devotion. We can understand the joy of Christendom when the true cross was finally discovered. This feast was initiated to celebrate that important event.
The feast also celebrates the dedication of the three monumental structures, the Basilica (Martyrium) and the round church (Anastasia) and the Calvarium (marking the exact spot where our Lord was crucified) that were built by on the place of our Lord's crucifixion and death, that is, Golgotha or the place of the skull, on Calvary. Though destroyed at various times by the Persians and the Muslim invaders, the new structure that stands till today, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, rebuilt by the Crusaders, celebrates the triumph of the Cross of Christ.
This feast also celebrates in a most important way, the most painful sacrifice that our Lord had to endure on the cross of shame for our salvation. The Feast reminds us of that sacrifice, its fundamental importance for our salvation, the fact that the wood of that cross finally bridged the gap between heaven and earth, the love that moved the Father to permit such ignominious death for His Son, the Son's act of total submission to His Father's will, the darkness of death and the grave.
The Feast however does not focus on the shame of the cross. More importantly, it focuses on the victory of the cross, the paradox of shame that ended in glory, of rejection that gave birth to preference, of weakness that transformed into strength, of poverty that led to riches in glory. Today's Feast therefore celebrates the Man of Calvary, Jesus, the Son of God, who did not give some part of Himself but gave all until there was nothing more to give, who shed every drop of blood in His body on the wood of the Cross to bring about the Salvation of the world.
When we celebrate this Feast, it is important to remind ourselves that for Him to carry the cross, He had to lower Himself, empty Himself to become man. Since God is Spirit, He could not suffer. But to redeem man, there was need for a sacrifice. Suffering and loss of life are the essentials of every sacrifice. Every sacrifice thus requires a body. He had to lower Himself, humble Himself, take on the nature of a servant and be born in the likeness of men.
With the body He received from Mary, His Mother, He carried the cross. The mystery of a cross that would have saving properties had already been pre-announced in the wilderness when the people of God, displaying utter ingratitude for all that Yahweh did for them, complained about the food Yahweh gave them and called it worthless. For this, fiery serpents were unleashed to bite them to death.
In response to Moses' plea, Yahweh asked him to make a standard with the image of a fiery serpent mounted on it. This was to be the sign for the salvation of anyone bitten by the serpents. Yahweh pointedly told Moses: "Make a fiery serpent, and set up as a sign; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." Just looking at that standard was enough for the poison of the serpent and death to be taken away.
That standard was a prefigurement of the glorious standard of the cross. The first standard saved from mortal death. The real standard saved from mortal and spiritual deaths and gave real and eternal life. The first standard was brought about because of dissatisfaction, disobedience and impatience. The second standard, the remedy for man's sinful follies and fall, came about as a result of one man's obedience, negation of self and self-sacrificial love.
In His response to Nicodemus today, our Lord laid bare the mystery: He descended from heaven; He would be lifted up the same way Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert; having been so lifted, whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. The purpose of His coming was to reveal the love of God who gave His only begotten Son, "that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him."
What should be our response to this great mystery of God's preferential love? Gratitude, thanks giving, praise, worship and honour. Our response should be ongoing, lifelong veneration and deep adoration for the cross that brought about our salvation. Our response should consist in our constant struggle and fight against satan and flight from sin that were the reasons why our Lord laid down His life on the cross.
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." Amen. "We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because of your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world."
May the Living Word of God find a true dwelling place within our hearts and souls today and always