The Exaltation of the Holy Cross – Readings

Commentary on Numbers 21:4-9 or Philippians 2:6-11; Psalm 77; John 3:13-17

The Gospel reading is from John. He compares Jesus being lifted up on the Cross to the incident in the Book of Numbers (one of today’s First Readings) where a plague of serpents is sent against the Israelites because of their constant complaining against God. When they beg Moses for help, God tells him to put an image of a serpent on a pole. All those who look at the bronze serpent will be healed.

In a much more radical way, Jesus is also lifted up:

…so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

And this life comes because Jesus’ giving of his life on the Cross is a sign of his Father’s love for each and every one of us. For, as Jesus will tell his disciples at the Last Supper,

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

And in today’s reading he also says:

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The word ‘Exaltation’ in the name of today’s feast means a ‘lifting up’ and in the Gospel of John Jesus says that he, being “lifted up” will draw all peoples to himself. This “lifting up” refers not only to Jesus being physically raised on the Cross. In John’s presentation of the Paschal Mystery, Jesus dies on the Cross, passes to new life (Resurrection), returns to the Father (Ascension), and breathes forth the Spirit (Pentecost). Jesus is totally “exalted” on the Cross.

The alternative First Reading is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. It contains the famous kenosis hymn about Jesus. Kenosis means an ‘emptying’. Jesus was the Incarnate Son of God and shared the divinity with his Father and the Spirit on an equal level. Yet, in order to bring us salvation and life without end he ‘emptied’ himself and took the form of a slave, totally in service to us. He adopted our human condition totally and he even went lower than this by submitting to one of the most terrible forms of death, death by crucifixion. And all of this was to help us understand the extent of his Father’s love for each one of us.

And, because of this self-giving and self-emptying:

God exalted him even more highly and gave him the name that is above every other name, so that at the name given to Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hence, the Cross is a much esteemed symbol for Christians everywhere and a way by which they express their faith. We place a cross in our churches and homes, in the classrooms of our schools and in other Christian institutions. Many wear a cross as part of their dress.

We remember Jesus’ words to his followers:

Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matt 10:38-39)

As we often sing after the Consecration during the Eucharist:

Dying, you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life.

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