Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross or also known as the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. This day marks the glorious and joyful moment when the True Cross of Jesus Christ, the very wooden cross on which our Lord and Saviour had been hung on, was discovered by St. Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, who was also the first Christian Roman Emperor.
St. Helena was a devout Christian woman whose love and devotion for both of her husband and son, the future Emperor Constantine probably helped the then young Emperor to eventually become a Christian, as a good influence always being present and well-respected by her son. St. Helena, although the Empress Mother of the Romans, she remained humble and devout, charitable and dedicated to the cause of the Lord.
To this end she embarked on a mission to the Holy Land, to discover the instruments of the Lord’s Passion, most especially the Cross of Our Saviour itself, and which she managed to discover in Jerusalem. There were three crosses in that place just as there were three crucified on that fateful day, the Lord and two convicted criminals sentenced to death. And in order to find out which one was the Cross of the Lord, St. Helena touched the Cross to a very sick person. And the one that instantly and miraculously healed the dying person is the True Cross of Christ.
That was the root and origins of this celebration of the Exaltation or Triumph of the Holy Cross, celebrating the rediscovery of the True Cross, and even more significantly, is the timing of its happening. The True Cross was rediscovered just not long after the Christian faith itself has finally gained a reprieve from centuries of persecutions and trials, in the Edict of Milan, the very first edict of toleration of their faith, jointly declared by the aforementioned Emperor Constantine the Great.
The Church and many among the faithful who had borne a lot of martyrs through the constant and at times, terrible persecutions, had finally triumphed, and this began with the memorable Battle of Milvian Bridge, which likely inspired Emperor Constantine the Great to adopt the Christian faith later on in his life. At that battle, the Emperor, outnumbered by his rival and enemy, saw a great vision from God, in which either he saw a cross, or the symbol of the Chi-Ro, the symbolic representation of Jesus Christ, the Greek letters Chi and Ro that are the short form of the Name of the Lord.
As the Emperor Constantine saw the vision, accompanying the image of the cross or the Chi-Ro is the words, ‘In hoc signo vinces’ which means, ‘By this sign, you shall conquer’. The Emperor went on to be triumphant against his enemies, and eventually also won against all those that persecuted the Christian faithful and communities. And this also marked a new beginning for the Church and the faithful alike, as persecution gave way for favour and acceptance, and eventually wide adoption of Christianity but most of the Roman Empire and beyond.
And more profoundly, the triumph of the Cross is not just limited to the triumph of the faith against persecutions and trials, but even more importantly so, as our Scripture passages today indicated to us, that the exaltation and triumph of the Holy Cross refers to the triumph it brings us against the forces of evil and darkness. For it was through the Cross that our Lord has triumphed against Satan and all of his malice and evil, and showed us all His salvation.
The cross has always been, up to the time of Christ, associated with defeat, shame and humiliation. For the cross is not just used to punish any criminals, but reserved by the Romans to punish the worst of criminals, those considered as traitors and worst of all criminals in the nation. The use of the cross is the most humiliating and painful method of punishment, and not only that the victim is exposed and bared before all, without a shred of dignity left, but for the Lord’s case, in which He was nailed to the cross, it was even more painful.
That is because vast majority of crucifixions in fact did not involve the use of nails, and the criminals were just left hanging on the cross for even days on end. The use of the nails were reserved to those who were considered the worst of the worst, and thus, our Lord truly suffered a most excruciating and terrible death on the cross. But through His suffering and death, the Lord transformed this once shameful and humiliating symbol, into a symbol of victory and hope, and into the genuine manifestation and proof of God’s ever enduring love for us.
In the first reading today, we heard the occasion when the sins of the people of Israel as they travelled from the land of Egypt into their Promised Land, caused many of them to perish from the fiery serpents that came into their midst. When they rebelled against God and refused to listen to Him, grumbled and complained, and even threatened God’s servant, Moses, they sinned against Him. And those fiery serpents represent the punishments that are due for those sins.
And it is a reminder that the ‘sting’ of sin is death, according to St. Paul, who called death as the ‘sting’ of sin. For sin is the product of disobedience against God, and because of that sin, we are made corrupt and unworthy of God’s grace and love. Sin separates us from God, and separated from God, we have no life in us. When we consciously chose to sin and disobey God, then we may end up being judged and damned for those sins.
But that is not the end, brothers and sisters in Christ, for in the same passage, we heard of the love of God, which remained for us unchanged, and when Moses pleaded for the sake of the people for mercy and when they had regretted the errors of their ways, God asked Moses to craft a bronze serpent on a tall staff, and through that, all those who were bitten by the serpents and were dying, lived on if they saw the bronze serpent.
This is referred to by Christ Himself when He spoke with the Pharisee, Nicodemus, on the night when Nicodemus, secretly a believer of Jesus, asked Him about God’s truth and plans for mankind. The Lord told him how the Son of Man, referring to Himself, would be lifted up high for all to see, just as the bronze serpent of Moses was lifted up for the Israelites as the symbol of hope and salvation, and those who put their trust in Him would live just as their ancestors who saw the bronze serpent did not die or perish.
Thus, as Christ has been lifted up high on the cross, He gathered to Himself all the sins of the world, bearing those burden for us, being humiliated and punished for us, just as the bronze serpent is a reminder of how deadly those serpents had been in killing so many among the Israelites from their sins. When we look at the crucifix, the Cross of Christ, what do we see, brothers and sisters? We are looking at a very important reminder that we are sinners, wicked and unworthy for God because of our disobedience.
And yet, Our Lord and Saviour came to us, calling us to His salvation with love, taking up upon Himself the multitudes of our sins and faults, and humbling Himself unto suffering and death, He changed that Cross by His ultimate, selfless loving sacrifice into the ultimate symbol of triumph and victory, from what was once a symbol of humiliation, defeat and destruction. He broke the power of sin and death by His own death and resurrection, proving that neither sin nor death can overcome us.
The Cross is the sign of triumph, and more than just the triumph that the Emperor Constantine gained, or the triumph that Christians gained over those who persecuted them, because in the end, far more importantly, the Cross brings us triumphant against sin, and leads us into the final victory, that by the power of the Cross, we are no longer bound and enslaved by sin, and have been freed from the tyranny of death.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we rejoice in the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, let us all remind ourselves of the great love of God by which He has loved us, done everything so much for us even up to the extent of sacrificing Himself for our sake, that we are no longer burdened by sin, and no longer bound by it, but free and triumphant, because of His Cross and the wounds that He had endured and bore for us.
Let us all glory in the Cross of Christ, praise the Lord for His ever amazing love and dedication to us. And let us therefore dedicate ourselves, our time and effort, our attention and our whole being to love God, to follow Him, and to be faithful at all times, bearing the Cross of Christ with pride and joy, and knowing that we have been saved through the Cross, proclaim God’s Good News and salvation that more and more can be saved. Amen.