Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the whole Universal Church celebrate together the great Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, remembering that moment when the Lord’s one and holy True Cross was discovered in the city of Jerusalem. At that time, just two decades or so after the Edict of Milan in the Year of Our Lord 313, the True Cross was discovered by St. Helena, the Empress Mother of the Roman Empire.
At that time, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, famous as the Emperor who first adopted the Christian faith for himself and also for the Empire, had finally triumphed over all of his rivals and enemies, having finally reunited the whole Empire under one reign and liberating the whole people of God, communities of Christians who were still persecuted from time to time by the rival rulers of the Emperor Constantine who supported or courted the support of the pagans.
As the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem was under the control of the rival Emperors, it was then that finally, after the reunification of the whole Empire under the rule of the Emperor Constantine the Great that the whole land knew peace again after decades of continuous strife and conflict. The Christian population in particular finally had a reprieve after almost constant persecution from the very early days of the Church.
The Emperor’s mother, St. Helena, who was already a Christian long before that of her son, went to the Holy Land for pilgrimage, and it was told by tradition that in Jerusalem she discovered three crosses at the place near the site where the historic Crucifixion of the Lord took place when the pagan temples that once stood over the sites were demolished. The three crosses therefore correlated with that of the Lord’s Cross and the two crosses used to crucify the two thieves who were with Him that day.
In order to find out which of the three crosses is the one True Cross of the Lord, St. Helena brought a woman who was suffering from terminal illness, and when she touched one of the three crosses, she was completely healed from her issues, indicating that the one which the woman touched, was the one and holy True Cross. The discovery of the True Cross was not just a very significant event in the whole history of the Church, but it is also a very symbolic event marking the triumph of Christ over that of the enemies of the Church.
And even more so than just merely marking the victory of Christianity over the pagans and their false pagan gods, the gods of the Romans and Greeks and the many other peoples of the Empire, but the Cross of the Lord itself is a powerful and real symbol of victory of mankind against their greatest enemy, that is sin. Sin has always been our great enemy, as sin leads to death and separation from God, the Source of all our lives.
And by His Passion, suffering and death on the Cross, Our Lord Jesus Himself has conquered sin and death. He has been victorious and triumphant in the battle against them, and through Him, all of us mankind have received the assurance of eternal life and salvation. Thus, through the Cross, God has shown His light and a new hope to all of us, as a victorious and conquering sign against all of our enemies and all those who sought our destruction.
When we then look at the Cross again, we must understand the context in how God made use of this humble and simple instrument to be the ultimate weapon and means by which the final victory and triumph against sin would be won. For the Romans who ruled all of Judea and the whole lands around the Mediterranean at that time, the cross was the symbol of ultimate humiliation and fear, as crucifixion was a punishment reserved only to the worst of all criminals, to those who betrayed the state and those who committed unforgivable crimes.
But God converted that symbol of ultimate shame and indeed defeat, into a symbol of ultimate victory, hope and glory, by what He has willingly done in embracing the Cross to be crucified despite Himself being totally blameless and faultless. And in parallel to what we have heard in our first reading today from the Book of Numbers, through the Cross, Christ changed the ultimate symbol of our defeat into the ultimate symbol of victory.
At the time of the Exodus, as recorded in the Book of Numbers, the people of Israel frequently and constantly rebelled against God, in refusing to believe in Him and in rejecting the truth and the laws which He has laid before them. They chose to follow their own selfish paths, worshipping pagan gods and doubting all that they have been shown through Moses. Because of all these disobedience, the people sinned against God.
The fiery serpents sent against them were actually representative of mankind’s sins, our own sins. St. Paul mentioned in one of his Epistles, the Epistle to the Corinthians that ‘the sting of sin is death’, clearly alluding to this moment depicted and recorded in the Book of Numbers, when the fiery serpents bit many of the Israelites and killed them. And then, God asked Moses when the people begged Him for forgiveness, to build a bronze serpent and to place it on a tall pole that everyone might see the bronze serpent and live.
Prior to His Passion, suffering and crucifixion, the Lord Himself had revealed to Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees who was sympathetic to Him, that this was a prelude and prefigurement of the moment of Christ’s Crucifixion. Just as the bronze serpent, representing the fiery serpents that killed the Israelites was raised up high, the Lord told Nicodemus that He Himself would be raised up on the Cross for all to see.
And He, the Sinless and Perfect One, willingly took up all the sins of the world, gathering to Himself all the burdens, the sufferings, the pains and tortures of the sins we should have endured and faced, and took them upon Himself. He lowered Himself such that, while He had done nothing wrong at all, He willingly accept total humiliation and nakedness, total rejection and pain, of being treated less than a human being on the Cross.
It was so painful and terrible to see the suffering Christ on the Cross, that even before He was crucified, as He was carrying His Cross, the women of Jerusalem wailed and wept for Him. All those who saw the Lord at that time would have been terrified and struck with fear and sorrow seeing just how much He has suffered. Yet, that was not the end, as we all know that the death of Christ is not the end of it all.
Instead, by His glorious resurrection on the third day, the Cross, a symbol of the ultimate shame, punishment and sorrow has been transformed into the symbol of ultimate victory and triumph. For at long last, death and therefore sin no longer has the final say over man. The Son of Man and Son of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered death and rose in glory. And in parallel to what had happened in the time of the Exodus, all those who come to believe in the Lord, will not die but live.
That is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us have the Crucifix, the Holy Cross of Our Lord as the centre of our faith as is the Eucharist. For it is by shedding His Blood and Body on the Cross, the Bloody Altar of God’s sacrifice, that He brought unto us the salvation through His death and resurrection by which He defeated death and sin. It was His great and undying love for each and every one of us that has allowed Him to endure the sufferings for our sake.
Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, as we recall the triumphant Cross of Christ, how it was rediscovered by St. Helena and all that the Lord had done in bringing about our salvation through His Cross, all of us as Christians should reflect deep into our own respective lives, in our actions, words and deeds. Have we all loved God just as God has loved us all so much and so unconditionally? Have we devoted ourselves wholeheartedly to Him just as He has done so for us?
In a world today filled with darkness and many uncertainties, temptations and sins, we must hold true to that Cross, the Cross of our hope, the Cross by which the Ultimate Victory has been won by Our God. Let us all not be disheartened but be hopeful and be strong, always fixing our gaze on Him Who has suffered on the Cross. And let us all remember that He suffered because of our sins, every single one of our sins and disobedience.
Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, are we able to commit ourselves anew to the Lord from now on? Are we able to turn away from being sinful and disobedient against God, in each and every moments of our lives? Are we able to love God ever more unconditionally through our every words, deeds and actions from now on? May the Lord bless us all and continue to guide us in this journey of life, and may He be with us all our days through reminding us of the glory of His triumphant Cross. Amen.