Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today is truly a great feast day of the Church, of such a great importance for us, as in it lie one of the greatest aspect of our faith itself. And this is none other than the exaltation and the glorification of the Holy Cross, on which our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ had hung upon as He went on His mission of salvation to save us all from death because of our sins.
The Holy Cross is not just any cross, but it has been made holy and sacred because it was on that wooden cross, made from a tree, that Jesus had emptied Himself completely from His divinity, and suffered a grievous and horrendous pain as He laid dying, hanging from that cross. The Holy Cross is a reminder for all of us, of He who once hung there out of His love for us, so that we may have new hope in this life, and that we may look beyond death that is once our fate.
The cross was the favourite punishment method by the Romans, the conqueror of the known world at the time, where they used it to punish rebels against the Roman authority, as one of the most severe methods of punishment, reserved only for those who brought about great harm and threat to the Roman state. The victims of crucifixions were left to hang on the cross, made from a tree and carved to form a cruciform plank, so that the victims were left to hung between the heaven and the earth.
This punishment was both designed to bring the greatest amount of suffering to the victim, by denying the victim a quick death, giving them a slow and increasingly painful suffering, and also to give the greatest humiliation possible, as the victims were stripped to mere loincloth or even naked, stretched wide on that cross, often on the roadsides and high places like hills, so that many would be able to see the humiliation and suffering of those who dared to test the might of Rome.
Thus, the cross was a symbol of ultimate humiliation and suffering for all who see them at the time of Jesus, during the peak of the Roman Empire. But yet, many centuries prior to the time of the Romans, the prophets have foretold of the suffering Messiah, namely through the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied how the Messiah would come and bear the suffering for all of mankind. It was also mentioned how He would suffer, even long before the time when the punishment was common.
For in crucifixions, the victim would either be tied to the cross or in especially serious and severe occasions, the victims would be nailed upon the cross. The latter method would be more grievous and painful, and even more humiliating, and was indeed reserved only for the worst enemies and the greatest of punishments for the enemies of Rome.
And the prophet Isaiah mentioned that the Messiah would be pierced, and that piercing indeed represented how Jesus, the Lord and Messiah would be nailed on the cross. He would also be lifted up high, like when Moses lifted high up the bronze serpent in the desert. This too is a premonition of what was to come when the Lord came to save His people from destruction and death.
When the people of God, the Israelites were saved from their slavery in Egypt, they went through a long Exodus and journey through the desert in their progress to reach the land promised to them through their ancestors. In that journey, which was not an easy one, God was with them along the way, and He blessed His people, giving them great providence and food along the way.
Yes, if we read through the Book of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, we should all realise how blessed this people had been. God destroyed their enemies and all those who went on to fight against them were crushed and have their forces utterly beaten, and God gave them into the hands of His people. And we all should be aware that God Himself freed them from the chains of the Egyptians with great might, with ten plagues, each of which were of terrible ferocity.
God even sent His people the bread from heaven to eat, in the form of manna, and large birds for them to catch and eat as well. He gave them clear and sweet water to drink, and we have to imagine that, having crystal clear and good water to drink in the middle of the desert is no mere small feat. Nothing is of course impossible for the Lord, and He loves us beyond anything else.
And it is that love that prevented Him from totally and completely annihilating that people which had risen up against Him, despite all He had given them and blessed them with. Having been given and endowed with so much graces, the people of God made complaints after complaints of their supposedly ‘miserable’ existence and life in the desert, and even longed for the ‘good’ life in Egypt where they once lived in slavery.
They spurned His love and kindness, complaining even against what they have been given to eat, bread from heaven itself. This was why, eventually, God took action against them, to remind them that He is Lord over all, and that those who constantly defy Him and oppose Him will meet their end in eternal suffering and destruction. He sent them therefore, fiery and poisonous serpents that attacked them, struck them and killed many of them.
But we have to always remember and take note that it is not God who desired our destruction, as it had happened with the Israelites. In fact, it was the people’s own stubbornness and refusal to return to the light of God which had caused their own destruction. The serpents represented the suffering and the punishment that the people must endure for their sins, and the ultimate effect is indeed none other than death.
Ever since mankind had first disobeyed against the Lord, they have sinned against the Lord in their hearts and in their bodies, such that they were no longer worthy of the Lord. The consequence of sin is death, as sin separates one from the Lord. The Lord who is all good and perfect cannot tolerate the imperfections caused by evil to be in His presence, and therefore, naturally, sin led mankind to death, and if nothing had been done, then all mankind would have faced death eternal, and eternal separation from the love of God.
And that is hell. Hell is the total separation of a creation of God from the very love of the Creator and Lord of all. And this total separation is final and unchangeable. Thus, this is what hell is truly about, not the fires and the images of hell that we are commonly exposed to, but the suffering in hell is far greater than we can ever imagine, since it means that the total separation from God’s love, that should be unimaginable to us all, because it was God’s love that is everything to us, how we live and why we live in the first place, and we are able to walk and enjoy this life on earth because of God’s love that is with us and in us.
Hell is what is due to mankind as the punishment for our sins, and in hell, it is the despair and the state of total hopelessness which is the greatest suffering, as all the souls in hell know that there is absolutely no hope of escaping that state, eternally damned and separated from God’s love, and it is this eternal and constantly repeating despair, hopelessness and guilt of having betrayed the Lord which brought about the greatest suffering for the souls in hell.
But is this what God intends for us? Is this what He intended for the people He loved and which He had created in His own image, as the pinnacle and the greatest of all His creations? No! This is exactly why He wants to save us, and so great was His desire, that the very truth was laid bare for all to see and hear, as we often heard in the famous phrase from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 3 verse 16, namely that God loved the world and His people so much, that He sent His only Son into the world, so that all those who believe in Him would not be lost and perish, but gain eternal life.
This is the very essence of what we are celebrating on this day, that is the glory and the mystery of the Holy Cross of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Lord Himself had sent, a part of Himself, His own Word made incarnate into flesh as one of us, and to walk among men, so that He might exercise His power and bring salvation to all those who believe in Him. And the way how He did that, was through the cross of suffering, which He transformed into the cross of glory and triumph.
As I had mentioned much earlier on in this homily and reflection, that the use of crucifixion and the punishment of the cross was indeed to punish and to bring the greatest suffering on the sufferer, and also to humiliate the sufferer, and in this case, this suffering One is Jesus, the Messiah and Saviour of all. Even though He was guiltless, blameless and without sin, He offered Himself freely as part of God’s long planned salvation for His people, so that through His death, He might open a new path for them, into salvation and eternal grace.
To those who observed His death and especially among those who followed Him during His ministry would indeed question, why would such a holy Man and the Messiah no less, suffer such a humiliation and suffering so great if He was indeed chosen by the Lord. And we know that even throughout history and until today, there are still many those who refused to believe in the crucifixion of Christ because they deemed it impossible and unreasonable for such a great One to suffer such a humiliating death.
Yet we know that Jesus Christ, Son of God, Messiah and Lord of all, chose this way because indeed, He loves us all very dearly, and He would not want us to be sundered forever from His love, that is hell. He does not desire for us to inhabit hell, simply because, that was not His intention for us. His intention is for us to live happily with Him in love and harmony. And that was why He chose to come into this world, that is to bring all peoples to Himself.
But sin lays between God and us, as a great and seemingly insurmountable barrier that prevent us from returning to God our Lord. Therefore, if we read the Book of Leviticus, we know that there is such a thing as sin and burnt offering, where animals such as lamb were slaughtered and then burnt on the altar, and the blood together with the animal constituted a worthy offering to God, who then accepted it as the partial reparation and remission for the sins committed by God’s people.
But the people of God remained in sin, and also they inherited the original sin of their forefathers, ever since they rebelled against the will of God and followed Satan into his rebellion instead. This original sin and other sins that mankind committed kept them separated from the love of God, and due to the immensity of the sins of mankind combined together, no amount of sacrifice would be able to redeem mankind from their sins, save for one.
Yes, the one sacrifice and the only one, when the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself offered His own Body and Blood as the only worthy sacrifice for the immensity of the combination of our sins together. Only He who is perfect, perfectly unblemished and pure, without any taints of sin, and He who is Lord of all, had the worthy offering to make in order to save us from our sins.
And thus He suffered, all the sufferings and humiliations He endured, all the spittle and the mockery from the people He endured, and the cross of suffering He carried on His back, enduring lashes after lashes and mockery after mockery as He made His journey towards Calvary. Yet He did not give up. We cannot even comprehend the kind of suffering which Jesus endured for our sake.
Why so? This is because the suffering He endured was much more than just the apparent physical suffering, even as great as that suffering was. He endured the weight and the consequences of our sins, and all of this bore down on Him as a great weight beyond any other weight. He was blameless, and yet He was crushed for our sins. This was also yet another fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophets.
But Jesus endured all of them with perfect obedience and perfect love for us. He is truly the new Adam, as St. Paul had said, as the One who went to correct all the wrongs that began with Adam, the old Adam, our forefather who sinned against God. Just as Mary His mother is the new Eve, whose obedience and faith, rebuking Satan and his lies, Jesus is the new Adam through which God renewed mankind.
Jesus therefore changed that symbol of ultimate shame, the cross, designed as such by the Romans, into a symbol of hope and glory. He turned the cross from a symbol of death and destruction into a symbol of salvation and liberation from sin, from the slavery of the forces of evil, and the guarantee of life eternal as promised by the Lord. Thus, the essence of the cross and the crucifix we have today signify this important turning point, which Christ had made the cross into our hope, through His death on the cross for our salvation.
Sadly indeed, despite all that the Lord had done for us, many of us mankind still acted like the people of Israel of old, disregarding the love of God and even ignoring Him altogether. How many of us actually realised the love that God had for us? Every single step He took on His passion journey towards His death, He did it out of His love for us. He did not want us to perish, but it is many of us who chose perishing in the world rather than embracing God’s love.
Remember, that in Jesus we have been saved, out of God’s love. He wants to forgive us our sins, but this is only possible if we too play our part, and believe in Him. We can start this through our own actions and our own daily lives. Have we acted in accordance what our Lord had taught us? Have we practiced our faith and what we believe in our lives? Have we loved our brothers and sisters as much as we love ourselves?
We have much work to do in front of us, brothers and sisters in Christ. Our lives will indeed be difficult, if we choose to follow the Lord and walk in His path. But our Lord had made His cross a sign of victory and triumph, the Holy Cross, that even Satan and his forces will tremble and flee from. Satan knows that the cross was his ultimate undoing. His defeat lay at the cross that had liberated mankind from the burden of their sins. He knows that his doom is coming, and he cannot avoid that final defeat.
However, Satan will grow desperate and he will do all he can to stall as many souls as possible on his way to doom. Remember that he has all the power in this world to tempt and persuade us to divert our path from the path of salvation into the path of doom. Temptations of the evil one is plenty in this world saturated with materialism, consumerism and love of the self. Selfishness and violence is on the rise, brethren, and if we do not guard ourselves against Satan’s advances, we will fall.
Therefore, let us all work together, brothers and sisters in Christ! We who have been saved by the suffering and sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ must be strong in our faith and in our dedication to God, so that Satan will not stand against us. Remember the Holy Cross and Jesus our Lord whenever temptations of Satan come to prevent us from seeking the Lord. Proclaim the Holy Name of Jesus and staunchly rebuke Satan for his attempts to tempt us.
Jesus has indeed been given the Name which is above every other names, for first He is God made flesh, and thus, it is the Name of God Himself, Master of all the universe and over all creations. Then, through His perfect love and obedience, He had become an example for all mankind and for all creation, and no one in creation can do anything other than to obey this Lord and Master who had given His all to save His beloved ones. And even Satan had to obey the Lord, with fear and great trembling on his knees. Such is the power of the Name of Jesus Christ. Do not use His Name in vain!
And even in the Roman Empire, which was pagan and idol worshipping, the Lord also gained a final victory. Many Emperors of Rome persecuted the Christians, the faithful ones in the Lord, but their prayers and the blood of the martyrs eventually triumphed, the triumph of the Holy Cross, when the Lord made them strong and grow in might, so that more and more people would come to listen to the words of salvation in the Gospels and the Scriptures.
Ultimately, the famed Emperor Constantine saw a bright sign of the Lord, Christ Himself in His insignia, as the victorious and conquering King, and went on to win a great victory that eventually led to the repentance and conversion of the Roman Empire into a great, Christian Empire belonging to God. Thus, the Cross had triumphed against the enemies of the Lord, led by Satan and his fallen angels.
Therefore, let us all take an opportunity, every day in our lives to look at the cross, at the crucifix on which lie the Body of Jesus our Lord, as a reminder that He died out of His infinite and enduring love for us, so that we who have seen Him and believed, will not die but live a new life everlasting, just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent and all who had been bitten and saw the bronze serpent did not die but live.
We have been bitten by the serpent, Satan, and his poison is threatening to destroy us, that is sin. But if we trust in the Lord Jesus, and look at the victorious cross, the Holy Cross of Christ, we will not die but live too! Let us carry together our crosses in life with Christ, so that just as He told His disciples, that we may have a share in His resurrection, and therefore be granted new life eternal, freed from all vestiges of sin and evil, and rejoice for eternity with our loving God. May Almighty God bless us this day and every day of our lives, that we will always be faithful and dedicated to the Cross of Christ! Amen.