Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

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.

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 3 : 13-17

At that time, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ever gone up to heaven except the One Who came from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through Him the world is to be saved.”

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 77 : 1-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38

Give heed, o My people, to My teaching; listen to the words of My mouth! I will speak in parables; I will talk of old mysteries.

When He slew them, they repented and sought Him earnestly. They remembered that God was their Rock, the Most High, their Redeemer.

But they flattered Him with their mouths; they lied to Him with their tongues, while their hearts were unfaithful; they were untrue to His Covenant.

Even then, in His compassion, He forgave their offences and did not destroy them. Many a time He restrained His anger, and did not fully stir up His wrath.

Saturday, 14 September 2019 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Numbers 21 : 4b-9

The people were discouraged by the journey and began to complain against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is neither bread nor water here and we are disgusted with this tasteless manna.”

YHVH then sent fiery serpents against them. They bit the people and many of the Israelites died. Then the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, speaking against YHVH and against you. Plead with YHVH to take the serpents away.”

Moses pleaded for the people and YHVH said to him, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard; whoever has been bitten and then looks at it shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a standard. Whenever a man was bitten, he looked towards the bronze serpent and he lived.

Alternative reading

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Friday, 14 September 2018 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we celebrate the great occasion of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that Holy Cross through which we have received our salvation, by none other than the suffering, crucifixion and death of Our Lord on that same Holy Cross, at Calvary, as the Altar of His offering and perfect love for us.

The cross is the first and most visible symbol of our Christian faith, the mark which has been given to us, not as a symbol of shame and punishment, as how it was intended to be, but rather as a symbol of triumph and victory against sin and death, the final victory which God has won for us all, against the tyranny of the sins that have bound us for time immemorial ever since the first time we disobeyed God and fell into the temptation of Satan.

And let us keep this key tenet of the importance of the Cross to our faith, as we continue along our today’s discourse. First of all, let us begin by looking at the passage from the Book of Numbers, in which we heard about the moment when the people of Israel rebelled against God, so much so that despite all that God had done for their sake, liberating them from the Egyptians, protecting them from their enemies and providing for their needs along the way even while in the middle of the desert.

But they continued to grumble and to complain, even rising up against Moses, wanting to kill him and replace him, and providing for themselves an alternative ‘god’ and idol, in the golden calf and in the pagan gods and idols of the neighbouring people. This disobedience and rebelliousness is the same kind of disobedience that Adam and Eve have once shown the Lord, and therefore, brought sin into the hearts of those people.

And the just consequence and punishment for sin, is the separation from God, by our own deliberate and willing rejection of God’s love and grace. And when we are separated from God, Who is the source of all creation and life, what is left for us is death. That is why, in the first reading, this is symbolised dramatically with the moment when God sent the serpents to strike at the disobedient and sinful people of Israel, and many died as a result.

That represents the death that comes about because of sin and disobedience. The serpents represent the sting of sin, the poison of sin, that will bring about death, should nothing be done to try and save those who were bitten by its poison. But the people regretted their sinful attitudes and begged God through Moses to show mercy on them and save them. And God showed clearly how He truly did not wish for their destruction, but rather, for them to be reconciled and be saved.

In the first place, if God did not love us or has wished for us to be destroyed, He would not even have created us in the first place. God is all good and perfect, and He could not have created us just that we can be destroyed and annihilated. Instead, as mentioned, it was our own conscious and willing rejection of God’s love and grace that has caused us to fall into eternal damnation in hell. Hell is in reality, a state of total separation from God because of our own rejection of Him.

But again, linking back to what we have discussed at the start of this discourse, the Cross is the symbol of God’s perfect love for us, which He made evident, clear and real through none other than His beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, as we heard in the Gospel passage today, that God so loved the world that He gave us all His one and only beloved Son, Jesus Christ, that through Him, all who believe in Him may not perish but instead receive eternal life.

In the first reading, we heard how God asked Moses to craft a bronze serpent placed on a staff, where the bronze serpent was displayed and lifted up high before all. All those who have been bitten by the serpents would not die should they look upon the bronze serpent. And this is linked to what the Lord Jesus Himself did at the time of the fulfilment of His ministry and work, that is His crucifixion.

As the Lord Himself explained to Nicodemus, one of the Pharisees who came to believe in Jesus, just as the bronze serpent was raised high in the desert at the time of Moses to be the sign of hope and deliverance for all those who have suffered from the fiery serpents, He too would be raised up for the salvation of all mankind, who have been ‘bitten’ by the sting of sin.

The Lord gathered willingly towards Himself, the sins of all mankind, from the beginning of time, to the present and to the end of time, that all of us have been, by the will of God and His grace, by His loving and most selfless sacrificial act on the Cross, the Man Who was without blame and sin, but made to suffer the consequences of everyone’s sins, on the Holy Cross on Calvary.

This is the proof of God’s ultimate love for us, that despite all that we have done, in our disobedience and refusal to listen to Him, God’s love for us is so great, that He was willing to do everything, even to suffer such great pain and suffering, of bearing the whole weight and burden of our sins, by dying on the Cross. The cross at that time was the symbol of ultimate shame and suffering, reserved by the Romans who ruled Judea, where the Lord Jesus was, to be the punishment for the worst of criminals.

But this symbol of ultimate shaming, disgrace and humiliation has been transformed completely by what the Lord has done, in taking the symbol of the Cross to be the sign of certain and sure victory in the battle between good and evil, and in the ultimate downfall of Satan and all those who have brought us all to sin. The Cross is the proof of God’s triumph over sin and death.

That is why, the Cross occupies such a central and important part in our faith. The sign of the Cross is the sign of our Christian faith, and is the profession of our faith and belief in the Lord’s saving grace and love. All of us who look upon the Cross, on our Crucified Messiah, have seen a new hope, and we who believe in Him and seek His merciful love, will be saved and will receive new life in God.

As St. Paul said, in his Epistle to the Romans, Jesus is the New Adam, Who is unlike the old Adam. While in old Adam, through the disobedience and sin committed, all of us have suffered the consequences of sin and therefore, all of us are bound to die, but through the New Adam, that is Christ, all of us are brought to share in His death, in dying to our old ways of sin, and embrace the new life He offers us.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we rejoice together and exalting the glory of the Holy Cross, the triumph and victory which Our Lord has won over the dominion of sin and death, let us all therefore rediscover our love and genuine devotion to God, especially through the Cross by which He has shown us His perfect, selfless and ultimate love for each one of us, without exception.

Let us now therefore renew our commitment to live like true Christians, as we turn ourselves towards the Cross, and be people of the Cross, bearing proudly within ourselves, the symbol of our faith, this Holy Cross, by which we have been saved. Let us keep in mind always, God’s everlasting love for us all. Amen.

Friday, 14 September 2018 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

John 3 : 13-17

At that time, Jesus said to Nicodemus, “No one has ever gone up to heaven except the One Who came from heaven, the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”

“Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not be lost, but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world; instead, through Him the world is to be saved.”

Friday, 14 September 2018 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Second Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Philippians 2 : 6-11

Though He was in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in His appearance found as a Man.

He humbled Himself by being obedient to death, death on the cross. That is why God exalted Him and gave Him the Name which outshines all names, so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and among the dead, and all tongues proclaim that Christ Jesus is the Lord to the glory of God the Father.