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.

Thursday, 14 September 2017 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this great occasion today, all of us celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, a feast that originated with the discovery of the True Cross in Jerusalem by St. Helena. The cross is a symbol that is both essential and inseparable from our Christian identity, for the Cross and more importantly, Jesus Who was crucified on the Cross, is the centre of our faith.

For we believe wholeheartedly that the Cross is the means by which our Lord Jesus had brought forth for us our salvation from sin and death. It was once the symbol of the ultimate humiliation, a practice done by the Romans, who crucified those who were considered the great enemies and threats to the Roman state. It was reserved to the worst of the criminals and it was meant as a symbol of ultimate infamy and defeat. And yet, because of our Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, that Cross, the Holy Cross of Christ has become the symbol of ultimate glory and triumph.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we are called to look upon the Holy Cross, just as in the days of the ages past, in our first reading, we witnessed how the people of Israel were afflicted with the plague of the fiery serpents because of their disobedience and insolence actions against God. Their refusal to obey God and their wickedness caused the anger of God to be stirred against them, and the fiery serpents struck them and many died.

The fiery serpents were reminders for the people that because of their sins, they have been made mortals and they have been struck and would be struck by death, which is the ultimate consequence for their sins. They would suffer because of their sins, and if anyone then contemplated on their situation, it might seem that their fate was sealed, and everything was hopeless and meaningless. Yet, that was not what the Lord intended for those whom He held dear in His heart.

He told Moses to fashion a great bronze serpent, that when the bronze serpent was lifted up high above, the people throughout the camp of the Israelites could see the bronze serpent, and those who have been bitten and yet saw the bronze serpent, was spared from death. This is the grace and the proof of God’s love for His people, even though they had been disobedient and having refused to listen to Him, or appreciate His love and kindness.

Jesus Himself compared this to His sacrifice on the cross, prophesying about it to Nicodemus, that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent high, the Son of Man, Jesus Himself, would be raised up as well, on the Cross, as what indeed happened on that day at Calvary, the hills where Jesus was crucified and condemned to die a criminal’s worst death. He died among thieves and sinners, and was accused falsely of wrongdoings that were not of His doing.

But Jesus accepted His death willingly, and willingly He suffered for our sake, as we believe that Jesus took upon Himself, the entirety of the burden of our sins, all of our wickedness, our shortcomings and disabilities, all of our disobediences and lack of faith. He has willingly took up all these upon Himself, because of His great and everlasting love for each and every one of us. We might have denied Him and not been faithful to Him, but He could not possibly deny His love for us, just because of how great is His love.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross that we celebrate today precisely celebrate the loving sacrifice of our Lord, by which He has saved us from our fate of death. And through that He has also utterly changed what was once the symbol of ultimate humiliation, shame and defeat, into the instrument of salvation, and the symbol of ultimate triumph, glory and hope.

That is why the cross of Christ is the centre of our faith, because we believe in the Crucified Christ, and that is why the Crucifix is such an important element of our faith. There are those detractors who sneered at us and complained that we have not done it right with the Crucifix, because Christ had risen from the dead, and that it is inappropriate to show the Lord crucified on the Cross. And yet, that is the reality that all of us must know, that the Cross without Christ is nothing.

The cross without Christ is just a mere cross, without meaning and without significance. An empty wooden cross may be an evidence that Christ is no longer dead, but has risen in glory. Yet, the presence of the Body of the Lord on the Cross, is a stark and constant reminder to us that Christ has been crucified for us, and that He has willingly taken up the flesh of our kind, that He might suffer in our place, and to die in our place, so that we may live.

There can be no Resurrection without the Suffering, Passion and Death of our Lord at Calvary. Thus, the Holy Cross and Christ Who hung on it is inseparably and intimately linked to the whole mystery of the Resurrection, and thus to the central tenet of our faith. And we follow the way of this same Lord and God, Who had been born into our world, and sharing our pains and sorrows, dying for our sake on the Cross, and Who has risen in glory, to show us the way that each and every one of us as Christians ought to follow.

The Lord Jesus told His disciples and the people, that if they want to follow Him, then they must be ready to pick up their crosses and follow Him. And by this, He was not referring to the physical crosses made of wood, or the crosses and crucifixes that we often wear on ourselves. Rather, what He meant was that, all of us must be ready to suffer as He had suffered, if we want to remain faithful to Him. There will surely be challenges and obstacles that we are going to face in our journey.

The question is, are we able to bear those crosses faithfully? Are we able to stay strong despite the pressure for us to give up the fight and the temptations calling us to turn away from God’s path, just because it is too difficult and challenging for us? How many of us face the temptations and choices in life, where we must choose between obeying God or satisfying our own needs and seeking our own comfort?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all not be ashamed to carry the cross of Christ, but carry the cross with zeal and commitment, knowing that in the Holy Cross of Christ lies our salvation, and indeed our only hope to be freed and liberated from the tyranny of sin and death. Let us all remember that no matter how hard the challenges and difficulties in life we face, that Christ had suffered for each and every one of us, and bear upon Himself the consequences for all the multitudes of our sins, as painful and unimaginably horrible they may be, so that we may live.

Let us all therefore renew our commitment to the Lord, He Who has been crucified for us, Who gave up His life and suffered for our sake, that we may have life in us. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, and as we walk in His way, bearing proudly the crosses of our faith, may we remain resolute and strong in our commitment to Him. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 : Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the great feast day of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, also known as the feast of the triumph and glory of the Cross, the Cross on which was hung the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ our Lord. Today we revel in the glory of that sign upon which hung many of our hopes and wishes, as the new light that had penetrated the great darkness surrounding us all in this world.

The cross was once a symbol of shame and defeat, a symbol of humiliation and punishment, as the favourite method for the Romans to punish those whom they deemed to be enemies and threats to the state. And thus similarly, they have used the same method to punish Jesus, Whom the Pharisees, the elders and the leaders of the Jewish people have sent to them with the false charges of treason and rebellion against Rome.

But that symbol of the cross, the symbol of defeat and humiliation by which Satan tried his best to end the works of the salvation of mankind, had been transformed by Christ Himself, Who triumphed over all of His adversaries, conquering sin and death, which by His crucifixion, death and ultimately resurrection from the dead had freed all of the race of mankind from the bonds of their original sin, and showed them a new hope for them to escape their fate that is eternal death.

There is that clear parallel that is always drawn between what happened in the Old Testament during the time of the Exodus from Egypt, when God sent fiery serpents to punish His people for their sins and rebelliousness, with the moment of the Passion and the Crucifixion of Jesus. Rightly, Jesus Himself mentioned the link and comparison in His discussion and meeting with Nicodemus the Pharisee.

The sins of the people of Israel made God angry at them, and they have condemned themselves because of their actions. St. Paul once mentioned in his letters that the sting of death is sin, and sin has caused mankind to drift away and to reject the love of God, the only One through Whom they can be saved from certain destruction. Unfortunately, as the Israelites had shown, it is all too easy for men to fall into sin.

Those serpents represented the consequences of mankind’s sins, our own sins, that is separation from God and death. They bit the rebellious people and these suffered and died. But when they asked for God to show mercy to them and regretted all the wrongs that they had done, God instructed Moses to build up a bronze serpent on high pole and raise it up high that all who were bitten by the serpents may see it and live.

When Jesus was raised on the cross on Calvary for all the people to see, it was essentially the same as what happened that day in the desert between Moses and the people of Israel. All of us mankind have suffered grievously from our sins and from our rebellion against God and His will, and unless something is done, we shall all perish and meet our eternal damnation and fate in hell. But God had a different plan for all of us.

After all, He Who created us all out of love has no desire at all to see us perish and be destroyed in the darkness. He did not create us all to see us meet our end in that manner, and to that extent, that is why He sent us our hope, our salvation and our opportunity at liberation through His own Son, Jesus Christ, Who is the Saviour of all of us, and He had done the same to us all as well as what He had done for the people of Israel that time.

To that end, He was willing to shoulder the heavy and unimaginable burden of the cross, bearing upon Himself the burden of the punishments and consequences of our collective sins and wickedness. And that is why, while many of us know the cross as the sign of our faith, but how many of us do know that it is also a sign of hope for all? A hope in the midst of the great darkness and uncertainty, a sure hope in the midst of the troubles of this world.

And ultimately, the cross is not just a sign of faith and hope, but also a sign of love, that is God’s ultimate love for us all, for each and every one of us. Every time we look at the cross, and on the crucifix where was hung the body of Christ, when we look at the crucifixes we have with us, do we have that feeling and understanding deep inside us that God loves each and every one of us? If we do not, then perhaps we should begin to do so from now.

God’s love for us is evident from the cross, and without that love we would have perished in despair because of our sinfulness and wickedness. Yet, our devoted and loving Father decided that it should be otherwise for us. The cross of Christ has triumphed over sin and death, and what was once seen as a symbol of shame, humiliation and defeat has been transformed by Christ’s act into the symbol of victory and hope.

And thus, as we all rejoice in the triumph and victory of the cross, let us all make the effort to remember that we are all called to do the same as Christ had once done, not in terms of dying on the cross or maybe to suffer as He once suffered, but certainly all of us have been called to love as He has loved us all. And this means that we ought to know what love is, what it means and what it is about, and then practice it in our own lives through our own deeds and act filled with genuine love, both for God and for each other.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are people of the cross, those whom the Lord had saved through His ultimate love on the cross. Thus all of us who belong to the Lord should not just rejoice at the glory and the triumph of the cross, but also to make ourselves to embody the cross of Christ in our own lives. After all, did Christ not ask His disciples to take up their crosses and follow Him? If we are the disciples and followers of Christ, then we too ought to learn to love as He has loved us, that is our cross in this life.

May all of us from now on seek to draw ever closer to God’s mercy and grace, that through Him we may receive the everlasting gift of life, that all of us may be saved from the danger of death, and by the sign of the cross, win and triumph against our own shortcomings, our sins and all the other things that held us back, preventing us from attaining true salvation in our God. May God help us all, and may He bless us each and every day of our lives. Amen.