John 3: 13 – 17
“Exaltation,” “Holy,” and “Cross” are three words that don’t seem to fit together, but that is exactly what the Church does this week as we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The readings for this Feast also present the paradox of the Cross. The Gospel begins with Jesus making reference to Moses lifting up the serpent on a pole as a means to heal the Israelites from the punishment of the seraph serpents. The means of punishment becomes a means of healing for the Israelites. In the Gospel Jesus does not speak to them of punishment, but solely of them being saved from death and brought to eternal life. In all this we see what first appears as a means of suffering and death to also be the means of healing and salvation.
This passage from John describes a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee, Nicodemus, that took place while Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, no doubt so as not to be detected by others who are after Jesus. He approaches Jesus out of faith, curiosity, and caution and begins his conversation by asking what he must do to be professing his faith that Jesus has come from God. Jesus uses the images of the Passover to describe what God is doing to deliver His people from the slavery of sin and death.
The Gospel presents what is probably the most revealing and memorable line of John’s Gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3: 16) Early in John’s Gospel Jesus reveals God’s reason why Jesus came, out of God’s love, and God’s plan for us, to have eternal life. This is the Good News that we all should be singing.
The passage from Philippians is believed to be a hymn that the early Christians sang about the love of God that had Jesus humble himself and take on the nature of man and suffer and die for us that we might live. The early Christians did indeed sing about the greatness of God’s love and how we are set free from sin and express our desire for everlasting life as a result of God’s love for us. Are we even able to begin to comprehend the greatness of God’s love and the gift of eternal life God desires for us?
The hymns we sing today continue to express our praise and gratitude for the love God has for us, and for all that God has done and continues to do in our lives and the life of the church. We sing hymns throughout the year that look at this mystery in different ways, for the expectation of Advent, the joy of the Nativity, the call to repentance in Lent and the glory of the Ressurection, and of course hymns that are an exaltation to the Holy Cross.
Jesus took the Cross, an instrument of torture and death, and made it into an expression of love and eternal life. Through this victory he takes the tragedies, struggles and sufferings of our lives and touches them with his healing and salvation. As we exalt the Cross of Christ, we can also call upon him to be with us the crosses, large and small, that we are carrying. With his help we might be able to exalt these personal crosses and even find ourselves singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God for all he does for us.
Fr. Killian Loch, O.S.B.