Nm 21:4-9; Ps 78:1,2,34-38; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-17
It seems impossible that our ancestors so quickly forgot the works of the Lord in liberating them from slavery in Egypt. While he slew them through the saraph serpents that bit them, then they sought him for mercy. The Lord sent among his forgetful people the punishment of fiery serpents so that they might never forget how much they need God. They were bit by impatience and worn out by the journey so they complained against God and Moses. Their complaint was filled with the doubt about God’s intention; they complained, “Have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?” Are you really merciful or are you demonic? Such was the attitude of the rebellion in the desert. Yet, even this kind of doubt and this level of complaint did not diminish the mercy of God. The Lord had tough love for his rebellious children. God commanded Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole with some kind of cross bar to hold it up. Those who were bitten were to gaze upon this cross and be healed. This is a hidden mystery from of old; this is a prefigurement of the Cross of Christ. We who have crucified our savior gaze upon his sacrificial love and know his power to save us. We who have been poisoned by the bite of sin cry out and sing in the words of the Easter Vigil, “O happy fall of Adam! O necessary Adam’s sin that won for us such a Redeemer!” This is the mystery from of old that we celebrate in today’s Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Saint Paul takes a hymn from the liturgy of the early church to further reflect upon the mysteries from of old. In this text from the letter to the Philippians he proclaims that Christ Jesus emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. As one like us in all things but sin the Lord Jesus humbled himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. He willingly embraced the sacrifice of the cross to place himself where we would least expect to find God. Here on the cross of rejection and shame the Lord Jesus experienced what every sinner experiences, the seeming absence of God. “My God, My God, why have you rejected me?” Because of his acceptance of such humiliation the Father greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in humble gratitude for the unspeakable mercy of God. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful one; too costly in the eyes of the Father is the death of his only begotten Son. Yet, the Father of mercies would not even hold back his Son so that everyone who suffers loneliness and rejection would know his power to raise us up with Christ.
This is the great mystery hidden from ages past and revealed to us today in the exaltation of the holy cross. Just as the serpent was lifted up by Moses in the desert so, too, Christ is lifted up so that everyone who sees with eyes of faith the mystery of sacrificial love will freely offer himself up with Christ and come to know eternal life. The Father did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Is there any greater love than this? We who see this mystery in the broken bread and poured out blood of the Eucharist come to know a love that saves, heals and raises up to glory in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father’s glory.