Wednesday, September 14, 2022 – Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Nm.21:4b-9/Phil.2:6-11; Ps.78; Jn.3:13-17

Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, also formerly called the Triumph of the Cross. The feast recalls three historical events: the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena; the dedication of the churches built by Emperor Constantine at the sites of the Holy Sepulchre & Mount Calvary; and the restoration of the True Cross at Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius II. But in a deeper sense, we celebrate God’s direct intervention in the historical affairs of the world, and as such the feast celebrates the Cross as an instrument of our salvation, highlighting God’s unique way of saving us through the death of Jesus on the Cross.

The word “exaltation” in the name of today’s feast means “lifting up”. In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of being “lifted up” on the Cross. He compares it with the incident in the Book of Numbers (1st Reading – Nm.21:4b-9) where a plague of serpents is sent as punishment against the Israelites for their constant complaining against God whilst in the desert.

Moses intercedes for his people, and God asks him to “Make a seraph (Hebrew name for a venomous “fiery” serpent) and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” Accordingly, Moses “made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived”.

The story of the seraph on a pole is one that was told to those returning from the Babylonian captivity in the 6th Century BC. Stories like this one reimagined the past events of the Exodus, helping the returnees to bolster their faith, for they returned to Judah which was quite desolate and could barely have anyone imagine her past glory. But why choose such a strange story? Part of the reason is because it was a known custom to use bronze serpents to ward off actual venomous snakes. (Archaeologists have found small copper snakes dating back to the 13th Century BC in the area mentioned, and it is presumed that they were used to ward off snakes.) But what is most bewildering is that this particular story should be preserved in the book of Numbers, especially since it’s in a direct contrast to “Thou shalt make no graven images” (Ex 20:4), the cornerstone of Israelite monotheism. One possible reason is that this was a common practice of those days and by ascribing the practice to Moses acting on God’s orders, they succeeded in making a virtue out of a necessity.

Jesus, too would be “lifted up” on the Cross, “so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life”. Just as the serpent on the pole, through Moses’ intervention, spelled salvation for the Israelites who looked on it, so also Jesus’ death on a cross spells salvation for those who believe in him. Jesus says that when he is “lifted up” he will draw all peoples to him.

Spread the love ♥
Continue Reading