Tuesday, September 14, 2010

We Adore You, O Christ, And We Praise You, Because By Your Holy Cross, You Have Redeemed The World.

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Reading I
Numbers 21:4b-9
With their patience worn out by the journey,
the people complained against God and Moses,
"Why have you brought us up from Egypt
to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?
We are disgusted with this wretched food!"

In punishment the LORD sent among the people
saraph serpents, which bit the people
so that many of them died.
Then the people came to Moses and said,
"We have sinned in complaining
against the LORD and you.
Pray the LORD to take the serpents from us."
So Moses prayed for the people,
and the LORD said to Moses,
"Make a saraph and mount it on a pole,
and if any who have been bitten look at it,
they will live."
Moses accordingly 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.
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Psalm 78
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
Hearken, my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable,
I will utter mysteries from of old.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
While he slew them they sought him
and inquired after God again,
Remembering that God was their rock
and the Most High God, their redeemer.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But they flattered him with their mouths
and lied to him with their tongues,
Though their hearts were not steadfast toward him,
nor were they faithful to his covenant.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
But he, being merciful, forgave their sin
and destroyed them not;
Often he turned back his anger
and let none of his wrath be roused.
Do not forget the works of the Lord!
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Reading II
Philippians 2:6-11
Brothers and sisters:
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
John 3:13-17
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
"No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven,
the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him
may have eternal life."

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.
For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
The Gospel reading is from John. He compares Jesus being lifted up on the Cross to the incident in the Book of Numbers (today’s First Reading) where a plague of serpents is sent against the Israelites because of their constant complaining against God. When they beg Moses for help, God tells him to put an image of a serpent on a pole. All those who look at the bronze serpent will be healed.

In a much more radical way, Jesus, too, is lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life”. And this life comes because Jesus’ giving of his life on the Cross is a sign of his Father’s love for each and every one of us. For, as Jesus will tell his disciples at the Last Supper, “the greatest love a person can show is to give his life for his friends”. And in today’s reading he also says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The word ‘Exaltation’ in the name of today’s feast means a ‘lifting up’ and in the gospel of John Jesus says that he, being “lifted up” will draw all peoples to himself. This “lifting up” refers not only to Jesus being physically raised on the Cross. Following John’s presentation of the Paschal Mystery, Jesus while on the Cross dies, passes to new life (Resurrection), returns to the Father (Ascension), and breathes forth the Spirit (Pentecost). Jesus is totally "exalted" on the Cross.

The Second Reading is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. It contains the famous kenosis hymn about Jesus. Kenosis means an ‘emptying’. Jesus was the Incarnate Son of God and shared the divinity with his Father and the Spirit on an equal level. Yet, in order to bring us salvation and life without end he ‘emptied’ himself and took the form of a slave, totally in service to us. He adopted our human condition totally and he even went lower than this by submitting to one of the most terrible forms of death, death by crucifixion. And all of this was to help us understand the extent of his Father’s love for each one of us.

And, because of this self-giving and self-emptying, the Father has raised him up, has “exalted” him so that the name of Jesus is now above every other name, and before which every knee should bend in deep adoration and confess Jesus as Lord.

Hence, the Cross is a much esteemed symbol for Christians everywhere and a way by which they express their faith. We place a cross in our churches and homes, in the classrooms of our schools and in other Christian institutions. Many wear a cross as part of their dress.

We remember Jesus’ words to his followers, “He who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew10:38,39). As we often sing after the Consecration during the Eucharist: “Dying, you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life.”*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.'

When the snakes turned up, the Israelites could easily have seen them as just more proof of what a horrible mistake they had made in following Moses and God, but instead they understood and repented. The snakes were not sent to condemn them, but to bring them to repentence and save them from Egypt for the promised land.

Jesus is to be sent to us as our final judge, so the possibility of condemnation is real. But that fact in itself is a call to repentance, while repentance leads to salvation, which is God's will for all humanity. Punishment and cure are intertwined as they were with the saraph snakes. Ultimately, of course, the cure prevails over the punishment (she says, hopefully!).

I wonder why God chose to send snakes ... Perhaps it was to remind people of the snake in the Garden of Eden. If they made this connection, they may also have realized the need to repent.

It's very strange to have Jesus associated with a snake! But there are so many instances in the Bible of apparently bad things (like the cross itself) being revealed as good things that perhaps this is just another excellent example.