Reflections on the Readings
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
September 14, 2014 - Year A
Look Upon the Cross and Live
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." - Jesus
Grumbling and complaining about God's help and provision Israel berated the Lord's way and sustenance saying, "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?" And looking at the miraculous manna they protested, "We are disgusted with this wretched food!"
OK then! Well, not so much. That nasty attitude brought some nasty poisonous snakes among them. Their accusative minds spawned death in their heart and because of the poisonous snakes, in their body as well.
Poison begets poison.
Understanding that their behavior precipitated this awful state of affairs, they confessed to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord, that he may take away the serpents from us."
The Lord had Moses make a bronze serpent which he attached to a pole. Lifting the pole carrying the replica of the fiery serpents in their midst Moses spoke thus to the people: "Anyone who is bitten, if he looks upon this pole upon which this bronze serpent is fastened, he shall live." This awkward, yet profound remedy prefigures the Cross and for Israel was a foretaste of what was yet to come. Jesus confirms this in his conversation with Nicodemus when he says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life."
Looking upon the Cross and believing that He who suffered for us, even death on a Cross, fills our life with God's breath. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. And in the Creed we affirm that:
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
I remember as a teenager hearing about the worship wars going on in the historic churches. Something about taking the 'blood' and references to the 'blood' out of the hymn books. It seemed that some argued that to make God and salvation and church more palatable to the modern world, it would be better to not sing with such clarity about the ignominy of the Cross. There were those who thought we had outgrown the humiliation and gruesome realities of the Crucifixion.
And there are still those who get squeamish whenever certain songs of worship speak of mission and the cross and our place in carrying its claims into all the world. Anything that resembles "Christian soldiers, marching as to war," is not proper some might say. Even St. Paul might be out of place in some circles since he speaks of the 'weapons of our warfare are mighty through God,' and admonishes believers to 'put on the full armor of God.' Some neuter the hymns like my favorite one, 'Lift High the Cross.' The third stanza in the 1916 words of William Kitchen and Michael Robert Newbolt reads, "Each newborn soldier of the Crucified bears on the brow the seal of him who died." Others prefer the modern rendering, "Each newborn servant…"
We wrestle against the dark powers wherever they may express themselves. The venomous presence of the Serpent is never very far away. In recent weeks, enemies of the Cross of Christ have exerted themselves in some of Iraq's oldest settlements and cities of Christianity. Mass executions of Christians has occurred as they encountered the warlike mantra "Convert to Islam or die." Clutching the Cross they now live in that eternal and affectionate embrace of Him who said, "Because I live, you shall live also."
May we with them continue our holy gaze upon the Cross, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2 RSVCE)
Dennis Hankins, a Catholic Evangelist, is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com