Exaltation of the Cross
To the early followers, who were contemporaries of Jesus, the cross was not an appealing image. In fact it was quite repugnant. They knew it and had experienced it as an instrument of horrific suffering and death. Yet, close enough to that same time we read that Paul in the letter to the Galatians boasts of the cross of Christ “by which the world has been crucified to him and he to the world.” In the 1st letter to the Corinthians, Paul proclaims the crucified Christ to be the wisdom of God, and at the same time both a stumbling block and foolishness to human wisdom. Human wisdom cannot deal with the contradiction of the crucified being raised in glory, for it fits neither the laws nor logic of the limited human mind.
As we celebrate this feast today the Scriptures offer the image of being lifted up. The serpent was lifted up in the desert as a sign of God’s healing. Though the Gospel passage is introduced with the words, “Jesus said to Nicodemus,” it is not really clear whether Nicodemus was part of this discourse or not. Jesus speaks of the necessity of his being lifted up so that those who believe might be saved. Is Jesus speaking here of death on a cross, or being lifted up to glory in the resurrection? In John’s gospel the term ‘lifted up’ is used to convey both meanings.
For most Christians, somehow, there is the double draw, that of the suffering image of the cross, and that of the glory, the latter alone ratifying the value of the former. Keeping the Paschal Mystery in mind the Christian believes that the cross of Jesus is the path of salvation. Many Christians also see the salvific power of suffering, not just on a personal level, but in conjunction with the Pascal Mystery of the whole body of Christ. Seldom heard phrases, in our times, like ‘offering something up’ may seem pious and outdated to our ears. However, when we ponder this whole notion we can see that it is underlined by a profound truth – each member of the Body of Christ has been given the power through faith to be a means of healing and salvation for the total Body. The wounded healer and the broken healer becomes the instrument of lifting up the Body of Christ.
We make the sign of the cross many times, sometimes routinely, sometimes intentionally. This feast offers us a reminder and a challenge to see the contradictory notions of suffering and salvation or glory as the one path to wholeness, and the trust that has been placed in us to continue the path towards the healing of the whole.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP