The Exaltation of the Cross
Numbers 21: 4-9; Philippians 2: 6-11; John 3: 13-17
4 wt en I survey the wondrous
cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride."
These familiar words, taken from an 18th century Good Friday Hymn, set the tone for today's feast, the Exaltation of the Cross. The Cross we celebrate today is something more than the instrument of Roman execution that brought death to
Jesus on Good Friday. The Cross, in its deepest sense, is a way of life. Strange though it may seem, when St Paul wanted to show the early Christians of Philippi how they should live their lives, he set before them the example of the crucified Lord. He speaks of the Christ who was humbler yet, even to death, death on a cross. The selfemptying proclaimed by Jesus on the cross became the way to the fullness of life. "But the Father raised him high, and gave him a name which is above every other name Paul was not engaged in abstract theological speculation when he proposed his crucified Lord as a way of life. The words preceding the hymn are vital to its proper understanding.
If our life in Christ means anything to you, if love can persuade at all, or the Spirit that we have in common, or any tenderness and sympathy, then be united in your convictions and united in your love, with a common purpose and a common mind. There must be no competition among you, no conceit; but everybody is to be self-effacing. Always consider the other person to be better than yourself, so that nobody thinks of his own interests first but everybody thinks of other people's interests instead In your minds you must be the same as Christ Jesus."
Paul was addressing a very human community, a community sometimes broken by rivalry and dissension. We also compete with each other for affection, for status, for success and acceptance. The seemingly trivial rivalries of daily life open the door to self-preoccupation. Like the Christians of Philippi, we can begin by proclaiming our faith, but come to a situation in which our only thoughts are for ourselves and the way others perceive us. If we are to be saved from ourselves, we must follow the crucified Christ set before 1 is The Cross proclaims what Christ was throughout his life. He did not cling to his equality with God. He emptied himself to become one like us in all things but sin. The sin that can so easily enter our hearts moves in the opposite direction. Sin will always exaggerate the status and importance that we attach to ourselves. Ultimately it is capable of taking us to that impossible state of mind in which we leave no space for God to he with us. In Christ we see a humility, a self-emptying so complete, that the Father could become the Face and power at work in the poverty of his Son.
"Therefore has the Father raised him high, and given him a name above every name." Jesus revealed this truth as he spoke to Nicodemus. "The son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him."
St John's Gospel describes the crucifixion as a raising up, the first step in which the Father draws his Son and a broken world to himself. When we empty ourselves, we arc embraced and exalted in our crucified Lord. "And when I am lifted up, I shall draw all men to myself."