This week we step away from the usual Ordinary Time and celebrate the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, according to tradition Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine was on a pilgrimage in Jerusalem and found the Cross of Christ and she and Constantine ordered that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre be built on the site she found it. This feast is for the Cross itself as the instrument of our salvation.
We begin looking at the cross in the readings with a stop over with Moses and the bronze serpent that he raised up in the desert. The people of Israel were worn out from their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, and started complaining: why’d you bring us out of Egypt if only for us to die in the desert, and there is nothing to eat as well.” So the Lord sent down Seraph serpents (fiery serpents) which bit the people and many of them died, clearly the Lord is not a fan of complainers. The people went to Moses saying they were sorry for complaining so much, and Moses went to the Lord who told him to put a serpent upon a pole and that Moses should get everyone who was bitten to look at it and they will live.
We next hear from Paul’s letter to the Philippians where Paul gives a nice sermon about Jesus, in reality it is more of a Christological hymn than a sermon. Christ although he was in the form of God emptied himself and took the form of a slave. He was obedient until his death on a cross and because of this at the name of Jesus every knee must bend and tongue should confess that Jesus is the Lord. This is one of the easier passages in Paul’s letters to understand and remember. Many scholars believe that this hymn was something that predated the letter and some have posited that it might have been something that Paul taught the Philippians when he first converted them.
As we finally reach the Gospel reading we hear John’s portrayal of Jesus teaching Nicodemus, the good Pharisees. Jesus tells Nicodemus “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so to must the Son of Man be lifted up so that all who believe in him may have eternal life.” We then arrive at one of the most quoted parts of the Bible, a favorite at sporting events, John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” It is a wonderful verse but I think that the most powerful part comes in the following verse where it says that the Son does not come in the world to condemn it but he comes into the world that it might be saved through him. All too often do we look at religion and think that we are going to be condemned for things that we have done but that is not what Jesus is came here for. Jesus just like the serpent is placed on a pole/cross and everyone that looks upon him will live. This is all out of love and we all should be trying to reflect this love out into the world.