Commentary on the Gospel of
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
To the mind of someone living in Israel or, for that matter, the entire Roman empire in the time of Jesus, exalting the Cross in joy and celebration would be an unthinkable possibility. We hear an echo of this from St. Paul who directly says: “We preach Christ crucified . . . a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1,23). We might even add: to proclaim anything good concerning a crucifixion would be an absurdity to anyone who thought about it. What is it that has made this gruesome instrument of torture into something to be exalted, to be a cause for rejoicing?
Perhaps Jesus’ own allusion to the lifting up of the saraph serpent on the pole can help us. The term “saraph” underscores the burning venom which the serpents carried, a kind of fiery poison that caused pain, suffering and finally, death. Yet, strangely, according to the book of Numbers, gazing on this image was precisely the source of healing.
In his lifting up on the Cross, Jesus took upon himself the “poison” which afflicts the human race, a poison which leads to a fatal illness far greater than any disease of the body. The poison that Jesus drank was sin and death itself. In drinking that cup, in experiencing death, he defeated death, and was raised up, exalted, victorious.
Now consider this: Although many other figures throughout world history have proposed ways of life, systems of thought, behavior and governance that were believed to offer healing remedies for the world and its ills, no other historical figure has ever claimed to stamp out the one fate that awaits us all: death. And, absurdity of absurdities, all this was accomplished through death itself. By an “historical figure” who is the Son of God himself.
As Eastern Christians sing, "Christ is risen from the dead trampling down death by death and to those in the tomb restoring life." Now, that’s cause for rejoicing!