To many people, it might seem scandalous to celebrate a cross, as Catholics do today on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The cross appears to be a symbol of defeat: the man that many believed would be the Messiah is arrested, mocked, tortured and put to death on the cross. What is there to celebrate in that?
If the story ended with Jesus’ death on the cross, the world would be quite right to wonder at our celebration of the cross. But what begins with a death on the cross ends in Resurrection – the Resurrection of Christ, and through Him, the resurrection of all of us.
The cross reminds us that we must die to self to rise in full union with God. The cross reminds us that our physical death is only a transition from this human life to a new life; it is a sign of our everlasting life with God. And the cross also reminds us that whatever suffering we face, we do it with God and never alone.
In today’s Gospel from John, we hear the comforting, so oft-quoted words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
When we exalt the cross, we at one and the same time reverence, celebrate and marvel at incarnation, death and resurrection – Jesus’ and ours. And that is something worthy of being exalted.