Homily - The Exaltation of the Cross

Sunday 14th September 2008 - The Triumph of the Cross

First: Num 21:4-9
Psalm: Ps 77:1-2. 34-38 r. 7
Second: Phil 2:6-11
Gospel: Jn 3:13-17

"Give heed, my people, to my teaching;
Turn your ear to the word of my mouth.
And I will reveal hidden lessons from the past."

What would it have felt like to be a stonemason, a farmer, cook, or a slave in the lands of Egypt?
If I had left with Moses how would I have felt, wandering, lost in the wilderness?
Would I have expected be to delivered instantly into the land of milk and honey?
Would I have doubted Moses, would I have blamed God?
I am sorry to say, I almost certainly would.

How scarred would I be, feeling the sharp fangs of a serpent, burn with venom as it bit me?
Would I have begged Moses to help me, to apologies to God for me, to save my life?
You can bet I would!

Then what joy would I have felt? Looking up at a brass serpent, held high on a standard, feeling the poison leaving me and life returning. I would marvel at how, that serpent, raised high, could cure the poison of serpent that bit me. But, would I think twice about the sin in my heart and what could possible cure that?

Many years later, Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, about this very question. “The Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” As we know, Jesus was talking about his death, a man raised on a cross, tortured and ridiculed. But, there was no defeat in this, Jesus’ sacrifice, like the serpent in the desert gives life, eternal life, to those who look upon it. The triumph of that day, the triumph on the cross, is still with us today. All we need to be cured, to have eternal life, is faith in Jesus.

But faith isn’t easy. It’s far from easy. At times it seems impossible. Disciples like Thomas and even Peter, sometimes lacked faith. They knew Jesus, saw his miracles, and still doubted. So 2000 years on, in our busy lives, where should we be looking, where can we find faith?

It’s there… right there… that wooden cross on the wall. It has as much power today as it did when Jesus hung upon it. Let me tell you why I know this to be true.

Early last year, the doctors told my Dad he had cancer. That was heart-breaking news for him and for Mum, for our whole family. Gail and I booked flights to Ireland to visit them that weekend, on our way to the airport we stopped off at old abbey, we had a few hours to spend before the flight and an abbey seemed a better place than an airport lounge. In the gift shop we found a sculpted wooded holding cross, it was really beautiful, really simple, designed to fit in your hand while praying. We bought two, one for mum and one for dad. We knew they didn’t believe, but we did and it just seemed right to give something of the belief at that time.

A few days ago, I was on the phone, chatting to mum and dad, I mentioned that I had been preparing this homily and dad was very interested. He asked what it was about and I did my best to explain. I said I would send him a copy and he told me to do that. Then Gail shouted that tea was ready and we said goodbye and hung up. About 20 minutes later mum called back, “Your Dad told me to call you and tell you about our crosses, the ones you gave us, maybe you could use those as an example.”

You see, Dads cross has not left his pocket in almost two years. It has been with him through the good days, and the bad. Mums is under her pillow. Those crosses became a source of strength for them both, and now they are becoming, much to my joy, a source of faith for them both. It’s a small flicker of faith, full of doubt, full of questions, unsure of itself. But it’s there and it wasn't before.

The cross has been the symbol of our faith for 2000 years. Many of you wear a cross around your neck, in our simplest prayer we trace the cross on our bodies, “In the name of the father, son and the holy spirit”, we trace a cross on our forehead, lips and heart before listening to the gospel, the cross is so much a part of our lives we sometimes forget it power.

But remember when you look at that cross, that Jesus, the Son of Man, came down from heaven, humbled himself, accepting death on that cross. So he could be raised up, for us to look upon and be saved. That’s the triumph of the cross, that’s our salvation, that’s how the world was redeemed. Alleluia!

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