Homily for September 14

by Phillip Ratner

Homily for the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross

(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

(This week's audio begins with the reading of the day's gospel.)

The scene in the first reading may seem primitive to us.
People lost in the desert gazing up at a bronze serpent,
hoisted on a pole, and finding life in doing so.

Evidently Jesus didn’t find this too primitive for his taste
since he saw fit to use the same image to refer to himself
and how he would be lifted up on the pole of the Cross
so that we might find life in the deserts of our lives.

And something of this primitive practice perdures in our own times.

• Every weekend I see many of you look up to the Cross over the altar
as you genuflect or bow before entering a pew and taking a seat.

• I see you before Mass begins gazing up at the Cross in the sanctuary.

• At Communion time,
I see many of you glance up at the Cross
or make the sign of the Cross
just before or just after you receive the Body of Christ.

• I often see parents speaking with their young ones,
pointing up to the Cross to tell a child
how the Cross is a sign of God’s mercy.

• Many of us wear a small cross or crucifix around our neck.

• Some of us have the Cross tattooed into our flesh!

• On Good Friday, I watch you come forward
to venerate the Cross:
to gaze upon it; to bow or kneel before it;
to touch it - even to kiss it.

• Perhaps you have a Cross at home
where it reminds you of the Lord each time you see it.

• The Cross over our sanctuary is probably out of proportion
to the relatively small space over which it hovers
- and yet no one has ever complained that it is too large.
We are drawn to it.
It draws us to its presence and power.

As the Israelites were drawn to gaze on the bronze image
of a serpent that was death for them
– and found life in doing so -
so are we are drawn to that image of death
that brings God’s healing promise of life forever. 

“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up
so that all who believe in him may have eternal life.” 

The Israelites gazed upon the image of the serpent
that was their death.

We gaze upon the death our sins have caused,
upon the One whose shoulders bear the burden of our guilt,
that we might be forgiven, healed and saved.

Ultimately, the Cross is an image of victory, not defeat.
But how can we celebrate Christ’s victory
if we do not know what is our share in it?

And how can we know our share in the victory of the Cross
if we fail to look to our own sins
and acknowledge our need for mercy,
the mercy the Cross offers us.

The Israelites brought their grumbling, hunger, anger and fear
to the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole.

To the foot of the Cross we bring our sin:
our complacency, our selfishness and pride,
our greed, our carelessness and lies,
our jealousies, injustices and infidelities.

And how can we celebrate this feast
without a great, sick ache in our hearts
for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East
who are suffering torture, death and even crucifixion 
all because they choose to gaze on the Cross of Jesus
and believe in its promise?

We look to the Cross, lifted up before us:
to see the wounded Jesus who is our healing Lord;
the thorn-crowned Jesus who is our mighty sovereign;
the suffering Jesus who is our hope,
the victorious Jesus who is our promise of life forever.

Jesus, lifted up for us,
lifts us from death to share in his life forever.

We gather, now, at the table  where Jesus,
on the night before he was lifted up on the Cross,
shared his life with us in the Bread and Cup of the Eucharist
at the Last Supper.

We gather in the shadow of his Cross
upon which he first offered the life that nourishes us.

So, let us gaze upon the image
of the One who is lifted up for our sakes,
who is our Lord and Redeemer,
our healer and our hope. 

Image source


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