Today we celebrate the feast of the exaltation of the Cross. Exultation is a feeling/reality beyond happiness, beyond joy. In Jesus’ time the cross was an instrument of torture and execution that the Romans used against the enemies of the empire. It was certainly something to be avoided.
In the first reading, we see the people of Israel experiencing what they thought was a catastrophe after their escape from slavery in Egypt. We are so like the people of Israel. After experiencing God’s powerful action in their favor through the Exodus and later after being sustained in the desert by the mana, they are not happy with their lot. They do not like the tasteless mana that God sent them to keep them alive in the desert. Rather than developing a sense of thankfulness, they develop a spirituality of complaints, grumblings, and general misgiving. They did not like their new life of freedom in the desert with quail, mana, and water provided by God. Their prayers in their time of suffering become grumblings. After listening to their requests God sends snakes into their midst. They pray again asking for the snakes to be removed. In the midst of all their difficulties and sufferings, they continue to pray for the removal of all their problems.
God responds in an unexpected way. He does not remove the snakes. Instead, he instructs them to contemplate an image of the snake that is raised high. Concentrating their vision on the root of their difficulties cures their woes.
Jesus’ prayer in his time of suffering on the cross is very different. First of all, he surrenders himself to God’s will. Then we see that he is concerned that about all those around him: the people of Jerusalem, his mother, his disciples, and those condemned with him. Rather than concentrating on himself, Jesus offers his life for everyone else. His prayers, life, and actions during his passion and on the cross lead him into a deeper communion with the will of the Father and a deeper confidence in God’s action in his life. He is able to sacrifice his life for the benefit of everyone else.
That is why we can celebrate in exultation today. The cross presents itself in each of our lives as the only place of encounter with God. It is the only place where we learn and experience God’s presence, God’s providence, God’s will in our lives. It is the only place where we learn to do away with our huge egos, selfishness, and violence. The cross in our lives is not theoretical – it has a name, it is an experience, a person, an event in our lives. It is a personal point of encounter with God. The more we grumble, the more we are distancing ourselves from our personal cross and from God.
So today we as Christians dance in exultation because we have found our place of encounter with God: our personal cross.
Image: “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” by Lawrence OP is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.