Numbers 21: 4-9; John 3: 13-17
It’s always good when these Feasts like we celebrate today, the Exultation of the Holy Cross, fall on Sunday’s because it shakes us out of the normal routine of Ordinary Time. There may be no greater feast for us to spend some time reflecting on than the gift of the Cross! We’ve also, however, used it casually. We talk about the crosses we have to bear or it’s my cross that I carry and so on, and that’s not to minimize anyone’s suffering; suffering is real and painful, but the Cross is something more than that as well. There’s also the risk of making it simply a historical event of the past or a future reality hoped for, but it must speak to us today, at this very moment of our lives. I’d like to consider it from the perspective as a doorway to an authentic way of life. The cross stands as the threshold to an authentic life as individuals and as an authentic relationship with God.
Although the Israelites would not have understood the language of the cross when this first reading is written, they certainly knew about standing on thresholds to something new. It’s a great reading because I think we can all relate. They love to complain about everything. Nothing is ever good enough for them. They always expect more. They complain that they have been led out into the desert. They complain because of the food they have to eat. I dare say, what holds them back the most from crossing into the Promised Land is their own history. They become victims of their own history, their past. They hold onto who they think they should be. They hold onto who they think God has called them to be. All of it holds them back from crossing that threshold to salvation, the Promised Land, the fullness of life that God truly desires for them. But they can’t do it and won’t do it until they pass through the Cross and are stripped of what holds them back. The irony of it all, once you cross over, there’s no turning back. Life in the Promised Land is too big now for going back. The old way will never suffice; it will never be big enough compared to where God has led them.
It’s also the journey of Nicodemus. This is one of three times we encounter him in John’s Gospel with Jesus, beginning in the darkness of night. He will gradually go through the desert of his own life and come out into the light. He will be the one left with Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus to the tomb. But until then, he too holds onto to the known, unwilling to take the risk we call faith. He’s afraid of what the Pharisees will think of him going to seek out Jesus. Obviously something about Jesus is drawing him from the dark of night into the light of day. Gradually in the Gospel he will take the step out, taking the risk of stepping over the threshold of the Cross into an authentic way of life. First stepping back and forth but eventually an experience of salvation in this moment unfolds in his life and in ours.
We, like those Israelites, will do everything to try to avoid that threshold and passing through that doorway. We are comfortable with the known, even if it means bringing about suffering in our own lives. We will hold onto our ego, thinking that’s where it’s at. We will hold onto our past, our own history, being the victim over and over again, each time not recognizing the invitation that lies before us to crossover. It’s hard. It’s painful and it requires great risk on our part to let go, let things die, a necessary part of the journey, in order for new life to take shape on the other side of that threshold.
My friends, as we celebrate this great feast of the Holy Cross, we can exclaim our gratitude. We can be thankful that Jesus died on that Cross and shows the way. We can be thankful that salvation has been won for us. But it doesn’t mean we can sit idly by, waiting for things to happen, reclaiming our victimhood, which just comes down to our unwillingness to trust, and doing the same thing over and over again in our lives. We pray this day for the grace to take a risk, as individuals and a community, to step out and cross that threshold. It’ll be hard. It’ll be painful at times, but when we pass through, we will know how much it was worth it. We pray for that grace today to cross the threshold, let go of what must die and be stripped at that cross, and celebrate the new life that has been promised for the ages to come.