Scripture: The Lord said: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (Gospel of St John. 3, 13-17)
Reflection: On the Sunday which precedes the great and important feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (September 14), our Church prescribes a portion of Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:11-18) and a few short verses from Saint John’s Gospel (3: 13-17) for our reflection and spiritual consideration. Saint Paul tells his readers that the cross of Christ is what gives his life focus and perspective. At the time Saint Paul wrote to the Galatians there were individuals in the community forcing pagan converts to follow the old Jewish practices which they then bragged about having the converts observe. Saint Paul corrects these individuals and tells them that what really matters is having been made new all over again in Christ through His cross. The Cross opened again the gates of Paradise closed by Adam’s sin when he ate the forbidden fruit. The tree of the cross stands forever as the sign of God’s great love for fallen mankind.
The text taken from Saint John’s Gospel emphasizes that great love. Saint John writes, “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but may have everlasting life.” This short verse (3: 16) is often quoted. Sometimes you may see it on T-shirts, in sports arenas and other public places. It is a stirring reminder that our Creator did not abandon us to perdition but kept His promise to send a Redeemer Who came in the Person of His own Son, Jesus - our Lord.
Verse 16, however, must be linked with the dramatic and challenging words of our Lord recorded further on in Saint John’s Gospel (15:13): “There is no greater love than this - to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Here Jesus talks about what He would do for us when He was nailed to His cross - there to give His life that we might have life. The feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross marks the occasion of its discovery by Saint Helen, mother of Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. In our churches, a cross is prominently displayed after solemn ceremony on the tetrapod decorated with arrangements of beautiful flowers to remind us, as Saint Paul did the Galatians, of the proper focus we must keep as we. walk behind our Lord bearing the burdens, the hurts, the disappointments, the suffering and sad-ness which can be and is sometimes part of our human condition.
Our Church also reminds us that behind the darkness of the cross shines a bright promise and hope of the new life gained by it because Jesus gave His life for us: Come, 0 people, let us contemplate the marvelous wonder; let us bow before the power of the Cross. For the tree of Paradise gave rise to the reign of death, and now a Tree has made our life blossom forth when the sinless Savior was nailed upon it. And now, all the nations that are nourished by this incorruptible food sing praises: You destroyed death by Your cross and set us free. O Lord, glory to You. (Veneration hymn at Matins) The cross is venerated for eight days during which the troparion, “We bow to Your Cross, O Lord, and we glorify Your holy resurrection” is sung at all Services. Cross and Resurrection are never separated. Although the cross meant death, by His death Jesus brought and bought us unending life. May we live our lives to merit and gain life eternal. (By Msgr. John T. Sekellick)
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