We, in our house, have a little statement about unawareness. “There is more going on than is going on.” In the simplest things, there is always more than meets the eye or ear or touch. Molecules are racing around; germs are marching hand in hand with the microbes on our hands. Our senses and minds are so limited.
In our every-day lives as at the Eucharist, there is always more going on than we can capture in concepts or quickie phrases. The little annoying dog across the alley is ratcheting up for an evening of a barkalogue. I don’t know why it is doing that. Maybe, if I did, I would not mind and be less aggravated at this present moment. What I think is going on, just might not be what is.
We live humbly with the experiences of not knowing and yet we can grow in awakeness or openness to just what is actually going on. As we live the Eucharist, we desire to be as available to what’s going on within and around us. There is a peacefulness which comes from accepting that we just don’t know and yet we trust, we accept, we live with many unknowings. There is a way of praying in front of these little mysterious whats-its. I could go across the alley and find out what’s bugging that little barker, or just admit that I don’t have to know to be peaceful. We can pray well with what is going on and the more that is going on than we can grasp. Grasping the Eucharist is a wonderful pledge in grace to allow other mysteries into our microbey palms.
This feast is celebrated always on September fourteenth. This year it replaces the twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time. This makes the feast extraordinary in the history and in the mind of the Church. It is believed that St. Helen, the mother of Constantine while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326, found a piece of the “True Cross” on September fourteenth. The feast became important when it was believed that the “True Cross” was returned from Persia to Jerusalem in the seventh century after its having been stolen.
Now there is a little history then about how the Church exulted over the cross’ return and then the truer meaning of what the Cross of Jesus meant as an instrument of true triumph.
Our First Reading for this feast is a quite human picture. The verses before and after our section relate the long journey the people of Israel were experiencing. Right here in the middle of it all, when the food and water were annoying the taste-buds of the people, they begin complaining about the accommodations. God has a biting response.
The people of Israel are itching for relief and pray to Moses to talk to God. Moses, as custodian of the people, brings their petition to God Who gives Moses a sacred remedy. A “saraph” which means roughly, a winged creature and which is the root also for the title of a group of angels, the Seraphim, forms a bronze image which is raised. Those who would look upon that image would be relieved and saved from their pains. So they continued their journey less grumbling and more trusting.
We listen in to the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in today’s Gospel. Nicodemus has come by night to try to figure out Jesus and Jesus in turn tries to lead him into the ways of the spirit, not the flesh. Nicodemus wants facts, logic, and clarity. Jesus scrambles the picture by moving him towards belief. Jesus, knowing that this Jewish leader is familiar with his Scriptures, recalls Moses’ lifting up the bronze serpent in the desert. Using this historical event, Jesus reveals that he also will be lifted up so that those who look, in faith, upon him will receive eternal life. This being “lifted up” on the pole of the cross will be the gesture by which God changes the human question from “why haven’t you done this for us,” to “Why did you have to do this for us?”
The Exaltation of the Cross is that by his death, Jesus has put a final punctuation mark at the end of the long-life sentence of his being the loving servant of God and humanity. The?-mark is reformed into an!-Mark. No longer is it, “What do you think of us?” The exaltation Mark establishes God’s final judgment and definition of us with the sign of the cross. The serpent reigns no more; death is not our destiny. The triumph of Jesus’ death is not that of God over us, but God for us. While the serpent ruled we were not safe from ourselves. We were ambiguous about whether we were of the earth only, or just where we belonged and whose we were.
Jesus’ dying and rising for us destroys our shame and our
confusion about our identity. The further we stand from the cross
the more we float back into destructive names and images we have
for ourselves individually and collectively. The closer we move
to the shade of the cross the more we can hear our name and our
vocations. At the foot of the cross, there are certain things we
can no longer say about ourselves and our sisters and brothers.
“We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection; through him we are saved and made free.” Gal 6, 14
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