This past weekend I was watching part of a football game when a defensive player caught an interception. It was one of those catches where it just fell into his hands. There was no diving catch, no one hand acrobatics, just a pitch and a catch. He went down immediately and was touched down by contact. After which he got up and took the ball to the sidelines where he gave it to the equipment manager for safe keeping.
The sports caster said something like, “that ball is going straight into his trophy case”. You see this was the players first professional game and his first professional interception. So the comment made perfect sense. That ball represented a series of victories for that player. From his first pee wee football game it represented all of the sacrifices that his parents made to get him to practices and games. Through middle school and high school it represented all of the workouts, all of the weeknight and all of the weekend games. Through college it represented the extra efforts, in school, in the gym, on the road. That one object was way way more than just a football. It was the culmination of his hope and dreams. It was the symbol of his salvation.
You are probably seeing where I am going with this. Today is the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross. 2000 years ago there was a piece of wood that had been used as a form of torture, punishment and terror for years by the romans. You see, it is commonly misunderstood that the cross was not actually used as a method of execution. Yes, almost all that were crucified died, but only after days of agonizing torture and pain. The person crucified had to stand for hours on that little block of wood mounted to the vertical member or hang for hours from the horizontal member, but not both and not forever.
After what was sometimes days the crucified would give up from fatigue and no longer stand. This would mean that he would have to hang from his arms which would eventually collapse his lungs and he would suffocate.
This was the means of Christ’s death. This was the means of what was to become His victory over death. “The Lord hung upon the cross to wash away our sins in his own blood.”
For 33 some years He spent His time on earth just like us. He played like us, He worked like us, He laughed and cried like us. He got tired and hungry, He had friends and favorite things like us. And then He died for us, not al all like us. For He was a man without sin that was made to put on sin so that we might be forgiven. And we have the “football” to remember it. Well a cross not a football, in this case we have the cross to remember it.
This feast day commemorates the recovering of that portion of the Holy Cross which had been preserved in Jerusalem and had fallen into the hands of the Persians. Emperor Heraclius recovered this precious relic and returned it to Jerusalem in 623. This simple object means so much more than as just a piece of ancient wood.
It represents our forgiveness, our salvation. It traces our journey through life, the times that we faltered, the time that we forgot, the times that we ignored. The cross of Jesus is a symbol of ultimate love, of undeserved love, of unconditional love. And it is something that we can not overlook. Every time that we see it, we have to remember our struggles and His sufferings. Every time that we see a cross we have to remember that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, we are loved. We are so profoundly loved.
In this mornings Liturgy of the Hours the last of the antiphons went like this, How radiant is that precious cross which brough us our salvation. In the cross we are victorious, through the cross we shall reign, by the cross all evil is destroyed.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
because by your Cross you have redeemed the world.
JN 3:13 – 17
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“No one has gone up to heaven
except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
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