Triumph On The Tree by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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 he 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."
This week we are invited by the Church’s celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross to focus our attention on the work of Our Savior on that hill outside of Jerusalem. We are invited to renew our love for Christ and our gratitude for subjecting Himself to the agony of the cross.
Our God, Our Savior, our friend, our companion, was nailed to a tree between two thieves, suffering like no one the history of the world, because He took on himself the painful effects of my sin, of every sin. Jesus surrendered His life to the Father in an act of obedient love that is critical to the saving work of Christ, the central event in the history of humanity.
The depth of love and truth found in this saving mystery goes beyond our comprehension, yet love demands that, aided by the light of faith, we try to penetrate its depth and rejoice in the beauty that we find there.
Life is tough. Our journey down the path of life is full of ups and downs. We may be sick or handicapped, or someone we love may be deathly ill and there is little that we can do. We may be young and agonizing over what God wants from us with our lives. We may be old and feel that we have failed at something important along the way. We may carry the burden that we harmed someone seriously in a moment of great selfishness or negligence. Sometimes these great burdens are brought upon us, and sometimes we bring them upon ourselves. Regardless of their origin, these trials make it very clear that life can be very tough.
We as Christians have something beautiful to add to this reality. God heard our cry and chose to dive into the mix. God’s love led Him to take on our human flesh and become like us in all things but sin. Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father, knew extreme hunger in the desert, profound sorrow at the death of John the Baptist, the ugliness of betrayal by His closest collaborators, the agony of suffocating to death while nailed to a tree. Christians can find great comfort in knowing that God knows well our pain and suffering, and that He has chosen to journey by our side through all of life’s triumphs and tragedies.
As wonderful as the gift of Christ’s presence among us is, easing the pain of our journey by knowing that He truly understands what it is to suffer, this is only the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Not only did Jesus choose to suffer with us, He chose to suffer for us.
The wisdom, truth and love of God came together in a forged plan to address the greatest pain and evil that we face as human beings: sin and death. Jesus took on our sin. In fact, He became sin for us. Jesus freely chose to bear the weight of every human sin and carry it on His back to the tree on Calvary. In a manner only possible by His existence in this world as the Word-made flesh, Jesus humbly and lovingly suffered and died for our salvation. There, on that tree, the totally innocent One, the eternal Son of the living God, dealt sin and death a mortal blow.
Of course, this event was one moment in the redeeming work of Our Lord. Christ’s passion and death were followed by the empty tomb, the Ascension and Pentecost, the birth of the Church. Together, these events comprise the paschal mystery. Each event must be understood as a part of the whole “action” of Christ. Each moment sheds light on the other. Today we focus our gaze on the cross.
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the holy bread of life. Bring to the glory of the resurrection the people you have redeemed by the wood of the cross. We ask this through Christ our Lord,” (Prayer after Communion, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross).
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