Dear Parish Faithful,
In preparation for the upcoming Feast of the Elevation/Exaltation of the Life-Giving Cross on September 14, the Sunday preceding the Feast is designated simply as the “Sunday before the Cross.” This anticipatory focus on the Feast of the Cross alerts us to its importance in the consciousness of the Church. If we have the “mind of the Church,” then our own minds and hearts can be elevated and exalted upward toward the Son of Man who will be “lifted up” on the Cross for our salvation. This is precisely where the Church directs our attention with the upcoming Feast in mind. For in addition to the appointed Gospel reading at yesterday’s Liturgy, this second reading was taken from the Gospel According to St. John:
No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (JN. 3:13-17)
It is this passage, of course, that contains the well-known and magnificent text referred to simply as “John 3:16.” (Even those who never read the Gospels have either heard this verse somewhere or seen it displayed on a billboard, on a side of a barn along the highway, or even overhead on the tail of a helicopter as I once saw it at a baseball game). God (the Father) will “send” His Son – clearly the pre-existent Son – into the world (kosmos in the Gk.) that God loved into existence, and continued to love even though the world had fallen from its initial purpose and destiny. That “fall,” however conceived, meant that all was perishing. For human beings created for a relationship with God, this resulted not only in a death attended by guilt, regret, anxiety and fear; but also in the loss of life’s meaning and purpose. The biblical concept and reality of sheol/hades was no real consolation. A good deal of idolatry – the worship of “false gods” - is generated by a desperate search for some meaning in life; for something to attach to that will lift us up beyond the mundane and material aspects of existence. To believe in nothing is to be predisposed to believe in anything.
The expression that God “gave” us His Son is to point to the ultimate purpose of the Incarnation, which is the Cross, where again, the Son of man will be “lifted up.” And it is Jesus who is the Son of man. Behind the historical commemoration of this Feast, which is the discovery of the “true Cross” in the fourth c., we discover the Cross as the “place” where God wiped away our sin in and through the death of the Crucified Lord. In this way the “world” is “saved” through Christ, and we need no longer “perish” if we believe in Him. The “eternal life” of this salvation process is not an endless extension of time, nor is it the extension of biological existence (bios in Gk.) but something all together qualitatively different, as in true or abundant life with and in God beyond the vicissitudes of time (zoe in Gk.).
“Money makes the world go ‘round” is a cliché that many think and believe is true. Perhaps it seems most true to the very rich or the very poor. (As Hazel Motes of Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood said: A man with a new car don’t need redemption). The very rich may believe that they have discovered the secret to life’s meaning in the accumulation of great wealth; and the very poor may be convinced that a good life has been denied to them because they have been left out of the distribution of the world’s wealth One attitude can easily lead to arrogance, and the other to despair. But anyone struggling with economic distress, financial instability or making ends meet, will either willingly or reluctantly ascribe – to one degree or another – to the cliché that money is the energy and power that drives life and the “world.”
However, if we ascribe to the Gospel as revealing not only relative truths, but Truth itself in all of its majesty and glory; then we will realize that it is ultimately love that makes the world go ‘round. This is not a sentimental counter-cliché. It is the love of God that is the “energy” that created the cosmos “in the beginning.” This love is the pouring forth of the eternal love that dwells within the Trinity and which as an “uncreated energy” gives, sustains, and redeems human life made “in the image and likeness of God.” Because of God’s steadfast love, the world which was created is now also saved by that same love. For God does want to condemn the world but precisely to save it.
When we “bow down” before the decorated Cross during the Feast of the Elevation/Exaltation of the Cross, it is this Truth that we acknowledge and rejoice in.