What a strange feast this is. We are so used to seeing crucifixes in our churches and in our homes that we may have forgotten just how shocking it is that Christians reverence the instrument used to kill our God.
And what a strange first reading for today’s feast. God punishes those who complain against him by sending poisonous snakes, relenting only after Moses pleaded with him. Then, God tells Moses to erect a remedy very much like the idols of their pagan neighbours.
The poisonous serpents that inflicted such havoc among the people are a good symbol for the people’s sin. They see no harm in complaining against Moses, and they have no idea how poisonous their negative attitude is. But God knows that they are really rebelling against him—the One who liberated them from slavery in Egypt, led them through the Red Sea, and fed them while they wandered in the wilderness.
By mounting the bronze serpent on top of a pole, Moses forced the people to see their sin for what it was: rebellion that poisons their life as God’s chosen people. God wanted to teach and purify them, not to destroy them. So he made it possible that as soon as they acknowledged their sin, they were already looking at his merciful means of forgiveness.
When we gaze upon the Cross of Christ, we also see our sins. But we also see God’s remedy for our sin. We see the outstretched arms of the One whose love and mercy is undying and unconditional, the One who promises paradise to all who repent. This is why the Cross is a fitting symbol for Christians. Like a wedding ring, it reminds us of our God’s fidelity and care.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.