Look Upon Your Own Death | Homily for Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

Every time we look at the Cross of Jesus Christ, we look upon our own death.

This is the boast of the Christian soul, right? That in the Lord Jesus, we have already died. And so looking to the Cross is to look at our own dying and rising in Him. Yes, we look upon our own death, so as to receive His Life.

The Old Testament already foreshadowed this mystery in the story we heard in our first reading — about the Israelites wandering in the desert, complaining to God and Moses. They cry out: “Why have you brought us up from Egypt to die in this desert, where there is no food or water?” Their complaint is filled with disgust, anger… but most of all, a fear of dying.

It’s ironic, though. The very thing they fear… the thing they are most anxious about … ends up being their punishment: We read that seraph serpents are sent among the people, and many of them died. There’s a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy in the Israelite’s disastrous lack of faith — They were so reluctant to trust in God’s salvation, that they received the death they feared in the first place.

How does God respond? Amazingly, He directs them to look upon their own death. “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole,” He tells Moses, “and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live.” The Living God asks the Israelites to stare down their own death… that they may receive Life.

In our Gospel, Jesus directly connects this story with the mystery of his own Death. While speaking to Nicodemus, He tells him point blank: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” 

It’s as if he is telling us: “Whoever looks upon my Death with faith enters into the effects of this Death: A Death that tramples the grave once and for all. A Death that gives access to the Father. A Death that makes Resurrection glory possible.

Therefore, when we as a Church lift high the Cross, when we exalt this tool of execution — We are in reality taunting death. We are boldly proclaiming that in Christ, we’re already-dead. By my baptism, I was crucified with Him — Therefore, Death has no sting. It has no power over me! Jesus, my Life has already stared Death down on my behalf. He has already tasted the tomb — In fact, God so loved the world that he sent His Son to hang on a Tree, not to condemn me, but to condemn death itself.

Because of this beautiful truth, we can be brave. We can be holy. We can boast in the apparent failure of the Crucifixion. We can look upon Him whom we pierced… and trust that it is precisely here that we receive healing.

In just a few moments, through the hands of the priest, we will exalt that same Cross of Jesus here upon this altar. As the Host is lifted up today before your very eyes, realize that you are looking upon your own Death in Jesus Christ. It is the Death that heals us. It is the Death that opens up to Resurrection.

By Anthony Ferguson

Anthony Ferguson is a transitional deacon preparing for the priesthood of Jesus Christ for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. He is currently in Fourth Theology at Theological College in Washington DC.

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