EXALTATION OF THE CROSS
We always associate the cross with Good Friday, hence pain, suffering and death! The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross brings us unto the joyful dimension of the cross! There is more to the cross than death.
In order for us to understand the transcended meaning of the cross, we have to go back to the Old Testament. In Genesis, there was a garden, a tree and the first man (Adam and Eve). In the primordial drama of human history, man and woman were living in a paradise symbolised by the garden yet they were tempted by the devil which was symbolised by the snake. They eventually rebelled and disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree. In consequence, they were driven out of paradise and they were doomed. But God did not give up on man so he promised a Messiah. The same drama was staged in the life of Israel, the chosen People of God. Whilst on their way to the Promised Land (the garden restored), the Israelites once again rebelled against God through their complaints in the desert. In anger, God sent them snakes (a reminder of the snake that tempted man in Genesis) and bit them; many died and asked Moses to intercede for them. God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it into a pole. Those bitten by the snakes were saved by looking at the bronze serpent. Jesus in the gospel gave us the fuller meaning of that Old Testament event by claiming that he would be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert. Just as those who were bitten by the snakes were healed by looking up at the bronze serpent, those who believe in Jesus will be saved. St. Paul in the Second Reading summarised his Christology through the kenotic hymn: "Christ although was God, emptied himself, took the form of a slave and was exalted at the end."
The drama in Genesis was transported forward in time during the crucifixion of Jesus with the usual "stage production" of the garden of skulls (Golgotha or Calvary), God-man (Jesus) and a condemned tree (the cross). The famous theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar calls this "theo drama". It is a drama that involved God the Father as the "scriptwriter", Jesus as the "actor" and the Holy Spirit as the "director". But it is not the usual drama that we know of because the stage was not just the world but the physical cosmos (the earth) and the spiritual cosmos (heaven) and the actors involved were the God-man Jesus and humanity. In this drama, God was giving birth to the New Genesis! The forbidden tree in the Old Testament which became a symbol of death in the New Testament was now the exalted Tree of Life not because of its own accord but by the merit of the God-man who was crucified on it. Without Jesus hanging on the cross, it would remain the dreaded fate of criminals who deserved death. With the presence of the New Adam, the garden of skulls suddenly bloomed into a sacred garden which staged the drama of redemption. The exalted cross connected heaven and earth once again by the presence of the God-man who inhabited that dark and measureless abyss. The cross became the bridge and the door by which we enter paradise once again.
So where is our place in this theo drama? As followers of the Crucified and Exalted Lord, we are all "dramatis personae" together with God, each one playing a unique and irreplaceable role with a mission that can only be understood in the light of the cross. It might not be easy to embrace our personal crosses but with Jesus they become our glorious crosses leading us unto our redemption and the redemption of humanity. In the theo drama the beauty of the cross is kept hidden in the eyes of the world yet in the eyes of faith it is our own redemption, perfection and exaltation.