Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
When we celebrated the blessing of the new altar, the Preface referred to the altar of the Cross. At the same time, neither the altar nor the Cross was identified as an object but as a place; in Latin, locus.
Latin is a very abstract, conceptual language–as opposed to English which is descriptive, or Biblical Hebrew, which is concrete and graphic. Locus indicates more than a spatial configuration. We have adopted the word locus into English to describe a conceptual “place.”
So this “locus” is not just an area of space, but a metaphorical “place,” a network of associations and meanings, as well as unique conditions, where a crucial event can occur.
Don’t we find just that in our readings from John’s Gospel and from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians? Unlike the first reading from the Book of Numbers, which describes a miraculous healing in a particular time, among specific people, in one location, the New Testament readings resort to language that is mythic, timeless, cosmic. It is as if we are penetrating beyond the flesh and bones of history, even beyond the complex circulatory system that keeps the organism alive, to peer into the DNA, the very structure of life.
The bronze serpent in the Sinai desert is not isolated in time, however, but participates in the same structure, the same archetypal dynamic described by Paul and John. The Cross is not just another instrument of torture employed one Friday afternoon outside of Jerusalem some two millennia ago. The Cross of Christ is the event–the timeless event in time–that occurs when God yearns for the love of his human creations and we both react and respond, struggle to reply or revolt, all at the same time.
It is the drama that has been playing out since the dawn of consciousness, both a torture and a hope–but more than a hope. It is our redemption; it is victory in defeat, eternity in time, life in death. It is the foundation of every valid paradox, the path we’d rather flee but can never escape.
This is why the Fathers of the Church saw the Cross everywhere: in the intersection of the poles, in the rotation of the heavenly spheres, in the guiding constellations, in the mast that drives the ship, in the anchor that steadies her, in the tree that bears fruit…the list is almost endless. But this is what we and our life-experience are about. The Cross transcends time, yet is as specific as my life or yours.
May we use this lifetime well to surrender to the power of the Cross and no longer fear our powerlessness as we traverse the way of the Cross.