The Church calls today the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The word exalt , meaning to lift high, has two applications here. For one thing it refers to the painful shock to Jesus nailed to it when the cross was lifted up, exalted, fixed in place. For another thing it refers to the crucified Jesus being lift up to the Father’s throne.
In John’s Gospel Jesus twice identified himself with the bonze serpent Moses lifted up. In today’s Gospel he said he must be lifted up so that all might believe in him. In John 8:28 he said he must be lifted up so that all will know he is God.
We have the word “exalt” in the second reading, taken from Chapter Two of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. In that passage Paul was asking the people of Phillipi to embrace a humble demeanor, urging them to follow the example of Christ who although while dwelling in heaven he was in the form of God, he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave; becoming obedient even unto death. Paul went on to say, “for this reason God has exalted him.”
As seminarians during Holy Week on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings we gathered in the chapel to recite Matins and Lauds for the next day. (It was called Tenebrae, a word meaning fearful shadows.) For the antiphon for the Benedictus each night we sang a little more of that passage from Philippians. Friday night, as some hope crept into the liturgy, we would sing those words, “For this reason God has exalted him.” In Latin it was “Propter quod et Deus exaltavit illum,” and it was stirring.