Our Church calls this day the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. Now, with the word “exaltation” describing a “lifting up,” I suppose the Church is inviting us to let our thoughts dwell upon two different ways in which Our Lord was lifted up on his cross.
First, from the accounts of crucifixions by the Romans, we must think of Jesus being nailed to the cross as it lay flat on the ground. Then, with Jesus dangling from it, the upright was raised, and with a “Thud!” it was dropped into the hole dug for it.
But what the Church more likely celebrates on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross takes the word “exaltation” as a supreme triumph. That is how it is pictured in the Second Reading where “Every knee should bend of those in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth.”
Going to the Old Testament, the readings compare Jesus being lifted on high to Moses curing all by raising up the seraph serpent in the desert.
But for me ark of the covenant in Chapter Three of the Book of Joshua comes closer than the seraph serpent in picturing what Jesus on the cross does for us.
Let me refresh your minds on that story. The Israelites, after forty years of wandering in the desert, came at last to the spot from which they would cross over into the Promised Land. Echoing the Red Sea crossing, all thousands of them were ordered to wade into the Jordan at the time of its spring floods.
Joshua assured them that the ark of the covenant would open a way for them. He had priests carrying the ark precede them into the flood, and marvelously, the waters backed up, allowing them passage. Then, when the priests with the ark reached the bottom of the riverbed, they took a stand there, allowing the whole nation to pass by and up into the Promised Land.
If we check with verse 22 of Chapter 25 of Exodus we will see what gave the ark its supernatural power. That chapter described all the materials and all the dimensions of the ark. It was to be topped by a gold plate called the “propitiatory” upon which were to be fixed forms of two cherubim facing each other. Then in verse 22 God spoke, saying, “There I will meet you from above the propitiatory between the two cherubim.”
The ark, somewhat like our tabernacle, was holy because God dwelt there. In that great scene in Joshua Chapter Three it was the priests carrying God as they took their stand at the bottom of the Jordan that opened a way into the Promised Land for the Israelites. For us it will be Jesus on the cross, taking his stand midway though our deaths, that will open a passage for us up into heaven.