Prior to the gospel passage we just heard proclaimed (Jn. 3:13-17), we are told that Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night”. Nicodemus is a religious leader of his day and therefore a powerful and respected man in his society. Even though Nicodemus can recognize and acknowledge that Jesus is a “teacher come from God” he still does not want to be seen visiting this strange new teacher who had just run out the money-changers from the temple (Jn. 2:13-22). Nicodemus is fearful for his stature and his reputation in the society of his day. Even though something about Jesus attracts him, Nicodemus’ faith is darkened by fear so it is telling on many levels that he comes to our Lord “by night”.
Fear always darkens our lives. Fear always darkens faith and fear always seeks to overshadow hope. The exaltation of the Holy Cross, even in the stark violence of the sacrifice offered, stands in witness against fear in all its forms. The cross banishes the darkness of fear precisely because it reveals the love of the Father. A love so amazing that the Father permits the sacrifice of the Son in order to satisfy the demand of justice! “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
It is in and through the triumph of the Cross and Resurrection that Christians can say “no” to the sad logic of violence, oppression and fear. In the exaltation of the Cross, we can say that peace, reconciliation and forgiveness are always possible. In some ways it seems counter-intuitive that a means of violent execution becomes the sign of hope; but this is God’s logic – a logic that overcomes all the supposed logic and understanding of our world.
In my prayer this week, my thoughts have kept returning to our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, who are facing the very real threat of martyrdom for their faith in Christ. Many have already been martyred, some through very violent and barbaric acts. We often think of the age of the martyrs as a period of early Christian history but in the twentieth century alone more Christian were killed for their faith than at any other time in history. Sadly, the trend seems to be continuing in this century. These men and women facing the full onslaught of violence witness the wisdom and hope that can only come through embracing the cross of Christ!
When I was in seminary I received some advice on preaching that has remained with me to this day. I was told that when I preach I should not worry about having to review all of salvation history in one homily rather I should concern myself simply with saying something that invites people to prayer. So, I will end this homily with a direct invitation to prayer: sometime on this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross go before a crucifix whether it is here in the church, whether at home, whether an image you pull up on the internet, whether in your mind’s eye. Place yourself before the cross, imagine Christ looking on you with love and reflect on the love revealed on the cross, receive that love and allow it to banish any fears that you might be carrying in your life. The logic of the cross, God’s logic, overcomes all the fears and sad divisions and violence of our world. And, in a special way, pray for our brothers and sisters who are facing persecution and death for their love of Christ.