Archbishop Miller poses after Mass with Georg J.E. Adam, lieutenant of Vancouver's Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (left), and the newest members: Lady Bonnie Ellen Mills, Lady Angela De Silva, and Sir Hubert Van Der Made. Nathan Rumohr / The B.C. Catholic.
This is an excerpt from a homily given at Holy Rosary Cathedral Oct. 13 for the investiture Mass of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
As Canadian society becomes more and more detached from its Christian roots, people ask us why we so proudly display and wear this instrument of torture, this sign of suffering, defeat, and failure.
Undoubtedly the cross expresses all these things, and yet, because of Him Who was lifted up on the cross for our salvation, it also represents the definitive triumph of God's love over all the world's evil.
There is an ancient tradition that the wood of the cross was taken from a tree planted by Adam's son Seth over the place where Adam himself was buried. On that very spot, known as Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, Seth planted a seed from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree that had stood in the midst of the Garden of Eden.
Enthralled by the serpent's promise of the power to determine good and evil on their own, our first parents abandoned their filial trust in God and turned away from Him. Because of that sin, suffering and death came into the world (cf. Rom 5:12), and its tragic effects have dripped down like poison through the history of all their descendants.
We glimpse this history in this afternoon's First Reading, with its echoes of the fall and its prefiguring of our redemption by Christ. As punishment for their sin, the people of Israel, complaining and languishing in the desert, were bitten by poisonous serpents. They could only be saved from death by looking upon the emblem that Moses raised on a standard.
Moses's action foreshadowed the cross that would put an end to sin and death once and for all. The truth revealed is straightforward: human beings cannot save themselves from the consequences of sin and death; only God can release them from their moral and physical enslavement.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert to save his people, so the Father lifted up His Son, so that all who looked upon Him with faith might have eternal life.
The wood of the cross, taken from the tree which had occasioned the fall of our first parents, itself became the instrument of our salvation. Suffering and death, which had been a consequence of the first, or original, sin, thereby became the very means by which sin was conquered.
The innocent Lamb, Our Lord Jesus Christ, was slain on the altar of the cross, and yet, from that immolation of the Victim, new life burst forth. The power of evil was destroyed by the power of self-sacrificing love.
Here today's Second Reading sheds light on the marvellous reversal brought about by the cross, the ultimate instance of God writing straight with the crooked lines of humanity's sin. Through the cross of Christ we are redeemed, and Adam's experience is reversed.
Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort (cf. Gn 3:4-5). He wanted to put himself in God's place, and in that way he lost the original dignity that had been given to him.
Jesus, instead, was "in the form of God" (Phil 2:6) but humbled Himself, immersed Himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father. He did this in order to redeem the Adam who is in us, and to restore to us the dignity we had lost.
Christ made Himself obedient to death, "even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8) so as to restore to human nature, through His Own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam's disobedience.
The cross, then, is something far greater and mysterious than it first appears, more than an instrument of torture, suffering, and defeat. It expresses the definitive reversal of these evils.
That is why the cross is the world's most eloquent symbol of hope. It speaks to all who suffer, and today we think especially of our suffering brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. It speaks to those who are oppressed, sick, poor; to the victims of violence; to those who are marginalized or persecuted for their religious beliefs.
The cross on which hangs the crucified Redeemer offers them - and us - hope: hope that God can transform their suffering into joy and their isolation into solidarity with those committed to their welfare.
The cross is not merely a badge of membership in the Equestrian Order. Rather the cross speaks of hope for all; it tells us of the victory of non-violence over oppression; it tells us of God raising up the lowly, empowering the weak, conquering division, and overcoming hatred with love.
Without the cross, the world would be without hope, a world in which torture and brutality would go unchecked, the weak would be exploited, greed would have the final word, and there would be no end to the vicious cycle of violence which torments the Middle East.
Only the cross puts an end to it. Only the saving intervention of our loving God can transform the reality of sin and death into love and life. This is what we celebrate when we exalt the cross of our Redeemer.