When we bless ourselves in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we often think more about the words than about the action, which we call the Sign of the Cross. The Sign of the Cross, like all the crucifixes we have in our homes and churches, is a reminder of the cruel torture and slow death suffered by our Lord. It teaches us that our God did not shy away from even the worst experiences of being human and chose to be close to all who suffer. As St Paul said in our second reading last weekend, Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to be like all human beings and then went further, even as far accepting death on a cross.
What happened next is the reason why this ancient instrument of torture and death has become the symbol of our faith: after the tragedy of the suffering, execution and burial of Jesus, the Father burst open the tomb, raised him high and gave him the name which is above all names. So the cross now has a deeper meaning: it is the symbol of Christ’s victory over sin and death, the sign of God’s closeness to all who suffer and the guarantee that we can share in that victory.
We don’t know why there is so much suffering in the world. Unlike the writer of our first reading, we don’t believe that God deliberately sends serpents to bite us because we have sinned, but we do believe that the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus has released the power to heal us and give us life. When we feel like the people in the first reading – trapped in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty for food and drink that will satisfy us, blaming God and others for the trouble we are in – or when we can only look on helplessly while others suffer, the cross reminds us that no human experience is beyond the power of God’s healing and life-giving love, revealed to us through the dying and rising of Jesus.