That was today's feast, and one of the times when all four readings - Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel - work together to present a united message.
I don't recall exactly when I first realized that the story of Moses and the bronze serpent was a prefigurement of Christ and the Cross; probably just a few moments before Jesus Himself mentioned it in the Gospel reading. At any rate, the imagery is there, and it is unforgettable. It is one of the great desert scenes that foreshadows Christ, another being the Manna from Heaven that kept the Jews alive in the wasteland, reaching its fulfillment in the Bread of Life, the Eucharist, that keeps us alive in this earthly world.
The Cross is the Triumph of life over death, of salvation over sin. We often look at Jesus on the Cross, His arms outstretched as if to take us all in with His loving embrace, His words "It is finished" coming down to us; and one wonders if the Romans were conscious of this in any way, if they thought to themselves, "OK, if you want this so much, you can have it! If you want to hold them all in your arms, we can arrange that!" To them it might have represented the ultimate mocking of His words, and they might have viewed Jesus on the Cross rather sardonically.
I know that Protestants are uncomfortable with the Corpus on the Cross; to them it represents a form of idolatry. We all agree on the importance of the Cross, and yet what does an empty Cross tell us? It is the instrument of our salvation awaiting Our Savior, but until He mounts it the Cross is nothing more than a cross, two pieces of wood held together. And the empty Cross cannot represent the Resurrection; that would more appropriately be the empty tomb.
No, the Cross is nothing without Christ on it, for it is there that He performs the timeless act of salvation for us all. In his homily today Fr. Tiffany reminded us that the Cross is the symbol of both birth and death - in water it is traced on the forehead of the baby at baptism, in water it is traced on the coffin at death. The Cross is with us at the beginning and the end, for as Paul says, when we are born with Christ we shall also die with Him, and if we die with Him we will be raised with Him on the last day. It is why, as Fr. Tiffany said, when we bless ourselves with the water from the font we should do it reverently, remembering the power of the Cross, the price that Jesus willingly paid to get it, and the salvation it bought for us.
As Bishop Sheen often pointed out, without the Cross of Good Friday there is no empty tomb on Easter Sunday - you just can't get there from here without it. Was it St. Francis who said, "We adore Thee, O Christ and we bless Thee, because by thy Holy Cross, Thou hast redeemed the World."? I think so, but whoever it was, he had it right.