The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (3:13-17)
On Thursday morning we will celebrate the feast of the elevation of the cross. This is a special day when we commemorate the finding of the true cross of our Lord Jesus Christ by the Empress St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The Church prepares us for the celebration of this feast with special epistle and gospel readings in the week the precedes the feast. Today’s gospel passage is one of those readings.
The Lord Jesus Christ begins this passage with a statement about something that His average hearers would have known very well. He starts out saying “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness..” What is he referring to here? This is actually a reference to one of the stories from the book of Numbers chapter 21. In this chapter we read the following:
“From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9So Moses made a bronzed serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”
This may seem rather strange to our modern ears. All that was necessary for the people to do once they had been bitten by the deadly serpents was to look to the bronze serpent that the Lord commanded Moses to make. If they did this, they would be healed and they would live. We should be rather amazed and possibly frightened by such words because they remind us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways.
Now in today’s gospel reading we see that Our Lord Jesus says something rather remarkable. He likens himself to the bronze serpent saying, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is really quite amazing. Our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us that He will become like the bronze serpent for the whole world. He will be the antidote and the remedy to the deadly serpent who threatens the whole world and who threatens our lives.
And how will this happen? God has a plan for His people. His plan involved His only begotten Son, the wood of the cross and death. The most important symbol in our lives is the cross and this cross of the crucified Lord is our hope and our strength in the midst of difficulties. This cross of the Lord is our light in the darkest times of our life. The cross led to the Lord’s death, but it has become our life through that death. When someone is struggling with his sins, when he is struggling with every aspect of his life, it is by looking to the cross of Christ that he receives new strength and is renewed in his hope. The cross of Christ gives the potential for new life to everyone on earth. In fact it is God’s desire to share His life with everyone possible. We receive this unending gift of life by constantly fixing our gaze on Christ crucified. We hold on to this life by often meditating on the love that God has demonstrated through the cross. We bless everything in our life by making the sign of the cross.
First we bless ourselves. When should we do this? When you wake up in the middle of the night or you are having trouble sleeping. When you first arise. When you lay down to sleep at night. Before you travel by car or by plane. Before you eat or drink. Before you study or take on a project. Whenever you feel temptations are beginning to overtake you. When you are tempted with thoughts of anger or jealousy or lust or pride. These are just some of the times when you can make the sign of the cross. In addition we should wear crosses and we shouldn’t be ashamed of being identified as a Christian. In fact we should be quite ashamed if we blend in perfectly with everyone around us. That is a warning sign. Don’t be a chameleon. Be who you were meant to be by embracing the cross of Christ and all that it entails.
We live the life of the cross. We think about what Christ has done on the cross. We look to the cross to help us through the many struggles of this life. So with our life centered on the cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His life is imprinted upon us. Our fear of death is removed. The poison of our sins is removed. We are free to live with Christ and we are free to live in Christ. We can look to the icon of Christ and pray “Lord, you suffered so much for me and for the entire world to be saved, help me to be victorious over the things that tempt me and to find my life in you.”
I will leave you with a quote from St. John Chrysostom who said,
“When, then, you make the sign of the cross on the forehead, arm yourself with a saintly boldness, and reinstall your soul in its old liberty; for you are not ignorant that the cross is a prize beyond all price. Consider what is the price given for your ransom, and you will never more be slave to any man on earth. This reward and ransom is the cross. You should not then, carelessly make the sign on the forehead, but you should impress it on your heart with the love of a fervent faith. Nothing impure will dare to molest you on seeing the weapon, which overcometh all things.”
May this weapon give us boldness and a path to life. AMEN.