Fr David's Sermon
14th September 2008
‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’
If you look closely in our church you will find two serpents or snakes. One is in the crucifixion window in the Lady Chapel – green & hard to spot at the foot of the cross. The other is on the reredos behind the North altar, showing Moses with the bronze serpent on a pole.
The link is the cross of Christ which feast we celebrate today. St. John records Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus foretelling his death on the cross. Moses’ lifting up of the bronze serpent on a pole as a remedy for sin is seen as the ante type for Jesus’ being lifted up on the cross. Jesus describes his death on the cross as the means of salvation. If we believe in him we will not perish but receive eternal life – no longer will our actions condemn us.
In the OT the people of Israel had rebelled against God in the wilderness. They had forgotten that in the Exodus they had been rescued from slavery. Instead they had enough of the hardships they were encountered not least the poisonous snakes. This rebellion we call sin. The pole was a remedy – a sign of forgiveness & healing after repentance.
Today is the feast of the Holy Cross. It is a celebration of what it means for us but also the feast of an object, the cross, worthy of veneration.(We venerate thy cross O lord, we sing on Good Friday)
When we think about this, it is extraordinary. The cross was a horrible & terrible means of execution. It would like us celebrating a noose or an electric chair used to kill a loved one. The cross killed our loved one – Jesus Christ.
At first the cross was too shameful to be used as a Christian symbol – the fish (Ichthus) was used instead. When the Roman Empire became Christian after the conversion of Constantine his wife the Empress Helen visited the Holy places in Jerusalem. She found what she believed to be a fragment of the actual Cross of Christ. True or not, it doesn’t really matter. The cult of the cross grew. In the West churches were eventually equipped with ornate, jewel encrusted crosses.
The cross was described in flowery language. St Andrew of Crete said possess the cross & you possess treasure. St. Anselm addressed his famous prayer to the precious wood of the cross.
Today the cross is everywhere – on buildings, round peoples’ necks, in art – an object of devotion, even if the person of Christ is forgotten. We venerate the cross – we worship Christ. The veneration of the cross is only of value if it points us to Jesus Christ. It is only of value if it leads us to think about the meaning of his death for us, if it leads us to accept the salvation that is given us.
Salvation has to do with healing – with wholeness of body, mind and spirit. It has to do with restored relationships, between human beings and with God. It is appropriate that we also pray for healing today.
The Moses’ bronze serpent is a symbol of the medical profession. You see it on the medical bracelets people wear if they are allergic to certain drugs like penicillin. The Red Cross is a sign of the salvation brought to the wounded in war and disaster by the Red Cross.
We venerate an instrument of death because on it Jesus Christ brings us salvation & victory over death.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.’
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