Friday, 13 March 2015

Lent 2015 - Seven

Forth Sunday of Lent - "The Sign of the Cross"

Jesus said to Nicodemus: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Jn 3:14-21

The Bronze Serpent
But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Num. 21:4-9
It is quite interesting to see this story unfold among the Jewish people, because of their strict prohibition of any kind of idol worship. In the First Commandment we hear: You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them. The serpent was an object of idol worship in the ancient world, yet, here God is instructing Moses to make this bronze object. Perhaps it is meant to be a symbol contradicted by the true source of healing power, who is God alone. The book of wisdom gives such an explanation: 
For when the dire venom of beasts came upon them and they were dying from the bite of crooked serpents, your anger endured not to the end. But as a warning, for a short time they were terrorized, though they had a sign of salvation, to remind them of the precept of your law. For the one who turned toward it was saved, not by what was seen, but by you, the savior of all. By this also you convinced our foes that you are the one who delivers from all evil. Wisdom 16:5
Later, when Hezekiah, son of Ahaz, king of Judah, became king, he removed the high places, shattered the pillars, cut down the asherah, and smashed the bronze serpent Moses had made, because up to that time the Israelites were burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.) 2 Kings 18:1 
It is interesting that the "Nehushtan" has been adopted as a symbol of healing by various medical groups.

Bronze Serpent                              Nehushtan                              Cross of Christ

Finally, in the New Testament, the true sign of God's redemptive power of healing is revealed - the Cross of Christ. For the Romans, the cross is a symbol and instrument of death. But the Cross of Jesus, followed by his resurrection, gives the Cross a new meaning. Sin brings death, the Cross brings forgiveness and redemption. 

The Sign of the Cross is an essential part of the signs of grace found in the administration of all the sacraments. All prayer begins and ends with the Sign of the Cross. We begin the holy season of Lent by marking our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross, made with ashes, then begin the Easter season with the Sign of the Cross, made by the sprinkling of the Easter baptismal water.

Regrettably, the Cross is used as an ornamental object, often in disrespectful ways. It is a popular subject for tattoos, all-be-it, well meaning by some. There are those who want the Cross removed from all public display. Even some Catholics are hesitant to make the Sign of the Cross in public, or it may be made in a haphazard way. We should remember that making the Sign of the Cross is a prayer in itself.

The question that is before us now, as we enter the second half of Lent, is what meaning does the the Cross have for me personally? 

  • Do I realize that on the day of the Cross I was there ... 
  • that on the day of the Cross, my name, and my sin was carried in the heart of Jesus, and forgiveness spoken, "Father, forgive ..." 
  • that the Cross was not about the Jews and the Romans, it was about me, dying because of my sin ... 
  • that on the Cross, Jesus wrestled my soul free from Satan's grip ...
  • that by Jesus' wounds on the Cross, I was being saved from dying, eternally ...
  • that from the Cross I rose with Jesus into eternal life ...

When the Serpent impales its fangs
And its venom of sin invades your soul
Look to the Cross
And the Love that is upon it
That the power of forgiveness
Flowing from His wounds
May deliver you

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