Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived. Num 21
God raised Him high and gave Him the name which is above all names. Phil 2
… the Son of Man must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness... Jn 3
In our lessons this evening, there is a lot of coming down and going up – how does that have any bearing on our celebration of the Triumph of the Holy Cross?
During the Exodus, as the divine appointed leader of the Israelites, Moses bore the brunt of all their complaints against God. Whenever I read the Exodus story I always feel sorry for Moses. He didn't ask to lead the people into the desert, He was just obedient to God. Yet it seems he has to hear all their complaining.
Moses isn't the only leader to experience this. It is probably a universal experience of leaders, that the people they lead complain from time to time.
This time it was because they were bored with their food. All they were getting was this boring bread from heaven; every day! They are so busy about complaining, it seems, that they do not notice the serpents.
Not only is this part of the account of the Exodus, but it is a lesson for us all. The story of the Exodus is full of lessons in this way. I suspect we all complain from time to time. I suspect we all feel bored from time to time. And in the church, like the Israelites, we forget the wonder and the gift of our deliverance from slavery. And those of us who have made an Exodus from the Church of England into full communion with the See of Peter, the Catholic Church, I expect we all have been tempted to complain along the lines of the Israelites. Why did we leave our lovely, comfortable churches, where we could do our own thing, when we liked? Now we have to worship in unfamiliar places and we have to do as we are told! As we are tempted with those sorts of thoughts, we need to remember that the serpents are close to our heels – or should we say the serpent!
The people of Israel have fallen into sin, and need to be lifted up and healed. And we do too. We fall into sin, and we need lifting up. Moses made a bronze serpent, put it on a pole as the Lord commanded, and when they looked on it they were healed of the serpent's venom. We too need to be healed of the venom of our fall, by facing it with faith in God. We cannot be healed without facing up to our sin and naming it as such before God.
And this movement of falling and being lifted up for our healing, is the movement of the biggest story of all – the story of the human race. In the origins of the human race we fell from grace and innocence. And we all inherit from our ancestors this propensity towards sin, which means death. And we need lifting up from this original sin and all our sins. And the story of our salvation, is another movement of descending and ascending, as St Paul puts so beautifully in his Philippian hymn. God descends and becomes Man, that we might ascend from our fallen state, and enjoy everlasting life in bliss.
That sounds good until we realise the price of the descending. For the healing to happen Christ must enter obediently into the heart of our problem. The only perfect, good man must submit Himself to become the victim of injustice, hatred, untruth, disobedience and evil – the whole gamut of our fallen nature – that He might enter even into death itself. By facing death in obedience, in truth, in righteousness, in total goodness and in perfect love, He is able to conquer death; to conquer evil; to conquer our falleness; to conquer sin. And so we rejoice this day in the Triumph of the Cross of our Saviour Jesus Christ. We glory in His victory, yes bought at such an awful price, yet a wondrous and glorious and entirely complete triumph over sin, death and evil. Our Enemy is defeated and we rejoice! Amen. Alleluia!
IH 14th September 2011 St Austell, St Augustine