Sermon for the Tuesday in the 5th Week of Lent

Given at the Chapel of the Apostles, Sewanee

April 5, 2022

Numbers 21:4-9, John 8:21-30

In today’s lesson from the book of Numbers, we encounter the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness They’ve been on this journey for a while now and they’re tired, they’re hungry, and they’re beginning to wonder if they’re ever going to make it to the promised land. They started complaining against God and against Moses and one by one they gave into those distorted thoughts and desires which caused them to doubt the promises of God. Amid their struggles, the people eventually began to give in to these distorted desires and, over time the deadly serpent of sin, the serpent that deceived our primordial ancestors in the Garden of Eden wormed its way into the heart of the camp. The poison of sin begins to take effect, and many people died.

Seeing the death and destruction their sin had caused, the people of Israel came to Moses and admitted their sin against God, and God in God’s abundant mercy provided the people with an antidote to their sin. God commanded Moses to make a brass serpent and to put it on a pole so that everyone who had been bitten and infected by the poison of sin might look at the serpent and live pointing to the time when the ancient foe will finally be defeated.

Over time the Church began to see in this story a type of the cross, a prefiguring of that day when as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness the son of man was lifted up on the wood of the cross. On that day the offspring of eve did indeed strike the head of the serpent as God foretold  On that day our sin nailed an innocent Man to the cross and by his death, the power of sin has been destroyed, for just as the people of Israel came face to face with the serpent of sin, their ancient foe so we are forced to face the consequences of our own sin as we look on him who was pierced for our transgressions so that we might not perish in our sins.

While it may not have been forty years, over the last five weeks, we too have been on a journey through the wilderness, because following the example of our Lord we have been called to go into the desert places of our own hearts to do battle with our distorted thoughts and desires, those things which break our communion with God, with one another and with all creation. Over the last five weeks, as we have examined the innermost secrets of our hearts, I would be willing to wager that we too have found sins, weights, and worries that are too big for us to bear. Today, and every day when we gather around this Holy Table God through the Church gives us the opportunity to acknowledge our sin against God and against one another. We are given the opportunity to ask for God’s forgiveness and healing. So, my friends, I invite you all to seize that opportunity today. Come with all those sins, weights, and worries that are too difficult to bear, come to the son of the man who was lifted high upon the cross. Come for he has defeated the serpent of sin; that ancient foe. Come for he has conquered the power of death. Come for with him is the healing we all desperately need and as you look upon the cross and see the consequences of your sin, feed on him who in these holy sacraments we are about to receive, seeks to make us whole and restore that which we have broken. So that, as we approach the days of the paschal mystery we may with hearts made clean enter into the joy of his eternal life, the promised land that surpasses all that we can ask or imagine.