Posted on Mon, Apr 4, 2011
April 4, 2011 Lynne Gilgore
23rd Day of Lent Numbers 21:4-9
The first time the serpent appears in the great stories of the Torah, it was in a garden. The serpent was blamed for turning humankind away from God and into a world of suffering and pain. Here in this desert story, the serpent has returned again, revealed this time as the very inflictor of pain, suffering, and even death. It must have seemed to the Israelites as if that snake was winning—suffering and death continuing to bite and sting and kill, even though the people had listened to Moses and followed God out of Egypt on this wilderness journey. As the people’s fear threatened to overcome their trust in God, God used the symbol of their fear to let them know they must keep faith—God was in control.
Picture it! A twisting, metal serpent, nailed to a pole and lifted up to God, intended to remind the frightened ones that their trouble could not overcome them—deliberately hung high so the people would look up and have faith, remembering to offer their fears to God, to trust in the one who had brought them through so much already. God’s message to his people: ‘The symbol of suffering and pain is nailed to a pole! Look up and remember that God saves! Remember— the serpent did not win in the garden, and the serpent will not win in the desert!’
But the Israelites did not understand… they would end up actually turning the serpent into an idol, even making sacrificial offerings to it as if it was, itself, a god.
And centuries later, when God had stepped into human flesh and into the human experience of suffering, Jesus would say, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Pain and suffering, even death, are in the hands of God, who saves, who redeems. We ask, why must we have the pain and suffering? I find no answer that satisfies, but if we look up, we may find that beyond pain, suffering and death, is our God, who saves, and who accompanies us through every human experience.
Lent is a good time to consider what it means that, in Jesus Christ, God makes a way for us to enter into the heart and mystery of God’s love. God stepped into the experience of our human suffering in order that we might be saved. Julian of Norwich called this intentional connecting between God and us a “one-ing”…
As I wonder what it means to lift up the symbol of our suffering, I imagine what it would have been like to step into Jesus’ experience… and I give thanks that he has always been with me in mine.
A Prayer for Lent
We wrap these weeks in purple,
Purple is for velvet robes laid out for a King;
for brave crocuses peeking up through snow;
dark circles under sleepless eyes;
long shadows of the darkest night.
Purple is for getting ready.
We wrap these weeks in purple.
Wrap me in purple, too.
Point my face toward Jerusalem,
Let me wear royal robes with you,
and bravery like the crocus,
bruises and dark circles like you wore
through the darkest night—
Wrap me up in you,
and make me strong enough for the one-ing.
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