Christ is in our midst!  He is and ever shall be!

In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

“’And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Eternal Life.’”

Today, the Church looks forward to the feast of the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Precious and Life-giving Cross all the while looking back to that time in the wanderings of Israel when our forebears in the Faith encountered the fiery serpents in the wilderness (Nm. 21:4-9).  In fact, it is our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ Who makes the connection for us, thus making this ancient encounter a “type.”  The Church understands Sacred Scripture through the use of types.  Listen to the wealth of her hymnody and there you will begin to see and understand how the Church sees and understands Holy Scripture and its divine saving and sanctifying events and persons.  The Church sees certain Old Testament images and personages as pre-figuring New Testament realities, as types of Christ and His Mother and the Church and all that they incorporate.  St. Augustine expressed it well when he said that the New Testament is hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.  Sometimes it is said that the types as found in the Old are promises fulfilled in the New by Christ and the Theotokos and the Church.  It is akin to the relationship of shadow and reality, of form and substance.  Passover is fulfilled in Pascha; the unburned burning bush is seen in the Theotokos and in theosis; the first Adam prepares us for the Second Adam, the Man from Heaven, while Eve points us to the New Eve as enshrined in the Theotokos.  The serpent “crucified” or lifted up in the wilderness points us to that most holy event of the holy precious and life-giving Cross upon which our Lord Jesus Christ was lifted up for the salvation of the whole world.  Not for our sins only, St. John the Theologian tells us, “but also for the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:1, 2).  So that “’whosoever believeth in Him should not perish [in death], but have Eternal Life [God’s own divine Life].’” 

If we recall the encounter of ancient Israel with the seraphic serpents, that is, those fiery serpents, whose venomous bite burned liked fire and sealed the death of all those bitten, comes about because of sin.  By now, starting with our primordial parents in Paradise, it should be clear to us, if we are properly attentive, that sin in our lives and in our world does not lead any of us to true and real Life; that it always kills.  I was tempted to say that nothing good ever comes of sin, but that would have been incorrect or could be, at least, misconstrued.  Because something good indeed has come from the bite of the serpent in the Garden: our salvation by the nail pierced hands of our incarnate God!  As St. Paul says elsewhere, “But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rm. 5:20-21).  Or, if you will, where death reigned, Eternal Life conquered and reigns supremely (Rm. 6:23).  The Fathers tell us that the incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ might have inevitably happened regardless because of its sheer necessity dictated by love; however, it most certainly happened because of Adam’s Fall.  And through his Fall – and because of it – we have received something far greater than originally planned through the coming of the Son of God in our flesh: we now have been joined to His divine nature (2 Pe. 1:4), “heirs according to the hope of Eternal Life” (Ts. 3:7)!

In the account preserved in the Book of Numbers, our forefathers and mothers of ancient Israel are found doing what they seemingly do frequently: they “spoke against God and against Moses.”  They complained faithlessly, questioning why they have been led up out of Egypt to the wilderness where they will most certainly die.  Despite God’s provision of the heavenly bread called mana (Nm. 11:6), the people nevertheless became extremely dissatisfied and complained bitterly against God and against God’s divinely appointed authority.  This becomes quite characteristic of Israel and is an attitude and practice condemned in the New Testament.  As a matter of judgment, God sends fiery serpents into the camp and those bitten died, until the people confessed their sin and repented.  True to His divine mercy and compassion, our God Who loves mankind answered the prayers of His Prophet who interceded on their behalf and instructed Moses to erect a bronze serpent on a pole, and anyone bitten could behold the serpent, look upon the serpent, gaze upon the serpent of brass, and live (Nm. 21:4-9).

This event in the life of Israel becomes a key event, not solely of judgment, but moreso of salvation.  In fact, this event is really the experience of Adam and Eve repeated again and again and again, not only in Israel, but in our lives.  God provides, man transgresses and receives the reward or consequence God had foretold, and then God in great mercy and compassion saves those whom He loves and has created.  The Wisdom of Solomon as found in the Old Testament provides a wonderful commentary on this event.  He says:

For when the horrible fierceness of beasts came upon Thy people, and they perished with the stings of crooked serpents, Thy wrath endured not forever; but they were troubled for a short season, that they might be admonished, having a sign of salvation to put them in remembrance of the commandment of Thy Law.  For he that turned himself toward it was not saved by the thing that he saw, but by Thee, Who art the Saviour of all.  And in this Thou made Thine enemies confess that it is Thou Who deliverest from evil.  For the biting grasshoppers and flies [in Egypt] killed them [the Egyptians], neither was there found any remedy for their life; for they were deserving to be punished by such.  But the very teeth of venomous dragons overcame not Thy sons, for Thy mercy was ever by them and healed them.  For they were pricked, that they should remember Thy words, and were quickly saved, that not falling into deep forgetfulness they might be continually mindful of Thy goodness.  For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that restored them to health, but Thy Word, O Lord, which healeth all things.  For Thou hast power of life and death; Thou leadest to the gates of [Hades] and bringest up again (WS. 16:5-13).

Solomon sees in this event the very act of divine mercy, compassion, and grace.  Though sin is judged, God’s mercy and salvation prevails!  God lifts up a sign of salvation in the midst of the erring people so that they would not be disheartened.  For as Sacred Scripture also testifies, God does not desire the death of the sinner nor does He take pleasure in it (Ek. 18:23; 33:11).  But rather, what delights the heart of God but that sinners should all come to repentance and to the knowledge of the Truth and so be saved (1 Tm. 2:4; 2 Pe. 3:9).  It is delusion for us to believe our Father in Heaven delights in the death of His children or takes pleasure in judgment.  Indeed, Solomon assures us God’s wrath (which is what we experience when we are at odds with God; death is, in reality, experienced as wrath), God’s wrath is short lived so as to lead us back to Him, to turn our hearts and minds to Him.  God’s judgment upon Adam and Eve in the form of driving them out of Paradise so as not to partake of the Tree of Life and so make eternal their death was really an act of profound love and mercy on His part.  He did so that they – and we who inherit their death – might be saved. 

Death is not foisted upon the couple because God is angry.  Death is a “natural” result of severing ties with the God of Life, something God forewarned (Gn. 2:17).  Indeed, Solomon once more bears witness in the opening chapter of his Wisdom, “For God made not death; neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living.  For He created all things, that they might have their being.”  On the contrary, ungodly souls summoned death “with their works and words,” he says, “and made a covenant with it” (WS 1:13-14, 16).  Death, beloved, is not the work of God Almighty.  But rather, it is the delight and the work of the devil’s envy of man who bears the image of God’s own eternity and is created by God for immortality (WS 2:23-24).  The devil, as a fallen angel closest once to God, envies us, especially now since the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ!  Sacred Scripture again assures us that the hope of Eternal Life was promised by God before time began (Ts. 1:2).  Because we are in His image, we are created for eternity just as He is eternity. 

And so, we come to today’s Holy Gospel and possibly to the best known and most loved passage of Scripture: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life.”  But, we also need to hear that follow up verse, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  Jesus comes because of divine love for the world created by the hand of God and marred by man’s sin due to the envy of the devil.  Jesus, the Son of God, comes precisely to reverse the curse and to re-make death by His Resurrection our gateway to Eternal Life.  Jesus, as God, is born of the Blessed Virgin so that God might partake of our flesh and die a death He did not have to experience – to take upon Himself our curse (Rm. 8:3; 2 Cr. 5:21) – and in so doing, to “destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were . . . subject to bondage” (Hb. 2:14-18; 1 Jn. 3:8). 

Of course, we also know as well the verses that follow today’s Holy Gospel, that there remain many who prefer death and darkness to Life and Light (Jn. 3:18-21).  Sin is powerful, to be sure, but the Son of God has “trampled down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing Life” (Paschal Troparion).  And all who believe in the Son of God – who gaze upon Him in the obedience of faith, who behold the Lamb of God high and lifted up Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29, 36) – will not perish in death but have His own Eternal Life.  It is God the Saviour of all, Solomon says, Who heals and saves those who look to the One lifted high upon the Cross.  “For it was neither herb nor mollifying plaster that restored them to health,” Solomon declares, “but Thy Word, O Lord, which healeth all things” (WS 16:5-13).  The Word of God made flesh by Whom all things have come into existence from non-being is made sin for us so that we who are sinners might find health and salvation in Him by the obedience of our faith (Jn. 1:1-18; Rm. 8:3; 2 Cr. 5:21).  For “Thy Word, O Lord, [made flesh] healeth all things” (Ps. 106 [107]:20; WS 16:5-13)

“’And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Eternal Life.’”

Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us.  Amen.

Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!


Ga. 6:11-16

Jn. 3:13-17