Fourth Sunday of Lent: Looking Up
The other day, I attended a little concert of Oxford’s most likeable wind quintet OULikeIt!. It was a wonderful occasion in the little chapel of Lincoln College, Oxford. The music was great and helped me to relax after a hectic final week of term. When I left the chapel, I felt re-energised, joyful.
During the concert, I noticed that the East-window of the chapel contained a summary of the New Testament at the top and the Old Testament below. The scenes from the Old Testament mirrored the scenes from the New Testament. So the Creation story of Genesis and the creation of the first man, Adam, was mirrored by the birth of Christ (the New Adam). And the passage of the people of Israel through the Red Sea was mirrored by the baptism of Christ in the Jordan. And so on.
One set of windows, clearly took it’s inspiration from today’s gospel: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14). The lower window depicts the first scene, from Numbers (21:8-9), and the upper window shows us the Crucifixion. But what is the relationship between these two scenes?
In the book of Numbers, we read that the Israelites were dying from the bites of poisonous serpents. Moses prayed for the people, and the Lord ordered Moses to make a serpent of bronze and set it on a pole, so that whenever a serpent had bitten someone, this person should look at the serpent of bronze and live.
As we recall, the snake was the animal that lured Adam and Eve into sin. So one way of reading this story could be that the Israelites were plagued by, and dying from, sin. And by looking at something that outwardly represented sin, the form of a snake, but inwardly wasn’t (just a bronze), they were healed.
The same thing happens to us when we look at Christ on the Cross. Outwardly, He looks just like an ordinary sinful human being. But He has not sinned, and He is God.
Now one could think that just by looking at Jesus, lifted up on the Cross, we will be saved. But actually, there is more. In a way, there are two more occasions were Jesus, the Son of Man, is being lifted up; at the Resurrection, when He is raised from the death, and the Ascension into Heaven.
All in all, Christ is lifted up three times before our eyes. Three times, that is a very clear sign. God is patient; He wants to draw our attention in order to persuade us to let go of our sins, and to look towards Christ. So that we will have eternal life.
That is good news. That’s why we call this ‘Laetare’-Sunday, a Sunday to rejoice, half-way towards Easter.