4 Lent 12, Sunday March 18, 2012
Today is Laetere Sunday, the break in the middle of Lent, sometimes called Rose Sunday because of the rose colored vestments worn for Eucharist. On Rose Sunday the traditional Lenten fast was called off and we are allowed to rejoice. Laetere in Latin means “Rejoice.” Yea, Lent is almost over. We have made it this far. Easter is just around the corner.
Maybe like me you might feel a little guilty that you have not made more of Lent. This happens to me every year. I have all these good intentions but life always gets in the way. But the good thing is we are only half way through Lent. There are three more weeks to go. We can still save this season by focusing on the fact that we can still make it profitable.
The readings today really focus our attention. They are our typical difficult Lenten readings. Here is Israel in the desert. They have been wandering a long time and have not yet reached the Promised Land. In fact God has already told them that the whole generation that was taken out of Egypt will not reach the Promised Land. They have been too unfaithful. They have broken the Covenant God made with them and God is not happy about this.
So here they are, sort of waiting out their time. They are not happy. Even though God has feed them, they complain. They are tired of this food God has been giving them, the food that tastes like cakes baked with oil. They rebel against Moses and they rebel against God.
We are like them. We get angry with God because of what life has dealt us. There is no way to escape the hardness of the journey. And how does God respond? How about some snakes. You think things are bad now, well, you can have snakes then.
This seems like such a cruel way for a loving God to respond. You're unhappy? Well, I send you some snakes. And these snakes will bite you and you will die. How's that for a response to your complaining?
There is no question that God was angry with them. They had rebelled. They had broken the Covenant. On top of this they were complaining about their food and about their leadership. But Moses, good ole faithful Moses, cries out once more for mercy. And God gives them a remedy. The serpent becomes the cure for the serpent. Whoever looked on the bronze serpent lived, even if they had been bitten by a snake.
This is why the symbol for doctors today is a pole with two serpents. Oddly enough they are a sign of healing.
Of course all this was given to us for our instruction. And in today's Gospel reading the real meaning of these things is explained by Jesus. He says to Nicodemus, it is necessary, there is no way around it, it is binding that the Son of Man be fixed on a pole, be lifted up. And anyone who looks on him, who believes in him, will receive the life of the age to come.
And our famous John 3.16. This is how God loved the world. He sent his son, his only son, to rescue the world. Here we hear the echos of the story of Abraham and Isaac. God say to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son.” And here God sends his son, his only son, to rescue the world.
But even in this process, we can see there is rebellion. Even after all that God has done, after he has sent light into the world in the person of his son, people continue to love darkness rather than light. As St. Paul says in our Epistle, “All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Ephesians 2.3). In our own little corner, we can chose darkness over light.
This can all be very confusing, serpents and sons lifted up. God is trying to get us to come around. He shows us the cross with Jesus on it. There is a big, big lesson for us to learn by gazing on the cross. It will heal us. Sometimes we don't know why and we don't even know how. But when we look upon that cross with only son, we are healed.
All of our rebellion is washed away in a torrent of love. All of the snake bites are healed. We have come home. We are in the Promised Land. We have the life of the age to come.
So our mid-Lenten festival takes on a real meaning. We have reason to rejoice. Even in the midst of the desert, in the midst of our Lent, we can be filled with joy. The past three weeks fall into perspective. We have three weeks to come. We can be ready to celebrate Easter with even more joy than we thought possible.