Snakes in the Camp—Sunday before Holy Cross

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.

At Babel (Genesis 11:1–9), mankind sought to build a Tower that the Most High might be brought down to Earth: and God, who had already promised to our Forefather Noah that he would not again destroy all flesh (Genesis 9:8–17), instead scattered the nations and confused the tongues.  God cannot be brought down, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, by the power of men but only by his own Grace.

“No one has ascended into heaven,” says the Lord to Nicodemus, a pharisee and ruler of the Jews, “but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven.”  God cannot be forced into action, cannot be compelled down: but Christ, the Son of Man, has voluntarily come down and dwells among his people.  Yet I, like the Children of Israel, have allowed snakes into the camp.

And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

Numbers 21:5–6

Through my sin—my own murmuring against God—he has temporarily removed his protection and cobras and vipers have entered the camp; through my own sin I expose myself to death.  And in this crisis, this choice, I can continue my murmuring—even as catastrophe continues around me—or, like the Children in the wilderness, I can look to the living God.

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”  So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Numbers 21:7–9

And that which was a foretaste in the Law has now come to its fulness; “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” says the Lord, “so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him”—which is to say, “is faithful to him”—“may have eternal life.”

We look to the Cross, we gaze at the Cross, we marvel at the Cross for “by the Cross has joy come into the world.” (A Hymn of Sunday Matins)  By setting the Cross before myself, as we will celebrate this week on the Universal Exaltation of the Holy Cross, then even if I am bitten, the venom will have no power over me.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot control God, cannot force him to do anything, yet he has freely chosen to come down to us.  Let your heart be a fitting dwelling-place for him: driving out sin by looking to the Cross.  May the Cross be our joy, the source of our longing, the power of our prayer.

The Cross is the guardian of the whole world; the Cross is the support and staff of the faithful; the Cross is the beauty of the Church of Christ; the Cross is the mighty strength of kings; the Cross is the glory of Angels; it is the wounding of demons.

Exapostilarion of the Holy Cross

That by the Cross we may drive out all sin and come to knowledge of the one God and Father through his Only-begotten Son by the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Brethren, see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.
— Galatians 6:11–18

The Lord said, “No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven. And 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. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
— John 3:13–17