Serpents good and bad.

Signpost for Sunday 15th March, 4th in Lent: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21.

When I read the three readings I thought about life: life beyond hope: a gift.

The reading from Numbers carries in it the themes of strained relationships with God, punishment (serpents bit them), confession and relief from punishment, they could be healed by just looking at the model serpent that Moses made. This gave the people who had the faith to look a life beyond what they could hope for: having been bitten they were effectively dead.

In the gospel Jesus puts himself in the position of the model serpent: looking to him gives life.

The sixteenth verse in the third chapter of the gospel of John is one of the best known and loved in the New Testament. There are some who think that this verse, and those that follow, are the words of Jesus, and others think that they are a comment by the writer. I have to admit that I think that they are an explanatory comment, much like the opening verses of John’s gospel. Again we have the problem of a broken relationship, with separation from God taking away life, but God gives, through Christ a quality of life that is called eternal, and the freedom to walk in the light.

The epistle is making the same points, but with the explicit addition that the life we have comes by grace through faith.

Thinking about the life that is called eternal reminded me of a poem by George Herbert which describes this sort of life, and the way it works. It is worth quoting.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
such a way as gives us breath;
such a truth as ends all strife;
such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
such a light as shows a feast;
such a feast as mends in length;
such a strength as makes his guest.

Come my Joy, my Love, my Heart;
such a joy as none can move;
such a love as none can part;
such a heart as joys in love.

George (Blanchard, not Herbert)


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