Sermon: Lent 4 RCL B – “Snake”

Photo by Andrea Junqueira on Unsplash

Boudreaux been fish’n down da bayou all day and he done run outa night crawlers. He got reddy bout to leave when he seen a big snake wif a frog in his mouf. He knowed dat dem big bass fish like dem frogs, so he decided to steal dat frog.
Dat snake, he be a cotton mouf water moccasin, so he had to be real careful or he’d git bit. He snuk up behin’ dat snake and grabbed him roun da haid. Dat ole snake din’t lak dat one bit. He squirmed and wrap hisself roun’ Boudreaux’s arm try’n to git hisself free. But, Boudreaux, he gotta real good grip on his haid, yeh.

Now, Boudreaux knows dat he cain’t let go dat snake or he’s gonna bite him good, but he had a plan. He reach into da back pocket of his bib overalls and pulls out a pint a moonshine licker. Den he pour some a’dat into da snake’s mouf. Well, dat snake’s eyeballs kinda roll back in his haid and he turned loose of dat frog and he started licking up dat moonshine licker.

Well, Boudreaux now got da frog, and den puts it in his bait can. Wit dat, Boudreaux toss dat snake into de bayou. Den, he goes back fish’n.

A while later, Boudreaux dun feel sumpin’ tappin’ on his barefoot toe. He slowly look down, and dare wuz dat big water moccasin, ‘wit two more frogs’!

The snake has been with us from the very beginning and just like ol’ Boudreaux’s drinking buddy, it has always been crafty.

In our first lesson, we read about he Israelites in the desert and they have begun their whining against Moses and the Lord. The Lord, not wanting to put up with that type of behavior, sends the snake as an instrument of punishment. A bit like, “If you think this is bad, let me show you how it can get even worse.” The snakes bit them and they died. They repented of their whining and came to Moses looking for salvation from the snakes, so the Lord told Moses to create a bronze snake and lift it up on a pole, so that when they are bitten, they may look upon the bronze snake and live. Put another way, after being bitten, the people had to look upon and face their own death—represented by the snake, lifted up on the pole… they had to face their own death, which was the consequence of their rebellion against God, in order to have life. In our Gospel reading, Jesus took that event, and applied it to himself. How does that work? In order to know the answer, we have to go back to the beginning to the first Adam and the original snake.

We are familiar with the story: “The serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.” And the snake deceived Eve with his words, and Eve, “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” When they ate the fruit, they were spiritually bitten by the snake. The snakes poison entered into them and with it came death. However, the poison was not limited to just Adam. St. Paul writes, “Sin came into the world through one man — Adam — and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” Through Adam’s sin, sin and death entered us all.

Jesus also encountered this same snake. The first time was shortly after his baptism: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down” from the pinnacle. Showing him all the kingdoms of the world, the snake said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” When these attempts failed, we are told, that the snake departed from him “until an opportune time,” which came when the same snake slithered out in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night before Jesus was crucified. Scripture gives no indication as to what form this temptation took, but we know that the battle was great, for we are told that in his distress, Jesus sweat drops of blood. Yet, Jesus persevered and remained faithful to the Father: “Not my will, but yours be done.” The poison did not enter him.

The snake bit and poisoned the Israelites as they wandered in the desert. In order to live, they had to look upon their own death, the consequence of their rebellion against God. The snake bit and poisoned Adam and Eve, and through Adam’s sin, we have also been poisoned. The snake bit Adam and Eve, the Israelites, and please don’t force me to count the number of times I have been bitten. Therefore, like the Israelites, we too must look upon our own death, the consequence of our rebellion against God. As Jesus was the only one not poisoned, then he is the only one that we can look upon who can save us. From our Gospel, Jesus said, “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.”

Like the bronze serpent that was lifted up on the pole, Jesus is lifted up on the cross, and it is only by gazing upon him, looking at our own death, and believing in him, that we have eternal life.

Speaking of those who were gathered around the Cross, St. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.”

The snake poisoned our flesh and our souls, bringing separation from God and eternal death; therefore, turn your eyes to Jesus lifted high upon the cross and live. St. Teresa of Avila said, “Reflect carefully on this, for it is so important that I can hardly lay too much stress on it. Fix your eyes on the Crucified and nothing else will be of much importance to you.” (Interior Castle)

Let us pray (Christaraksha, India):
May the cross of the Son of God,
which is mightier than all the hosts of Satan
and more glorious than all the hosts of heaven,
abide with you in your going out and in your coming in.

By day and by night, at morning and at evening,
at all times and in all places may it protect and defend you.
From the wrath of evildoers, from the assaults of evil spirits,
from foes visible and invisible, from the snares of the devil,
from all passions that beguile the soul and body:
may it guard, protect and deliver you.
Amen.

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