In these pre-election days, media help politicians sow fear. Fear that we’ll run out of things like money, military, medicare. Fear that we’ll vote for the wrong party (not theirs). Cynicism and negativity reign supreme. The nuclear mess in Japan looms large as we prepare to honour Earth Day on Friday. Jesus looms, too, as he makes his way from the hallelujah Palm Sunday parade to the cross. This is a week of resurrection questions about our country, planet and faith. So I’m glad I know the snake story.
The Israelites, enslaved in Egypt, were free at last, walking through the desert to the promised land. When they got there, they knew, all would be well. Never again would they want or suffer: milk and honey, freedom, safety, abundance were just over the horizon.
But after a while, the wilderness journey seemed long and hard. Fear replaced optimism. What if they ran out of food and water en route? What if wild animals attacked, desert storms buried them? Worse, what if the promised land wasn’t even real, just a figment of the imagination of a guy who said God talked to him? When the poisonous snakes showed up, it was the last straw.
They confronted Moses: “Pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us!” Moses prayed, and God told him to make a poisonous serpent, set it on a pole and tell the people to look at it. I imagine him holding up the pole, bronze snake twined around, his beard and hair flying in the hot desert wind. I see him like a museum statue of Asclepius, the Greco-Roman god of medicine, whose similar pole is still used as the symbol of medicine.
In the story, God didn’t banish danger but promised that if the people looked into the face of their terror, they would live.
Flash forward to the Jesus story. He’s been nailed to a cross and died. His body has been hastily entombed, before the sunset signalling the start of Sabbath. For three days, his family and friends hide in terror. What if the soldiers come for us, too?
On the third day, filled with fear and love, the women go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. A radiant angel greets them: “Fear not. You are looking for Jesus, but he is risen.” What if they hadn’t gone to the tomb?
On Good Friday, congregations will be small; it’s scary to wait at the foot of the cross. But in full Easter churches, we’ll parade in lilies, hear the story and sing joyously. In the end, though, it’s no good. Easter is just a word unless we have the courage to lift our eyes to our fears.
We don’t have to look at the snake or wait at the cross alone. Once there, we’ll find others who have faith in the future and compassion for the now. We’ll see that it is the place where our own healing and inspiration await.
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