Snake on a Pole.
S.o.a.P (Snakes on a Plane) was the first ever Hollywood movie which emerged as a result of an online discussion with some scriptwriters and all who wanted to be part of it. The whole story including the plot and other details were contributed by people from all around the world, resulting in fantastic thriller of a movie.
But the title of this note is Snake on a Pole. It’s about a thrilling insight I learnt of two weeks back. Since we are still on the journey to the cross, this meditation might help us look at our selves in the light of the saving work of Christ.
On Wednesday the 6th of march, the Churches of the Eastern and Syriac tradition observed mid-lent (Middle of the 50 days lent that commemorates Jesus’ Christ’s journey to the Cross. On the day of mid-lent, there is a special service in the Mar Thoma Syrian Church, as well as other churches in the Syrian tradition, in order to bring to mind the saving work of Christ- also called as redemption. On that day, a major Bible portion that is read is the book of Numbers chapter 21 (The same portion is also read on the second evening of Holy Week as well as the third service on Good Friday in the Mar Thoma Church).
There we see the most interesting symbol – a snake lifted up on a pole.
Snakes and Christianity? Are you serious?
Rev. Dr. V. S. Varghese, Ph. D, our Religions Professor explains that in ancient cultures the snake was a symbol of some of the fertility cults. Here fertility cults were not only about procreation, but also sustenance of life. But the problem with Israel which went after fertility cults was that they submitted themselves to the life negating practices, which was abominable to God. Some of them even required human sacrifice and immoral practices. God had warned them from messing around them.
But here, the snake was a symbol of regeneration. Snakes shed their skin and obtain their new skin. This symbolism meant regeneration and new life and thus, the symbol of the snake in the narrative in Numbers 21. When people saw the snake raised up on a pole by Moses, according to God’s order, they were saved from dying, despite their sins.
In the New Testament, we see the parallels in Jesus being lifted up on the cross (John 12:32). The phrase “lifted up” has captured great interest of Biblical scholars who juxtapose it with Numbers 21. It meant Jesus was now the one that could save. Look at the cross and you can be freed from sin- sin, which leads to a loss of real living. Instead, those who seek Christ will have abundant life. So Jesus’ crucifixion was now the new symbol of healing and redemption. The symbol of punishment and death (the cross) was turned by Jesus into a symbol of new life!
Barnabas thirumeni (Rt. Rev. Joseph Mar Barnabas, Bishop of the Adoor Diocese of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church) joined our worship this evening at the chapel and in his homily, he mentioned something very interesting. He said, twice in the Holy Communion, there is an act of elevation (lifting up). The first is just before reading the Gospel, also termed Evangelion/Euangelion(Syriac/Greek) – the preacher lifts up the Bible saying that it is the Goodnews, the gospel of Jesus Christ that proclaims life and salvation to all. It is a deliberate display so that all may see! No one should miss it!
The Second is when the Holy Elements are brought forward. There the priest stands in the sanctuary facing the worshippers and lifts up the elements saying, in a poetic manner, The holy body and blood of Lord Jesus Christ , broken and shed on Golgotha /Calvary is given to your for the forgiveness of your sins…”
The body and blood are elevated before the people so that none may miss it.
He says, the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist invite you to the abundant life promised by God through Jesus. Both the Word and the Eucharist can lead you to the Christ who saves. Therefore they are lifted up. Barnabas Thirumeni went a step ahead and said when the priest elevates both, he is elevating Christ – the Christ revealed in the Word of God ( the scriptures, the Bible) and the Christ, who is the Bread of life!Therefore, the elevation is an invitation to new life. It is an invitation for all those who have lost hope and the fullness of life to look at Jesus Christ who saves us from sin, mediocrity and gives us life abundant.
The cross is a graphic picture of the Saviour’s invitation from the cross. He’s lifted up for all the world to see. He redeems. And you are invited,.
Elevation. Invitation. Redemption.