Snakes are mentioned in our first reading (Numbers 21:4-9). The snakes are poisonous, and God sends them in judgment – so they are very threatening, on the one hand. On the other hand, in the story, obeying God and looking to a bronze image of the snake in faith could heal a person. Another positive element is that in the Hebrew Scriptures, a type of angel, “the seraphim” – depicted as a snake with wings, uses the same word.
There are other things that can be either threatening, or healing. Digitalis is like that – on the one hand, it is poisonous. On the other hand, a small dosage of digitalis can be a life saver for a heart patient. There are two ways of looking at the same thing – one way of looking leads to death; the other way of looking leads to life.
Our gospel reading (John 3:14-21) connects with that first reading. First, it quotes the ancient story of the snakes (the seraphim) we have just read. Secondly, our gospel reading also speaks about two different ways of looking at the world. In the last line (v. 21) the word “see” appears. Throughout the Gospel of John, as in John chapter 9, “seeing” and “light” always include spiritual perception and vision.
A hundred years ago, people had no idea of television. Today, understanding and using electromagnetic waves, we can see a space craft landing on an asteroid far out in space. X-rays provide pictures of our inner bodies. Electromagnetic waves are invisible, but they are very powerful, providing us a different way of seeing everything.
God’s spirit is invisible, but it is very strong. When we are open to the spirit, we see everything from God’s point of view, and it changes everything. From God’s perspective the seraphim are like the cross: both are not threatening or bad, but they become the avenue of healing. Open to the spirit, we can see and receive the bread and the wine as the body and blood of Christ.
When we don’t see or follow God’s way, our way is doomed to futility in the long run. When we do see and follow God’s way, it can’t help but lead to healing, and endure forever.
The hymn “Come thou fount” ends with a prayer offering our heart and asking God to seal our heart. Let us open our hearts to be filled by God’s Spirit, so that we can see everything from God’s point of view.