On September 14 the Orthodox Church celebrates the Elevation of the Holy Cross, one of the Twelve Great Feasts of its liturgical year, and Protestants who follow the Revised Common Lectionary will be reading from scripture the episode of the bronze serpent being lifted up in the wilderness, a prefiguration of Christ’s being raised on the cross. This passage plus a few other related ones are given below. (To view all five Holy Cross readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, click here.)
Numbers 21:4–9: From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
[For thus says the LORD God:]
“Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.”
John 3:14–15 (The Message): “In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real, eternal life.”
John 12:32: [Jesus answered,] “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
SONG: “Lift Him Up (How to Reach the Masses)” | Words by Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856–1922) | Music by Benjamin Burke (B. B.) Beall (1874–1945) | African American Heritage Hymnal #547
Life is wasted if we do not grasp the glory of the cross, cherish it for the treasure that it is, and cleave to it as the highest price of every pleasure and the deepest comfort in every pain. What was once foolishness to us—a crucified God—must become our wisdom and our power and our only boast in this world.
—John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (2003)
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To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Feast of the Cross, cycle A, click here.