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  • The Revd Canon Camellia Flanagan, TSSF

Lent 4 Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm107: 1-3, 17-22 Ephesians 2: 1-10 John 3:14-21 Laetare Mothering Sunday

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The words in our bible, prayerbook and liturgy are sacramental, full of symbolic meaning and invite us to explore the profound significance of baptism, salvation, healing, love. care and nurture.


As we reflect on the story of the Children of Israel, we are led to consider. “What might we be afraid of? “The Israelites in the desert had a fear of snakes but they learnt that they needed to trust God.  The apostle John sets us thinking about what we might fear, and the possibility of trusting God.  We might fear people finding out what we are really like or worse, being exposed to God’s light because of fear of what would be revealed.  Can we contemplate our fears and the possibility of trusting God, seeking joy and refreshment despite the lurking presence of fear?


After they had left Egypt, the Israelites set out from Mount Hor near Petra in Jordan, where Aaron had died and was buried, to go to the Red Sea.  They Travelled the long way round because the people of Edom would not let them travel through their country.  Food and water in the desert were scarce and we are told God provided mana for them to eat and pure lifesaving water to drink. They were fed up with eating the same thing for so long even though they prepared it in different ways with spices and herbs.  They were complaining a lot about it.  They complained against God and against Moses who was leading them until they learned an important lesson.                                                   


There are a lot of snakes in the desert that hide in the sand and people were bitten by the snakes and some died.  They interpreted this as God being angry with them and asked Moses to intercede, and so Moses prayed to God. With God’s instructions, Moses made a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole and anyone who was bitten who looked at it, lived through an act of God’s mercy. This taught a lesson in trusting God and enabled them to survive.

Archaeological history tells us that in parts of the land of Canaan images of a Serpent or snake deity have been found, which meant that people eventually forgot God and thought more of the image.


 How did they come to forget God?  They refused to obey God’s laws, they forgot the miracles God had done for them and their spirits were not faithful to God. It is easy for us to do the same, so from time to time can we remember and be thankful for all that God has done for us?  When the snake was lifted up on the pole in the desert the Israelites could not know the fuller meaning Jesus Christ would bring to this symbol.

The symbolism of the serpent being lifted up appears again in the gospel reading. The Apostle John tells us that Jesus explained that just as the Israelites were healed of their sickness by looking at the snake on the pole, all believers today can find salvation by looking to Jesus’ death on the cross.  The cross, a symbol of love, compassion and healing and the gift of eternal life.  


Psalm 107 reminds us that thankfulness to God should constantly be on the lips of those whom he has saved It hints at the distress in the desert at Sinai, but the psalm was written to celebrate the Jews return from their exile in Babylon and the verses included in today’s service refer to people in distress and how God rescues them. So much God has done for his people, that it is impossible to keep silent and not be thankful. When we live in God’s presence, we will not be able to keep this glorious experience to ourselves.

Love is a universal theme bridging the divine and earthly realms and is at the heart of our faith tradition. God is love. God loves. Every Christian knows this.                             

John 3 verse 16,17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”


God’s love is not static or self-centered.  It reaches out and draws others in. When you love someone dearly you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice.   God paid dearly with the life of his Son. Through love, Jesus accepted death and then offered new life.  When we unite ourselves with Christ’s perfect life, we can become good in God’s sight and alive with Christ.

In the symbol of Baptism, we die with Christ, we are symbolically drowned and come up out of the waters of death gasping for air, in other words breathing in new life that has been freely given to us.


Because of Christ’s resurrection, we know that we will be raised from the dead. (1 Corinthians 15:2-23) and we have been given the power to live as Christians now.             


These ideas are found in Paul’s image of sitting with Christ in the heavenly places. and eternally blessed as children of God. (Ephesians 1:3)   Our eternal life with Christ is certain because we are united in his powerful victory.


Can we remember, we are God’s work of art, his masterpiece? Our salvation is something only God can do. It is his powerful, creative work in us. As God considers us his works of art, we dare not treat ourselves or others with disrespect, but can we live, loved and cherished lives and share God’s saving love with others?


Today is also Mothering Sunday or Laetare Sunday. A celebration day, in the middle of the season of Lent.  Mothering Sunday was first celebrated in the UK around the 16 Century.   It became a tradition that, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, people would return to their mother church. the main church of the region or Cathedral for a special service. This pilgrimage was something of a holiday event, with domestic servants traditionally given the day off to visit their own families as well as their mother church.


Can we rejoice, be thankful and be refreshed by the mothering unconditional love of God who heals, saves, and restores meaning to every human life.  Can we remember this as we eat Simnel cake today? What we do shows what we are like. The gospel speaks of God who loves us, and who shows this love by acting. Can we seek to help and serve others with kindness, love and gentleness to serve Christ and build up the church as we share our lives with others?      Amen


The Reverend Canon Camellia Flanagan TSSF

Grafton Cathedral

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