Lectionary Readings:

Numbers 21:  4 – 9
Psalm 107: 1 – 3, 17 – 22
Ephesians 2: 1 – 10
John 3:  14 – 21

The rigours of the Lenten season are beginning to take their toll.  There are the ashen sunken faces of those who have given  up for Lent those things that perhaps they should never have indulged in the first place, and which they have every intention of returning to once the 40 days are over.  Also noticeable is the physical posture of folk, who because of their acts of penitence and self-flagellation have become bowed into the ‘crouch’ position by their efforts.  Hopefully everyone will be down on their knees in the next fortnight.

For all, help is at hand this Sunday in the guise of what is called ‘Refreshment Sunday”.  Like as in Advent this is a relaxing point just in case we get too fatigued. (We are allowed this because Sunday’s are not counted has being part of the 40 days of Lent.)  It seems to have got this name from years ago, when the Gospel reading for this particular Sunday in Lent was the account of the miracle of the “Loaves and Fishes”.  The Latin name for the Sunday is, Laetere Sunday.  This word means ‘Rejoice’, and is connected with the words in Isaiah 66, “Rejoice O Jerusalem………”. 

In the past 40 years or so, Mothers Day has come on the scene and is celebrated in the UK and other places on this day.  Mothering Sunday, not to be confused with Mothers Day, was in the past a day in mid-Lent when families gathered together and attended their Mother Church for worship.  It certainly never had anything to do with biological mothers. Perhaps its popularity owes much more to the Greeting Card industry than anything else.  We in the Church would do well to lay any emphasis this Sunday on the original meaning of Mothering Sunday.  It can be an uncomfortable day for some women and may cause some to feel excluded.

Numbers 21:

We don’t in the 3 year lectionary cycle pay many visits to this book.  This may be as well if the passages are like the one prescribed for today.  I have often wondered how the book got its name.  There are two passages in the book that speak about  censuses and if ‘counting by numbers’ is what a census is about that might be a clue to its name – but that is a non-starter.  The book apparently got the name by which we call it today, from the Latin word ‘bemidhbar’, that means “in the wilderness”.  Through the tortuous translations of the centuries we have ended up with “Numbers”.

The selected passage needs a lot of work doing on it if it is to have relevance and meaning for our congregations.  Snakes are not my favourite creatures.  I prefer fur on my pets.

Again, on the Israelite trek in the desert there is grumbling and grousing.  After a long time they are still a long way from reaching their destination.  The food God provides is horrible.  Manna is described in an earlier chapter as, “Cakes baked in oil” and is compared unfavourably with the rich fayre that was on the table in Egypt.  Cucumbers, Melons, Leeks and Onions (chap. 11).

In response to all their complaining God becomes both their enemy and redeemer.  The snakes, no doubt a real threat to people wandering in the desert, run loose among the people as punishment.  God, their friend, does not take them away but leaves the threat in force.  At the same time he provides a cure for their venomous bites, in the form of a bronze serpent lifted high, that they have only to look up to for a cure.

“Beneath the cross of Jesus,
 I vain would take my stand
The shadow of a mighty rock
within a weary land.”
“My sinful self my only shame
My glory all the cross”.

John 3

Although this passage contains the best known text in all of the NT, it is not this which calls for our attention this Sunday.  John 3:16 is a brilliant summary of the Christian faith but when it is used just as a ‘faith mantra’ it is robbed of much of its real value and power.  It pulls one up short to find Jesus in this verse saying that God loves this God-hating world so much that he is willing to give himself, in the form of Jesus, to save it.  What do we most need to hear this week?  About God’s love or his justice.  To tell about His promises or His judgements. 

There were certainly ‘snakes on the ground’ at the time when John wrote his gospel.  The young Christian community was dominated by the culture of the day which was prepared to destroy this new faith movement.  This may be why John’s division of humanity into two neat categories  was at that time necessary.  Those who loved darkness and those who loved light.  Those who do evil and those who do what is true.  Applied to our day this can lead to moral arrogance and a thinking that the world is so wicked that we are best out of it.

The setting of this passage is the visit of Nicodemus to Jesus. He, a leader of the Jews wants to know more. We are not told of Nicodemus’s thoughts at the end of the conversation, but is later defence of Jesus in a debate with the Jewish religious authorities and his actions after the crucifixion of Jesus, might lead us to believe that they were lasting ones. Nicodemus came out of the dark of the night into the presence of Jesus who is the ‘Light of the World’.

Verse 17 says that God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but to save it. In darkness we can only see dimly what is close at hand, but in the full-blown light, revealed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we get a larger view of God’s will and purpose for the world.

                      “Growing Light”
“The kingdom of God
is justice and joy’
for Jesus restores
what sin would destroy;
God’s power and glory in Jesus we know,
and here and hereafter
the kingdom shall grow”

John R


(Bryn Rees)


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