And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. "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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. -John 3:14-21
About This Week's Prompts for Meditation
Crux Est Mundi Medicina
When I worked at Holy Cross Monastery (West Park, NY) in the late 80's and early 90's, my desk (in what is now the gift shop) faced a window looking across the driveway to the entrance to the Guesthouse. Many times a day I read the words carved above the door: "Crux est Mundi Medicina" (The Cross is the Medicine of the World). I particularly needed healing at that time in my life, and I gazed upon the text like the desperate Israelites surrounded by poisonous snakes, looked upon the brazen serpent lifted up upon the pole (Numbers 21:4-9).
John's Gospel takes the brazen serpent as a prefiguring, or "type" for the lifting up of Jesus on the life-saving cross. Today's meditations draw the reader toward the cross as a balm for sins (meditation one), the cross as the medicine of the world (meditation two), and the cross as a flowering tree of life (meditation three).
I hope your meditations bring you deep healing, -Suzanne
Crucified Serpent, Nicholas Flamel, 1330-1418,
Meditation One (introit) gaze on Christ crucified
Meanwhile brethren, that we may be healed from sin, let us now gaze on Christ crucified; for "as Moses," saith He, "lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth on Him may not perish, but have everlasting life." Just as they who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites, so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins.
- Augustine Tractate XII ch.3 Homilies on the Gospel of John
The Cross in the Universe
So by the obedience, whereby He obeyed unto death, hanging on the tree, He undid the old disobedience wrought in the tree. And because He is Himself the Word of God Almighty, who in His invisible form pervades us universally in the whole world, and encompasses both its length and breadth and height and depth - for by God's Word everything is disposed and administered - the Son of God was also crucified in these, imprinted in the form of a cross on the universe; for He had necessarily, in becoming visible, to bring to light the universality of His cross, in order to show openly through His visible form that activity of His: that it is He who makes bright the height, that is, what is in heaven, and holds the deep, which is in the bowels of the earth, and stretches forth and extends the length from East to West, navigating also the Northern parts and the breadth of the South, and calling in all the dispersed from all sides to the knowledge of the Father.
-Irenaeus Against Heresies, IV, 20,
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
A serpent is impaled! The wounded recover from the viper's poison.
A unicorn is snared! Hunters drag it to the royal court.
A pelican is gutted! See how sinners lap up its life-giving blood.
A phoenix blazes up! And with it burns the wickeness of the world.
The crocodile swallows a hydra! But then the hydra begins to eat.
A lion sleeps three days! The foolish basilisk dares to rouse it.
Praise the waking lion! Praise the dying lamb!
A Latin conductus (processional song) from the Swiss Engleberg manuscript 314, copied in the 1370's quoted from Triduum, vol. 1, Liturgy Training Publications
Tree of Life, Mosaic, San Clemente, Rome, 12th century
Meditation Two (insight) The Cross is the Medicine of the World
Crux est porta paradisi, In qua sancti sunt confisi, Qui vicerunt omnia. Crux ext mundi medicina, Per quam bonitas divina Facit mirabilia.
Lo, the cross is heaven’s portal, In which trust the saints immortal, Who have conquered in the fight. This world find the cross its healing, God’s own goodness still revealing By its wonder-working might.
Monastic hymn, Bonaventure (first verse)
Even in the new Jerusalem, in heaven itself, it hath pleased thee to discover a tree, which is a tree of life there, but the leaves thereof are for the healing of the nations. (Rev.22:2) Life itself is with thee there, for thou art life; and all kinds of health, wrought upon us here by thine instruments, descend from thence.
-John Donne Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, ch 4 Mediscusque vocatur The physician is sent for
Meditation Three (integration) Tree of Life
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents -Luke 15:10
The Devil speaks:
Now then, Hades, mourn And I join in unison with you in wailing. Let us lament as we see The tree which we planted Changed into a holy trunk. Robbers, murderers, tax gatherers, harlots, Rest beneath it, and make nests In its branches In order that they might gather The fruit of sweetness From the supposedly sterile wood. For they cling to the cross as the tree of life.
-Romanos, Sixth Century
Koztakia of Romanos, translated and annotated by Marjorie Carpenter. Published by University of Missouri Press, 1970 quoted in Triduum (Liturgy Training Publications)
The Last Word
Christ was tempted in the desert; and if you are to put on his nature, you must go through his Journey, from the Incarnation to the Ascension. And though you are neither able nor expected to be able to do what he did, still you must enter wholly into his Process, and die continually to sin. For Sophia (Wisdom) is wed to the soul only through that quality which springs up in the soul through the death of Christ. Then it flowers as a new plant in Eternity.
Jacob Boehme nails it, I think, when he says, “if you are to put on his nature, you must go through his Journey, from the Incarnation to the Ascension. And though you are neither able nor expected to be able to do what he did, still you must enter wholly into his Process …”
I think most of us do everything we can, unconsciously, mostly, to detach ourselves from The Story and stand by, observing from a safe distance. But the point of The Story is this: the Christ event was not a bittersweet event long ago that we reenact liturgically and aesthetically to settle some faint longing within. The Story is a template of our own innermost truth. To live we must die.
But Boehme is gentle. While he says “You are neither able nor expected to be able to do what he did...” something is expected. Something unique that is mine and yours – our own response in our own times in our own situations to the call of God to be fully human and to come to consciousness as best we can in this world.
The world is harsh. Phyllis Tickle writes:“And what the story recognizes is that all of us are going to be bitten—painfully bitten—in this life. Most of us learn that truth fairly quickly just from experience. But, according to the story, it is not the being bitten that we in this imperfect world can do anything about; it is only the how we respond to being bitten that we can control. When we look up, usually we are saved by that very act of faith for it is when we look down and struggle with what is tormenting us that we most often empower it by the very attention we are going to give it.” [“A Serpent in the Desert”]
I have been overpowered by the sting from time to time. But what comfort I take in the image in Romano's poem of making a nest in the tree of life:
Robbers, murderers, tax gatherers, harlots, Rest beneath it, and make nests In its branches In order that they might gather The fruit of sweetness From the supposedly sterile wood. For they cling to the cross as the tree of life.