by Rev. Carla Christopher-Wilson
The story in Numbers that this week’s John passage references in passing is actually a striking one. The Israelites are struggling along a meandering desert path, riddled with anxiety. There are venomous snakes all around, called up by the Israelites in their agitation over the discomfort of their journey. The desert wanderers are being bitten, some are writhing in pain. God could shorten their journey, bring the Israelites to a snake-free land of milk and honey. God could just get rid of all the snakes. That would solve the problem as well. Instead, God calls Moses to make a bronze serpent that those who look upon it will be healed.
Why does this matter? Because there is a lesson in being forced to look upon the thing that we caused, that we called up, that we wildly underestimated in our short-sighted and selfish vision. We must confront our demons and look them in the eyes before we can truly see where we went wrong and start to make it right. Whew. Uncomfortable. Harsh even, for a God of endless love and mercy. In looking our viper in the eye, though, we can find the difference between avoidance and the possibility of true healing.
Vaccines are beginning to roll out. Infection rates are finally starting to go down in many states. Warmer weather is coming. A new president and many local politicians are in office who are flying rainbow flags and issuing executive orders against discrimination. How tempting, how easy it would be to say “let’s get back to ‘normal'”. “Normal” here in Pennsylvania was the ability to be fired from my job or evicted from my housing because of my sexual orientation. It was medical care and civic offices and school districts and yes, churches, visiting inexcusable ignorance or active harm upon LGBTQIA+ people as well as Black and brown and disabled people. It was relentless productivity and chronic exhaustion. Like the slavery in Egypt, it was nothing to go back to just because recent times have been excessively difficult.
If you are tempted in this season, exhausted by months of racial conflict, LGBTQIA+ assault, the oppression of immigrants, and the exploitation of the poor, to simply stop looking, I beg you to reconsider. A desire to forget did not serve our Israelite siblings. They could not be healed until they looked into the face of their communal sin. Practice self-care. Steep yourself in that which strengthens your spirit. Rest for a time. Then get back up and continue this necessary and restorative journey toward justice. Those who cannot see the broken and marginalized body of Christ, who cannot bear to look upon it, are lost. Those who refuse to look away are healed…and able to see that body resurrected. Easter is coming, beloveds. Keep striving with me so that we don’t miss it.
Jesus of fierce advocacy born of endless compassion, give us courage to stand alongside our siblings in times of need and not turn away from the ugliness of oppression for the sake of comfort. Inspire us and sustain us that we may survive this wilderness and root out our own bias and internalized pain, so that we can look upon you and experience all the love you embody. In your holy name we pray, Amen.
The Rev. Carla Christopher Wilson (she/her) serves as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation and Outreach for Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Lancaster, PA and Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries for Lower Susquehanna Synod. A former Poet Laureate who still moonlights with a funk fusion band, Carla lives to spread the artist-activist gospel of cultural competency.