Sign of the Cross
Opening Question: Have you ever met someone who was afraid of snakes? Why did they fear the animals?
First Reading: Numbers 21:4b-9
Jerri liked snakes, unlike her friends. In fact, she had a boa constrictor named "Squeeze." Every day, she would take the snake from its cage and gently play with it. Then, she would return Squeeze to its cage and feed it a mouse. She thought Squeeze was a great pet. And she would talk about her snake to any one who was listen. But, most people wanted to change the subject when she talked about Squeeze.
One day, Jerri had an opportunity to show Squeeze off before her class. The science segment of her class focused on reptiles. When her teacher heard she had a snake, she invited Jerri to bring Squeeze to class. The next day, Jerri brought her pet in its big cage.
When everyone saw the snake the next day, there were two reactions. The boys thought the snake was cool. The girls stepped away in terror from Jerri and Squeeze. No one in the class said "Whatever" when the animal was discussed.
That afternoon, the excitement died down. Jerri's teacher thought it might be a good time for her to present and discuss her pet. Jerri began by taking Squeeze from its cage. Jerri could handle the snake because it had not grown to full length. Jerri allowed Squeeze to coil around her arm. "This is how boa constrictors kill their victims," she stated. "Then squeeze them until they die. Then, they eat them whole." Again, the boys looked amazed. The girls looked shocked.
Then Jerri uncoiled the snake and held it above her head.
"Is Squeeze poisonous?" someone asked.
"No, it's safe to handle, if you know what you're doing," she answered.
"What does it feel like?" someone else asked.
"Why don't you come up and touch it," Jerri answered.
With her teacher's permission, everyone in the class came up and touched Squeeze, even the girls. At first, a few students squealed when the felt the leathery smooth skin of the snake. But fear turned to interest. At the end of the presentation, Jerri returned Squeeze to its cage. The boys were still excited. But the girls were no longer stepping back. Some of them smiled. One of the girls actually agreed that Jerri's presentation was the best science class they had in a long time.
Why were some of the students in Jerri's class afraid? Because snakes are strange creatures with evil reputations. But, once you know how to handle a non-poisonous snake, the fear usually goes away.
Like Jerri, Moses showed the people they did not have to fear the snake. Unlike Jerri, Moses told the people did not have to fear even poisonous snakes. As long as they looked up to God and trusted in his power.
Jerri held up Squeeze to show her class they had nothing to fear. Moses held up a bronze snake to show the Israelite they had nothing to fear. As long as we look up to God, we will have nothing to fear.
Bridging Question: When was the last time you saw someone where a cross? Was the cross on a necklace? Why do you think the person wore the cross?
Gospel: John 3:13-17
Jesus said to Nicodemus the Pharisee:
No one has gone up to heaven, except the Son of Man, who came down from heaven. Just as Moses lifted up a snake image made from bronze in the desert, the Son of Man needs to be lifted up, so that everyone who places their trust in him will live forever in him.
God loved the world so very much that he gave the world his only Son. Everyone who places their trust in the Son will not be lost, but will live forever. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world 'guilty,' but to save the world.
On Tommy's First Communion, his grandmother gave him a silver cross on a gold colored chain. Throughout the next summer, Tommy wore his cross with pride. But, in the first days of school, Tommy put his cross in his top draw along with the other special things he collected. And he slowly forgot about the gift.
A few years passed. One day, his mother received a phone call. Tommy knew something was wrong when the tears began to roll slowly out her mother's eyes. After she hung up, she grabbed Tommy and hugged him hard. "Grandmother died," was all she said and she burst out crying. Tommy stood for a moment stunned. Then the reality of the loss and his mother's emotion hit him. He, too, began to cry. He felt bad for his mother. And he really began to miss his grandmother.
The next day, Tommy stayed home from school. His parents were too busy making travel arrangements for his grandmother's funeral. And, he wanted to stay home to be close to them. While they were making plans, Tommy began to look through his drawer. He played with his collection of baseball cards and some old Lego soldiers. Then, behind the box that held his loose change, he found the silver cross. He looked at it for a few moments. He remembered how excited he was to receive Communion and how his grandmother's face beamed when he returned to his seat. He remembered how important faith was to his grandmother. "I pray everyday for you, Tommy," she whispered in his ear. And he believed her.
Then, he remembered how she gave him a little box with the red bow. "Open it," she told Tommy, "your life is inside." Tommy always thought that was a strange thing to say.
Tommy walked over to the mirror and put the chain that held the cross around his neck. He straightened the cross on the chain. "Why did grandmother say this was my life?" he wondered. Then, another thought crossed his mind: "Is grandmother really dead?"
"Well, no," he said in a low tone to answer his own question. "She's in heaven."
"Are you dead?" another thought asked him.
"No!" Tommy said louder. Boy, was that a dumb idea.
"Why are you both alive?" he thought.
Tommy could not think for a moment. Then, he looked at his cross again. "We're alive because of Jesus," he said quietly.
With his death, Jesus opened heaven to all who believed in him. Grandmother lived in heaven with Jesus. Tommy believed he would live with her there, too, someday. Then, Tommy remembered Grandmother's words, "Eucharist is like a little piece of heaven here on earth. It connects everyone together on earth and in heaven because we're with Jesus. After all, the Eucharist is really Jesus." Somehow, he felt Grandmother was close at that moment.
For the next few days, Tommy wore his silver cross proudly. If anyone asked him about it, he would tell the story of his First Communion and his belief that Grandmother was really alive in heaven. He would share his belief that they were still connected. Then he would point to the cross and say, "We're alive because of Jesus!"
What does the cross mean to you? How does it help you belief in Jesus?