By Melodious Monk
Last Sunday, was the feast of the Holy Cross. The Old Testament reading was a familiar story about Moses following God’s command to make a snake and place it on top of a pole for people to look in order to save their lives. But why a snake? Why did God choose to have Moses’ people (and I dare say us today) look at the fiery serpent to be healed? The story is almost too simple to be true. The only thing the people had to do was go and look. For us Christians, perhaps we make our salvation more complicated then it needs to be. If I make the choice to go to the cross, to go look at the fiery serpent of my sin, and in so doing, realize that I need Jesus, I can live freely.
This 14th century poem by a Franciscan monk talks about this journey. He describes how marking ourselves with the sign of the cross is in a way like looking at the serpent and being healed. In having the courage to look at our sin, in the poet’s words, we are being giving a “shining bough,” and with this bough comes an invitation to a joy-filled life.
How We Exalt the Holy Cross
There is a tree planted by God which we call Love.
You there, you I see up in its branches-
Show me where I can begin to climb,
that I might leave this darkness behind.
I climb so slowly that if I stop to speak to you
A puff of wind will blow me down.
I have a long way to go;
Indeed, there’s a hard struggle ahead.
The glory of the ascent, I know, is God’s, not yours,
But help me work free of this swamp-
If thanks to your aid I come to serve God
It will be you who has won me back for Him.
To the praise of God I tell you,
And as a friend,
That in fear of the Enemy
Was I led to this tree.
I looked at it in my mind’s eye
Meditated on it at length,
And burned with the desire
To climb that measureless height.
I could not even guess
How high the branches reached;
The trunk was straight and smooth.
I saw no place where I could get a hold,
Except for one branch
That curved down to the ground;
A poor despised little bit of a branch,
It bore the mark of humility.
was ready to climb when suddenly
I heard a voice; “Do not touch me
Unless you have first confessed,
Cleansed yourself of all mortal sin.”
Contrition flooded my heart,
I cleansed myself with confession
And with the help of God
Coming back to the tree I felt fear and misgivings,
In anticipation of the exhausting effort;
I devoutly prayed to God for help,
For without His aid I could not climb the tree.
“Sign yourself with the sign of the cross,”
Said a voice that came from Heaven,
“And take hold of the shining bough,
A branch that is pleasing to God”
Brother Jacopone Da Todi, O.F.M.