The 4th Sunday In Lent
Holy Eucharist, Rite II
March 14, 2021
The Celebrant and LEM stand, maintaining physical distance. There is no procession.
Celebrant: Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
LEM: And blessed be God’s kingdom, now and forever.
Celebrant: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Celebrant: Lord have mercy.
LEM: Christ have mercy.
Celebrant: Lord have mercy
Opening Hymn: Lord Who Throughout These Forty Days Hymnal 1982 #142
Lord, who throughout these forty days
for us didst fast and pray,
teach us with thee to mourn our sins,
and close by thee to stay.
As thou with Satan didst contend,
and didst the victory win,
O give us strength in thee to fight,
in thee to conquer sin.
The Collect of the Day
Celebrant: The Lord be with you,
LEM: And also with you.
Celebrant: Let us pray.
The Celebrant says the Collect.
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Old Testament Lesson Numbers 21:4-9
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
LEM: The Word of the Lord.
Celebrant: Thanks be to God.
Psalm of the Day: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
1O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
2Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
3and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
17Some were sick through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress;
20he sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from destruction.
21Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
22And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
The New Testament Lesson: Ephesians 2:1-10
1You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
LEM: The Word of the Lord.
Celebrant: Thanks be to God.
Gradual Hymn: Eternal Lord Hymnal 1982 #149
Eternal Lord of love, behold your Church
walking once more the pilgrim of Lent,
led by your cloud by day, by night your fire,
moved by your love and toward your presence bent;
far off yet here- the goal of all desire.
So daily dying to the way of self,
so daily living to your way of love,
we walk the road Lord Jesus that you trod,
knowing ourselves baptized into your death;
so we are dead and live with you in God.
The Gospel: John 3:14-21
Then, all standing, the Deacon or a Priest reads the Gospel, first saying
Celebrant: The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.
LEM: Glory to you, Lord Christ.
14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16For 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.
17Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those 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. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Priest: The Gospel of the Lord.
LEM: Praise to you, Lord Christ.
The Sermon: Look Up!
(The printed sermon text may differ from the spoken sermon)
Serpents? Really? No-one said anything about serpents. Didn’t we leave them back in Egypt along with most of our goods and chattels and all of our dead, writhing there to torment Pharaoh, or in the Garden of Eden? What are they doing all the way out here?
Thus you can imagine the people on the road – or, to speak more accurately, the way, for they were in a pathless wilderness on the way to God Knows Where and by means only God Knows How. And they were not happy about it, not one little bit. They whined. They complained. There’s no good food, and no water. Moses didn’t contest the point, because how could he? So the Lord sent…snakes, fiery serpents – which actually sounds like it might’ve been dragons – to improve their health, or at least their attitude, those who survived them, who managed not to get their ticket punched by a serpent’s bite there in the wilderness, all-but-lost in the wild.
That should do the trick.
Lo and behold – for this is the way these stories go – it actually did. Beatings continued and morale improved. Beatings continued until morale improved. The people, amid hisses and shrieking, repented and asked Moses, very nicely, if he could ask the Lord to take the snakes away, please, we’re sorry, we didn’t mean it, we won’t whine or complain any more. We promise.
And he did. No more serpents. A few verses later, though many miles down the road, the Lord gave them water, so no worries, eh? God is ever-merciful and full of compassion, so blessed be the name of the Lord.
No more serpents except one, because it turns out that it was harder even for the master of the universe to herd these reptiles back into the pen once he’d let them out of it. So what began as discipline, if not simply abuse, the Lord had Moses turn into a teaching tool. Make a bronze (or copper) serpent, set it on a pole, and then anyone who’s bitten can just look up at that and not die. I know it seems hard for those who have trouble with their eyes…
Look up. Look up! Not in the dictionary but at the pole, at the serpent on the pole, at whatever the Lord told you to look up at so that you would not die, no matter what was biting you or gnawing for your bones. Look up!
That applies to the serpents, too. Seeing one of their own cast in bronze, or dipped in molten copper, and raised before them must’ve had quite an effect. It is not said whether they fled, or slithered, away, but as the people they were sent to attack gained strength and courage against them, one can only imagine their motivation to be elsewhere grew by leaps and bounds, or whatever the snake equivalent is of moving as fast as your limbs can bear you. But it’s the “Look up!” part that Jesus remembered and used in his message, as we heard from John’s gospel this morning. As the serpent was raised in the desert, so shall the Son of Man be raised up.
On wood. For all to see. For all to look upon in wonder and fright, wondering what does this mean? How will believing in this give us the life that does not die? How will this echo and reminder of chastisement and repentance from the darkest days of our people’s wandering, save the world?
In the desert, in the Book of Numbers – and why did a book so named not number God’s fiery serpents? – it’s magic, or just because God Said So, which functions in our minds as much the same thing. The Lord said look at the metal snake if a real snake bites you, and you won’t die. Why not? I don’t know; just do it and you’ll be fine. God’s power is greater than we can imagine, and if God wants to work in ways we don’t understand or maybe can’t understand, who are we to gainsay him? But relying on magic is a fool’s errand, except in the movies, and even then the ‘magic’ becomes a kind of technique, at least, a science you can apply even if the theory you do not understand. Many an engineer has lit upon a solution by such a means, and which such empirical faith. “I don’t know why it works,” they’ll say about something that quite clearly works. “It just does.”
As philosophers and theologians used to say, it was rumored, at the University of Chicago. “Sure, it works alright in practice. I just have no idea how we’re going to make it work in theory.”
Much of Christianity has believed, or half-believed, that God works in just this mysterious and magical way. We can’t know how believe in his only Son gives us the life that does not end; we just have to accept that it does, and that this accepting-without-proof is proof to God that we are…worthy of it? That makes a kind of sense, biblically. The first people were told “Don’t eat of that tree over there,” and not really told why not, not in a way they understood. Perhaps that’s why they were so easily beguiled by the…serpent, did you say? Yes, the serpent, not in the wilderness this time but in paradise itself – where, as yet, and as far as they knew, there was no flaw, or not that they knew. But there was a flaw, and the possibility of death, even in paradise; et in arcadia ego. Yet if the people had just done what they were told, no questions asked, no problems.
The writer of the letter to the Ephesians goes further. It is by grace that we are saved, the letter tells us, not even via the ‘work’ of belief, of faith, of the decision to say “Aye”. His act alone – God’s, that is – being freely gracious unto us and kind, raising us up (there’s that “Look up!” again) to sit within him in the heavenly places is what did it, does it, so that people yet unborn might know that God is merciful and kind. Wallowing in our passions and desires we were. the writer says, disobedient, not doing what we were meant to, were made for – so God brought us back to where we would be able to do that, would be able to want to do that freely again. By his mysterious grace unmerited and unearned we became again not children of wrath or whining – some of the most serious passions of the flesh to worry about, mind you – but children of the work, the work he made us for, the lives he made us to live, under the light he lit for us to do it in, dispelling the darkness, and making slither away the evil, the wrathful, and the wrong.
All this talk of magic and mystery makes it easy to forget something. The writers of the Gospel of John, and the communities in the ancient world from which they came and for whom they wrote, did not think of all this as magic and mystery at all. They considered it all as true – as what has happened. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and those who listened to him and lived as he told them stopped sinning. He came to save people from the power of death – from anxiety about, and fear of life, and submission to their passions and desires, their fears and their hates. He reminded them that they did not have to live that way, were in fact born not to live that way, and if they believed him, and thought and acted as he said to, their lives got better. Other people saw this and decided to ignore it, or pretend it wasn’t true, or that even if it were true, it didn’t matter. They saw that the light shone, and chose to remain in darkness. They saw that there were things that were true that they had not expected and might not have wanted to be true, but chose to ignore them, or tell themselves a Big Lie, claiming that what was true, what everyone could see was true, was in fact not true. They chose in this to be, or remain, evil – for the hallmark and foundation of the province of evil, of the power of what Ephesians calls the “prince of the air,” is that it is founded on, depends on, and works to perpetuate lies.
If we imagine the evil among us as those who would convince us that the light is out when we can see for ourselves that it is not, or that it is dark at noon when in fact the sky is bright blue and the sun white-gold within it, we can see what John is on about, and to a certain extent Ephesians. We should so imagine them, since as far as I can tell, every evil perpetuated within living memory was sent forth, as fiery serpents in the wilderness, on the basis of lies. Lies about Jews, lies about democracy, lies about the intentions of wealth, lies about race and inequality, lies about history, lies about who was doing wrong to whom, lies about what it means to be a person, lies that lead to wars, lies that make wars go on and on, lies about elections being stolen when they were, in fact, not stolen – lies upon lies, with forces in the darkness and shadows behind them, perpetuating them, insisting on them, gaslighting good people to believe in them against the evidence of their own senses and, cult-like, follow only those who perpetuate the lie. These are the tactics and techniques, the behaviors and expressions, of those who are evil.
The Nazis had a phrase, a word: Lügenpresse, the lying press, that they always, and only, used against newspapers and journalists who were printing truths that they the Nazis, wanted to deny. The Soviets and those like them had similar, if not quite so catchy, terms for it. By supreme irony, they called their daily paper Pravda, or “truth,” though you could find no more truth in it than you’d find broccoli growing on the moon. In our day, the equivalent term is ‘fake news’. The surest way to find news that isn’t fake, I have found, is to look for what certain persons – persons proved to have lied tens of thousands of times over – call ‘fake news’. Bring it into the light, and its accusers; the truth will out soon enough. I’ve yet to see something that proved liars have called ‘fake news’ that wasn’t actually true. Like the serpents in the wilderness, those false charges bite, beguiling people as only lies can, keeping them in darkness, and making them aiders and abetters of evil.
It would be a misreading of John to say that it equates disbelief with evil. It does not. Evil, instead, is belief in the wrong thing – in lies, for example, such as the lie that it is dark when in fact light shines – and persisting in that belief when you’ve been shown that it is wrong. When you feel called to do that, tempted to do that, Look up! See the brazen serpent raised up in the desert, see the Son of Man raised up in Jerusalem, and follow where love leads: to kindness, compassion, and truth. Grace gave us back the ability; using it is up to us. Use it well. Amen.
There is no passing of plates or reception of gifts.
The Deacon or Priest prepares the altar and sanctuary for the Eucharist.
The People make ready their gifts of bread and wine. The LEM continues
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God, begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
The Prayers of the People
The LEM prays. In the silence after each bidding, the People offer their prayers without speaking.
I ask your prayers for all God’s people; for our bishops, our clergy, and this gathering, and for all ministers and people. Pray for the Church.
I ask your prayers for peace; for goodwill among nations; and for the well-being of all. Pray for justice and peace.
I ask your prayers for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the oppressed, and those in prison.
Pray for those in any need or trouble.
I ask your prayers for all who seek God, or a deeper knowledge of God.
Pray that they may seek, and pray that they might find.
I ask your prayers for the departed [especially N.N.]. Pray for those who have died.
I ask your prayers for those on the prayer list of this parish, and those whose needs are known to you alone.
The Celebrant adds a concluding collect.
The People stand.
Celebrant: The peace of the Lord be always with you,
LEM: And also with you.
The Ministers and People greet one another in silence while keeping physical distance.
The Holy Eucharist: The Great Thanksgiving
Celebrant: The Lord be with you,
LEM: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
LEM: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
LEM: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
Then, facing the Holy Table, the Celebrant proceeds
God of might and compassion, Lord of all that is, unto you be glory and praise..
LEM: Glory to you for ever and ever.
By your word all things came to be: the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, stars, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home.
LEM: By your will they were created and have their being.
From water, earth, and sky you brought us into being, blessing us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us masters of creation, and creators in our turn. But we abused your trust, misused your gifts, turned against one another, and wandered far from you.
LEM: Have mercy, Lord, for we are sinners in your sight.
Time after time, you called us to return. Through prophets and sages you revealed your righteous will, and wrote your law upon our hearts – to no avail. Then, in the fullness of time, you sent your only begotten Son, of woman born, to open to us the way of life and salvation, the way of freedom and peace.
LEM: By his blood, he reconciled us. By his wounds, we are healed.
And by him we praise you, joining with the heavenly host, with prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and with all who have looked to you in hope, to proclaim your glory:
The LEM continues
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
The Celebrant continues
And now, Father, we who have been redeemed by him and made a new people by water and the Spirit, bring before you these gifts. Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Celebrant and People hold the elements in their various vessels. The Celebrant continues
On the night he was betrayed, he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his friends, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”
After supper, he took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this in memory of me.”
Remembering his work of redemption, and offering this sacrifice of thanksgiving:
LEM We celebrate his death and resurrection as we await his coming.
The Celebrant continues
Lord God of our Fathers and Mothers: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; God of Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel; God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
LEM: Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.
Accept these prayers and praises, O Lord, through Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and worship, from generation to generation. AMEN.
Now, as Christ taught us, we are bold to say,
The LEM prays
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The Breaking of the Bread
The Celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread, and then keeps a period of silence. The Celebrant continues
Celebrant: Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
LEM: Therefore, let us keep the feast.
Celebrant: The Gifts of God for the People of God.
The People consume their gifts. After Communion, the Celebrant says
Let us pray. The Celebrant prays
Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with spiritual food in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Blessing and Dismissal
The Celebrant says
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord be with you, this day and always, and give you peace.
The LEM says
Let us go forth, in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
Closing Hymn: Spirit of the Living God
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me,
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Withdrawal Hymn: There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy Hymnal 1982, #470
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
The Celebrant, the LEM, and the People depart, maintaining physical distance.
We hope that today’s service has been a blessing to you.
We are here to serve you, and hope to see you again.
Please feel free to call us, email us, or visit us online.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Fairland, MD
12621 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904
email@example.com * 301-622-5860 ext. 1002
The Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilkins, Priest-in-Charge
firstname.lastname@example.org * 301-622-5860 ext. 1001
Linda Lee, Parish Administrator
email@example.com * 301-622-5860 ext. 1003
Beresford Coker, Musical Director
Joyce Walker, Administrative Assistant
Lee Mericle, Senior Warden
Rosanne Tingley, Junior Warden
For information about St. Mark’s, please visit our website:
 Sermon text © 2021 Christopher Wilkins. All rights reserved.
Resources (available for free online)
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
- Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
- Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
- Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
- Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
- Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
- Lift Every Voice and Sing II: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/LEVS1993
- Wonder, Love, and Praise: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/WLP1997
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
- The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
Links to church websites – National, Diocesan and our church’s website.