Fr. Dan delivered a wonderful homily, as usual. One analogy he made I thought was very interesting: comparing a newly molted snake to one who is experiencing new life. He compared it to a renewal of sorts. He also made references to the reading out of Numbers, where the Lord set a serpent amongst the complaining people as punishment; however, in His mercy, asked Moses to set a bronze serpent upon a pole such that when the repentant people who had been bitten by the serpents looked upon it, they would live. I can see a theme of forgiveness - the people acknowledged their sins and manifold wickedness (yes, Rite I language here ...) and God in His mercy, forgave them. Interesting that symbol was the bronze snake.
All I could think of was the serpent in the garden of Eden, tempting and then leading Adam and Eve astray ... J.K. Rowling's symbolism of the snake representing Slytherin House (into which most of the Dark wizards were sorted in the Harry Potter universe) ... and yet, Fr. Dan made mention of the ambiguity of the snake. On one hand, the snake is maligned as the symbol of deceitfulness, but on the other hand, the rod of Asclepius, which consists of a serpent entwined around a staff, is an ancient Greek symbol associated with healing the sick through medicine.
He also mentioned that the cross itself can be seen as an ambiguous symbol - Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross ... and then his resurrection and eventual ascension into heaven being a victory over death on that cross ... but then the Crusaders and the Ku Klux Klan also used the cross as their symbols. So is it a symbol of good, of conquest, or of hate?
What we were commemorating (and what the Episcopals are commemorating today) was the cross as the instrument of salvation. Christ died for our salvation, and we remember that every time we pray the Nicene Creed ("For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried"). In addition, the Catholic profession of faith with regards to the Cross is as follows:
We believe that Our Lord Jesus Christ, by the sacrifice of the cross redeemed us from original sin and all the personal sins committed by each one of us, so that, in accordance with the word of the apostle, "where sin abounded grace did more abound.And then, there is this prayer that I recall was recited after every Station from the Stations of the Cross: "We adore Thee O Christ, and we praise Thee, because by Thy holy cross, Thou hast redeemed the world."
So the symbolism behind the cross is quite rich in the Christian tradition. It's interesting that what started me really thinking about this was being a bit surprised at Fr. Dan's references to the ambivalent symbolism behind the snake. It certainly makes for a good point on which to meditate, and discuss.