Crosses in the Desert
1st Corinthians 10:1-6
Originally scheduled for January 21
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and
sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they
all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the
cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank
the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock
that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God
was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in
the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us
from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.
(1 Corinthians 10:1-6)
The locals call it Dead Man’s Curve. It’s out
in the Mojave desert. It doesn’t look much like a dangerous railroad
crossing. The road runs along the south side of the railroad track
for many miles and then quickly crosses the tracks and runs along
the north side for many miles. The authorities have recently
installed modern railroad crossing lights — and in the process
removed the plain white crosses that used to grace the intersection.
Each cross had a name on it of someone who was loved, and was killed
at this crossing. It was not uncommon to see fresh flowers at the
foot of a cross.
Every one of those crosses was a painful
reminder of the death of someone who was loved. Was it someone who
was trying to race the train to the intersection? Was it someone who
just wasn’t paying attention? The toll eventually grew so high that
official warning signs and lights have been installed. Until they
were installed, the crosses served as an unofficial warning: this
place is deceptive — beware.
Paul gives us a similar warning in First
Corinthians. He makes an interesting pair of parallels. The ancient
Israelites were “baptized into Moses” and they also consumed
spiritual food and drink. These two are parallels to the Christian
faith in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, the ceremonial
celebration of Passover is a forerunner of communion. So we see here
some parallels between them and us. So what happened? They started
well, but soon went astray after foreign gods. One such God was a
fertility goddess — which of course involves sex. There were other
gods you went to for prosperity. Sex and prosperity, does that sound
familiar today? That’s why Paul tells us this is an example to us.
Most of them didn’t make it to the promised land because they went
astray in the desert.
We bring this up because communion is a
ritual of remembrance. It is spiritual food and drink to us. Its
main purpose is to remind just of the love that Christ gave us on
the cross. We are sinners; we are forgiven because of the blood of
Christ. In that sense, communion is meant to be a positive,
uplifting experience. But note that we are taught to examine
ourselves before taking communion. That’s not an afterthought; it’s
designed into communion. You don’t want to wind up with your bones
bleaching in the desert of sin. Therefore, examine yourself. Do you
worship at the altar of sex? The altar of money? Or worse yet, the
altar of pride?
But be of good cheer — even the bones
bleaching in the desert can be raised to life. Ezekiel was sent to
the dry bones to call them back to life. Christ was sent to you that
you might have eternal life. Heed the warning signs, but remember
that your Lord has conquered both sin and death.