Pushing the “Easy” Button

3 03 2017

1st Sunday in Lent – Matthew 4:1-11

Let’s be honest, you and I live in a time and place that unleashes all of its resources for the sole purpose of persuading us to give in to our temptations.  But, it’s actually worse, we are told that the most healthy lifestyle choice we can make is to identify with our deepest temptations and to embrace them as the truest picture of who we really are.  We are told that the most unhealthy choice is to deny our temptations and wants.  In fact, if we publicly voice our opposition to these lifestyle choices, the social media powers will descend upon us like the very fury of hell (and here, I’m speaking literally).  Businesses have been destroyed, good paying positions taken away, friendships undone, reputations left in ashes from this demonic fury.

Ivan Kramskoy's 1872 Christ in the Wilderness

So, it ought to be a fearful thing that the one we call Lord and Savior is seen here so obviously standing against the temptations thrown at him.  And not only resisting, but coming out very much the winner.  But it is all too easy to go with the flow and think:  Wouldn’t we all be a lot better off simply giving in to some of our temptations, or at most, maybe very, VERY quietly resisting them in the privacy of our prayer closets?  Anything more public may make us look like intolerant holy religious people who are always mean and judgmental!

 

But I suspect that most of you want to beat back your temptations, at least most days, and wouldn’t mind having some help and assistance.  So, let’s look at how Jesus handled it.

 

Now first, Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus has been tempted in every way that you and I have ever been tempted (but did not give in!!).  So, what we see in the Gospel in Satan’s three temptations, only shows us some of what Jesus had to resist– although, perhaps these three were the most difficult ones he had to overcome. We also know from the Gospels (Matthew 16:23) that Jesus was also tempted by Satan to avoid the Way of the Cross– and he used Peter’s mouth to do the tempting.  So, I think we can safely assume that the ‘ole Serpent rarely let up on his attacks on Jesus, especially during his ministry years leading up to his crucifixion.  I’m sure you have all felt there are many times when you’ve yelled to heaven, “Can I just have a break for a while from all these constant, never-ending temptations!!”  I’ve done that, multiple times.

 

Second, look at what Satan is wanting Jesus to do– hit the EASY button!!  “Hey, Jesus, you are the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity– so use your ‘God’ power and make yourself some bread from rocks, or make yourself look like a super-hero by jumping down from the high-point of the temple and landing safely on the street with thousands of onlookers–they’ll call you Messiah and make you king!  OR… skip the whole cross-thing by bowing before me (I mean, really, it doesn’t really mean anything does it?!  It’s surely just an empty gesture) and I’ll give you what you really want– to be the loving King of the world that everyone will adore.”

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

Ary Scheffer’s The Temptation of Christ

Jesus knew he was taking the very, very hard road to save the world, and the Great Liar was trying to get him to cheat and take the easy road to accomplish his mission.  NOTE:  Jesus uses Holy Scripture, God’s Word to crush every temptation.  And guess what?  You have access to that same mighty weapon.  But do you take daily advantage of it?  Do you really know it well enough to use it effectively?  A weapon’s no good to you if you don’t know it well and practice with it constantly.

 

Third, Jesus accomplishes the Great Reversal.  Do you recall another time that the Deceiver, Satan, made a famous temptation and succeeded?  Yup, in the Garden, with our original parents, Adam & Eve.  He convinced them to distrust God, to take matters into their own hands, to become like God.  He got them to believe that God was holding out on them by forbidding them to eat from just one tree in the Garden.  Satan sowed seeds of doubt, and they fell for it and the rest of world history records the sad, tragic consequences of their decision.  One of the details we often miss is the in-action of the man, Adam.  Genesis 3:6 makes clear that Adam was “with her”, Eve, and yet he said and did nothing to defend his wife from the lies and deceits of the Serpent.  He could have told the Serpent to “shut up”, or even crushed the serpent to keep it from 071714_0240_TheTablethe2.jpgtalking any more. But he failed, utterly.  Note that Jesus undoes this most horrible of failures, by standing up to and defeating Satan’s lies and temptations.  Now, if Jesus has undone Adam’s failures, he has surely undone all of yours as well.  Paul calls Jesus the second Adam– giving us the ultimate and perfect “do-over.”

 

If you choose to buck the system, and break the pre-programmed code of our current cultural Matrix, and resist temptation, sin and selfishness and fight the Big Fat Liar of hell, you must needs know the dirty little secret that the Enemy of your soul does NOT want you to know:  The same Jesus who handed Satan his lunch in the desert two-thousand years ago is in you, with you, surrounding you.  You are never, ever alone when facing temptations of all kinds.  The mighty Warrior-King who has put-down and crushed every single temptation you have faced, are facing or will face is in you–your heart, mind, soul and body.  And he’s itching for a big win!

 

Will you say yes to Jesus so you can experience that victory?  That’s the only question you need to answer.

 

Items to remember– because there will be a test, every day of your life!!

 

  1. Jesus knows exactly what you are feeling and thinking when you are being tempted– he’s been there.  He is not shocked and surprised that certain things are a huge temptation to you.  He does not think less of you.  But he does offer hope!
  2. Satan plays dirty and will use your friends, (even Christian ones!051714_2225_ThingsAreNo1.jpg!) and family to tempt and discourage you.  Remember, he used Peter’s big mouth against Jesus.  You must always be on guard.
  3. Don’t hit the easy button and take the easy way out!  Man-up, Woman-up, and get your nose into Scripture often.  A true warrior sleeps with his sword, or bow & arrows, or fire-arm because he could be attacked at any time, day or night.  Do you see the Bible as that crucial in your life?
  4. Jesus has already undone your past failures.  Don’t live there for it is a life of defeat and misery.  Live only in the present, and recognize that the victorious Jesus is with you, right inside you.  Say yes to him, and no to evil and sin.   You can and you must– so many are depending on you!  Never stop fighting and never give up, because Jesus never gives up on you!
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Groping in the Darkness of the Light

3 04 2011

In our journey towards Salvation we need to take note whether or not the Light of Christ illumines us or blinds us.

 

In John 9 we get to enter into an amazing scene where Jesus restores the sight of a man born blind. There are some great elements here: The disciples mistakenly thinking someone’s sin has caused the man’s blindness, Jesus spitting in order to make mud to put on the man’s eyes!, the religious leaders disbelieving the man’s testimony about Jesus’ miracle, the uneducated man whom Jesus healed taking the educated folk to task for not seeing the truth that only a man from God could restore sight, this same man “worshipping” Jesus (scandalous blasphemy!), and lastly we hear Jesus saying this:

 

 

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (v. 39)

 

Uhhh… I thought Jesus came into the world to save it, not judge it?! (note John 3:17 – “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”) Maybe the ‘ole Apostle John should have had a reputable editor go through his gospel before he published it!

 

Is Jesus just speaking in riddles? Is he being mean-spirited? What’s going on here?

 

To begin to get at Jesus’ meaning I offer a simple question: Why do we wear sunglasses? I know, some wear them to look good for the paparazzi. Practically speaking, however, we wear sunglasses because the glare of the sun is painful to our eyes and because they enable us to see more clearly, especially when driving. On a sunny day I develop a headache if I fail to wear my sunglasses. Now, obviously, people were able to adjust to bright sunshine before sunglasses were invented. One can, over time, develop the ability to walk about in the bright light of mid-day without the aid of sunglasses in the same way that one’s eyes can get acclimated to a dark room. But if some unfortunate chap has been living all his life in cave, it will take a lot of time and patience to become acclimated to a sun-drenched world.

 

Jesus, being Wisdom incarnate, is simply stating the facts: those who have been walking through life with only a little candle they have made themselves, AND who smugly believe they can see better than the dumb saps with puny oil lamps, will find themselves blinded by the uncreated Light who brought the light of the sun on-line to begin with. Those who thought they could see will, now that Christ has come, grope around in the darkness of the eternal Light, while those humble souls who freely confessed their blindness will have their sight healed so that they can begin the process of becoming acclimated to the Light.

 

It is the spiritual self-assuredness of the religious intelligentsia that is coming under Jesus’ judgment.

 

In this season of Lent, let us all who call ourselves Christians, allow ourselves to be duly warned by Jesus’ hard words here. The Church gives us the season of Lent in order to humble us. Most of the time I’m incapable of giving up just one meal in order to focus on prayer. Every Lent, no matter what I attempt to “give up” or add, I discover again how weak and spiritually pitiful I am! This is not supposed to cause me to give up (which is what Satan would want) but it is to cause me to cry out like blind Bartimaeus, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:46)

 

But Lent is also given to us so that we may have opportunity to practice getting acclimated to the Light. Let us not think that simply saying the sinner’s prayer, or faithful church attendance, or feeding the poor are sufficient by themselves to prevent being blinded by the true Light of heaven. On that great and terrible Day when the Son of Man judges the earth, may we be able to gaze upon Him with acclimated eyes. Eyes that have grown accustomed to His uncreated light through the day-in, and day-out exposure gained through holy disciplines: prayer, Scripture, sacraments, fasting, service, worship, silence & solitude, holy friendships, extending forgiveness, and any time-tested practices we can get our hands on!

 

As we stay on this path of acclimation to the Light, we will begin to sense deep within the truth of the Apostle Paul’s declaration, “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8) [Remember, Paul himself once knew what it was like to be blinded by the true Light!]

 

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN.

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent (April 3, 2011)

  • First reading
    • 1 Samuel 16:1-13
    • Samuel’s anointing of David, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” (v.7)
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 23
  • Second reading
    • Ephesians 5:8-14
    • “at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (v.8)
  • Gospel
    • John 9:1-41
    • “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (v. 39)




Undoing Adam’s Failure

13 03 2011

Prayer.  Fasting.  Almsgiving.  These are the classic disciplines of the Lenten season.  But when we pray, we should always pray with Scripture.  In Evangelical circles, it is often stressed that a healthy relationship with God requires daily Bible reading and study.  I don’t disagree, but beyond reading and study, a disciple of Jesus should also know how to pray the Scriptures.  The Psalms are the obvious example of Scripture that we can pray, but even with Biblical narratives (like Genesis or the Historical Books) and discourse (like the Prophets or the Epistles) one can also learn to pray.  The key is to remember that the Scriptures are God’s words to His people, AND that  prayer is not only talking to the Lord but also listening to Him.  By allowing Him to speak to us through the Scriptures, we can enter into dialogue with our Heavenly Father through the Holy Spirit.  These holy conversations will steadily transform us as we practice them frequently and steadily improve at listening.  So, this Lent, practice praying the Scriptures!

Now for my Lenten confession:  It’s frightening to count up the paltry amount of time I actually spend with Scripture.  As part of my Lenten discipline then, I hope to increase my time reading, studying and praying the Bible.  And during this Lent I will endeavor to record some of my engagement with God’s word by posting my thoughts here.

The lectionary readings for this first Sunday in Lent (from the Revised Common Lectionary) are these:

  • Old Testament Lesson:
    • Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 32
  • New Testament Lesson:
    • Romans 5:12-19
  • Gospel Lesson:
    • Matthew 4:1-11

These Scriptures remind us that the message and focus of Lent is really NOT how horrible we sinners all are (as true as that may be).  To focus on ourselves is a hopeless and despair-filled endeavor.  The focus of Lent is renewal, new life; and the One who has brought about this blessed new reality for us hopeless rebels. It seems I constantly fall back into sinful ruts– thought patterns, as well as patterns of behavior.  I know all too well that I cannot break myself out of these hellish cycles and deep, dark ruts with human resources alone.  Only the Second Adam can offer me real, lasting help.

“If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”  (Romans 5:17)

Look at Adam back in Genesis 3.  He stood by and allowed his wife to be manipulated by a scrawny little snake.  Don’t believe for a moment that Adam had skipped off to the nearest bush for a bathroom break  when the serpent slithered up to Eve and spoke his lies.  Genesis 3:6 indicates that he was with Eve.  And even if it can be argued that he was not there for the serpent’s spiel, he could have stopped his wife when she offered him the fruit.  But I have little doubt that Adam was fully aware of what the serpent had told his wife (because I believe he was right there to hear it).  But at precisely that moment when he should have stepped up as the man God created him to be he goes silent and passive.  He should have lovingly corrected his wife.  Even better, he should have told the serpent to shut up and leave– and if the serpent refused, Adam should have beat it’s little brains in with the nearest stick!

We all know he didn’t do any of those things and we get to enjoy the continuing consequences of his actions– especially as we mimic Adam again and again in our own lives.  But here’s the good news proclaimed especially at the beginning of Lent:  Jesus does what Adam should have done, and therefore so can we!

I love that scene from the Passion of the Christ where Jesus stomps on the head of snake as Satan whispers his temptations in the garden (imagine that, we’re back in a garden just like Genesis 3!).  Jesus fulfills the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 and undoes what Adam allowed to happen.

This can be viewed most clearly in the Gospel lesson from Matthew 4, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  By the power of God’s Spirit and Word, the Second Adam rebuffs the devil’s temptations and half-truths and leaves the desert victorious and ready to begin his earthly ministry.

But the old Liar is still at work.  Most of us read that and assume we could never resist like Jesus did– being the eternal Son of God and all comes with some advantages, right?!  We all feel too much like the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve– we fail and fail and fail again.  But this is a lie.  If we have been baptized into Christ then we possess the power of his death and resurrection, if we choose to make use of it.  If we claim that we trust Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins and our ticket to heaven, then it is also possible to trust that Christ is in us and we need not succumb to the devil’s tricks and fleshly temptations.  It truly is within our reach to follow Jesus rather than Adam and Eve.  To believe otherwise is to have already bought the serpent’s lies– which means the battle is over before it’s begun.  I’ll safely guess that our Enemy prefers this to engaging in one-on-one combat with each of us.  You’d think he was intimidated by those in whom Christ resides!

If you’ve recently allowed the Evil One to knock you down, Lent gives you the opportunity to get back up and enter the fight once again with renewed confidence and optimism.  For we are now sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of the Second Adam– the One who danced on the head of the serpent.  Glory to Christ forever.  Amen.





Lent: Making Room

6 03 2011

Tomorrow Christians of the East will observe Clean Monday– a day on which they will clean their houses as a sign and symbol of the spiritual cleaning they are about to embark upon during Lent. Two days later, Christians of the West will observe Ash Wednesday– at their services they will be marked with ashes in the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and the minister will say, “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return; repent and believe the Gospel!”  Many Christians, both East and West will tackle the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving as a way to make more space in their souls for God.  Others will “give something up” in an effort to participate in Lenten discipline.  Some give up TV or coffee or candy bars, while others attempt to eliminate other pesky addictions they may have.

Of course, all of this sort of thing is terribly dangerous.  So dangerous, in fact, that some Christians and denominations discourage and even ban such activities.  It is all considered as an attempt to win points with God or as an opportunity to exhibit spiritual pride– as in, “I’m a better Christian than you because I didn’t watch any TV during Lent!”   Works righteousness, pridefulness, and legalism are real pit-falls that lay in the path of the Lenten sojourner.

 

The truth is that these dangers will not be any less for the Christian who elects to avoid altogether the sorts of spiritual disciplines associated with Lent.  One can, for example, take pride in the fact that she does not need to fast in order to be a more spiritual person.  Actually, the argument FOR taking up fasting (or silence, or simplicity, or almsgiving, etc.) is much stronger than the dangers that can often accompany it.  You see, disciples of Jesus, as a whole, have never abandoned such spiritual disciplines despite the obvious danger they pose and the abuse all too often made of them.  (A truth we must all learn is that just because something in Christianity has been misused and abused does NOT necessitate its removal from our midst– otherwise we would have to get rid of preaching, singing, and even the Bible, for have all been misused over and over!)

 

If your goal is to make more space in your life for Christ so that He can bring more of Himself into you, then your mindset is in the right place for taking up Lenten disciplines.  For myself, by God’s grace, I hope to take up some fasting, and increased praying; and I also hope to greatly decrease the time I spend connected to various forms of media, especially TV and the internet.  By this I hope to gain more of Christ and His freedom.  I want to be free from the dictates of my belly and my need to be pacified through entertainment.  I want to be free from seeking after everything else in order that I might feel validated, important or significant, when there is only One Source from which I can truly receive these and more (and I hope the effects will spill over into my struggle with anger and impatience!).  The danger of legalism and pride are real, but they can no longer be allowed to keep me from attempting the discipline of fasting food and entertainment.

 

So, it would be best to stop placing our Lenten focus on what we are “giving up” and realize that it is all a miniscule price to pay in order to be more closely united with the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit– and to live life to the full as a free citizen in the Kingdom of God.  This Lent, I pray for us all that in all we endeavor to undertake we would know the Lord’s joy, AND that we would see strongholds of hell, sin, and the flesh come crashing down in ruins.  May our chains of addiction fall from our wrists and ankles and may the iron bars of our captivity burst open leading us out onto the green spaces of the Kingdom.  So be it.





Fasting: Exposing the Great Lie

29 03 2010

There’s still time!  If you have failed in your attempts at fasting during this Lent, or if you have not even attempted to fast, there’s still time.  We are now entering Holy Week.  The Easter Vigil approaches where we are invited to participate in the Fast of fasts in preparation for the Feast of feasts.  I pray that you, and I, will accept the invitation to fast during this Holy Week.  By doing so, we enter into the Victory of victories, achieved by the Second Adam.   It’s true!  Fasting is about victory, joy, strength, and life!

In support of this claim I offer the following quote from Alexander Schmemann (Great Lent, chapter 5, “Lent in Our Life”).  It is a long quote, but worth the effort!

Today people [Christian and non-Christian] fast for all kinds of reasons. . . .  It is important, therefore, to discern the uniquely Christian content of fasting.  It is first of all revealed to us in the interdependence between two events which we find in the Bible:  one at the beginning of the Old Testament and the other at the beginning of the New Testament.  The first event is the “breaking of the fast” by Adam in Paradise.  He ate of the forbidden fruit.  This is how man’s original sin is revealed to us.  Christ, the New Adam—and this is the second event—begins by fasting.  Adam was tempted and he succumbed to temptation.  The results of Adam’s failure are expulsion from Paradise and death.  The fruits of Christ’s victory are the destruction of death and our return to Paradise. . . .  [I]n this perspective fasting is revealed to us as something decisive and ultimate in its importance.  It is not a mere “obligation,” a custom; it is connected with the very mystery of life and death, of salvation and damnation.

…sin is not only the transgression of a rule leading to punishment; it is always a mutilation of life given to us by God.  It is for this reason that the story of the original sin is presented to us as an act of eating.  For food is means of life; it is that which keeps us alive.  But here lies the whole question: what does it mean to be alive and what does “life” mean?  For us today this term has a primarily biological meaning:  life is precisely that which entirely depends on food, and more generally, on the physical world.  But for the Holy Scripture and for Christian Tradition, this life “by bread alone” is identified with death because it is mortal life, because death is a principle always at work in it.  God, we are told, “created no death.”  He is the Giver of Life.  How then did life become mortal?  Why is death and death alone the only absolute condition of that which exists?  The Church answers:  because man rejected life as it was offered and given to him by God and preferred a life depending not on God alone, but on “bread alone.”  Not only did he disobey God for which he was punished; he changed the very relationship between himself and the world.  To be sure, the world was given to him by God as “food”—as means of life; yet life was meant to be communion with God; it had not only its end but its full content in Him.  “In Him was Life and the Life was the light of man.”  The world and food were thus created as means of communion with God, and only if accepted for God’s sake were to give life.  In itself food has no life and cannot give life.   Only God has Life and is Life.  In food itself God—and not calories—was the principle of life.  Thus to eat, to be alive, to know God and be in communion with Him were one and the same thing.  The unfathomable tragedy of Adam is that he ate for its own sake.  More than that, he ate “apart” from God in order to be independent of Him.  And if he did it, it is because he believed that food had life in itself and that he, by partaking of that food, could be like God, i.e., have life in himself.  To put it very simply:  he believed in food, whereas the only object of belief, of faith, of dependence is God and God alone.  World, food, became his gods, the sources and principles of his life.  He became their slave.  Adam—in Hebrew—means “man.”  It is my name, our common name.  Man is still Adam, still the slave of “food.”  He may claim that he believes in God, but God is not his life, his food, the all-embracing content of his existence.  He may claim that he receives his life from God but he doesn’t live in God and for God.  His science, his experience, his self-consciousness are all built on that same principle:  “by bread alone.”  We eat in order to be alive but we are not alive in God.  This is the sin of all sins.  This is the verdict of death pronounced on our life.

Christ is the New Adam.  He comes to repair the damage inflicted on life by Adam, to restore man to true life, and thus He also begins with fasting.  “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He became hungry” (Matt. 4:2).  Hunger is that state in which we realize our dependence on something else—when we urgently and essentially need food—showing thus that we have no life in ourselves.  It is that limit beyond which I either die from starvation or, having satisfied by body, have again the impression of being alive.  It is, in other words, the time when we face the ultimate question:  on what does my life depend?  And since the question is not an academic one but is felt with my entire body, it is also the time of temptation.  Satan came to Adam in Paradise; he came to Christ is the desert.  He came to two hungry men and said:  eat, for your hunger is the proof that you depend entirely on food, that you life is in food.  And Adam believed and ate; but Christ rejected that temptation and said:  man shall not live by bread alone but by God.  He refused to accept that cosmic lie which Satan imposed on the world, making that lie a self-evident truth not even debated any more, the foundation of our entire world view, of science, medicine, and perhaps even religion.  By doing this, Christ restored that relationship between food, life, and God which Adam broke, and which we still break every day.

What then is fasting for us Christians?  It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total dependence on food, matter, and the world.  By no means is our liberation a full one.  Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam, being part of it, we still depend on food.  But just as our death—through which we still must pass—has become by virtue of Christ’s Death a passage into life, the food we eat and the life it sustains can be life in God and for God.  Part of our food has already become “food of immortality”—the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.  But even the daily bread we receive from God can be in this life and in this world that which strengthens us, our communion with God, rather than that which separates us from God.  Yet it is only fating that can perform that transformation, giving us the existential proof that our dependence on food and matter is not total, not absolute, that united to prayer, grace, and adoration, it can itself be spiritual.

Ary Scheffer's The Temptation of Christ

All this means that deeply understood, fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature.  It is not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science, and existence on that lie.  Fasting is the denunciation of that lie and also the proof that it is a lie.  It is highly significant that it was while fasting that Christ met Satan and that He said later that Satan cannot be overcome “but by fasting and prayer.”  Fasting is the real fight against the Devil because it is the challenge to that one all-embracing law which makes him the “Prince of this world.”  Yet if one is hungry and then discovers that he can truly be independent of that hunger, not be destroyed by it but just on the contrary, can transform it into a source of spiritual power and victory, then nothing remains of that great lie in which we have been living since Adam.





The Kingdom of Heaven Suffers Violence

15 03 2010

. . . the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.

Matthew 11:12

To fast and pray is to pick a fight with the kingdom of darkness.  Haven’t you ever wondered why these simple practices can seem nearly impossible to actually carry out?  The Great Cabal – Satan, the flesh and the world – seek to undermine and discourage, at every turn, any attempt to draw near to God and thereby to become more like Him.

Part of the point of Lenten discipline is to provide the disciple of Jesus with the weapons and internal fortitude he or she will of necessity need in the Battle.

To quote Alexander Schmemann, once again (from Great Lent, chp. 3):

For the Kingdom, although it has come, although it comes in the Church, is yet to be fulfilled and consummated at the end of time when God will fill all things with Himself.  We know it, and we partake of it in anticipation; we partake now of the Kingdom which is still to come.  We foresee and foretaste its glory and blessedness but we are still on earth, and our entire earthly existence is thus a long and often painful journey toward the ultimate Lord’s Day.

On this journey we need help and support, strength and comfort, for the “Prince of this world” has not yet surrendered; on the contrary, knowing his defeat by Christ, he stages a last and violent battle against God to tear away from Him as many as possible.  So difficult is this fight, so powerful the “gates of Hades,” that Christ Himself tells us about the “narrow way” and the few that are capable of following it.  And in this fight, our main help is precisely the Body and Blood of Christ, that “essential food” which keeps us spiritually alive and, in spite of all temptations and dangers, makes us Christ’s followers. . . .

And if Lent and fasting mean the intensification of that fight, it is because—according to the Gospel—we then are face to face with evil and all its power.  It is then, therefore, that we especially need the help and power of that Divine Fire.

In Lent we anticipate the power and victory of the Resurrection—AND we are called to enforce that victory in the dark places in us and around us.   So be it!





Others Have Been Here Before Us

14 03 2010

We are not the first to travel this path.  The spiritual journey, walking with Christ, especially during Lent can often feel like we are picking our way through uncharted territory.  In truth, however, we are not trailblazing!  The path may be a bit overgrown and too seldom used these days, but others have certainly come before us.  We do not have to discover this path to the Kingdom on our own (which should be a great relief to us!).  Sturdier pilgrims than we have worn away the grass and exposed the bare earth.  It was they who traversed the wilderness of sin and climbed the winding path over the mountain of self-centeredness.  They made a way through the dark and foreboding wood called bitterness.  We need not even mention the valley of fear and death.  We are not the first, others came before—thanks be to our Lord Jesus!

It was Jesus, after all, who did the real trailblazing.  He set his feet upon the Way of the Cross and never wavered.  The path took Him ultimately to the Empty Tomb and the Victory of Victories.  Many others have followed Him on the path, the holy ones of God, those set apart, whom we know as “saints”.  When it seems I cannot remain on the path another day, the saints give me hope.  They were human, and broken, and sinful, just like me—and they made it!  And I now enjoy the benefits of the hardened path their feet have made over these last two millennia.

Like the saints before us, we must always keep before us the joy and life that awaits the completion of the journey—just as Easter is the goal of the Lenten journey.  Alexander Schmemann (in Great Lent, on the last page of chapter 2) says it so well:

Only those who “rejoice in the Lord,” and for whom Christ and His Kingdom are the ultimate desire and joy of their existence, can joyfully accept the fight against evil and sin and partake of the final victory.  This is why of all the categories of Saints, . . . martyrs are [given special place in the church].  For martyrs are precisely those who preferred Christ to everything in this world including life itself, who rejoiced so much in Christ that they could say, as St. Ignatius of Antioch [A.D. 107] while dying said: “Now I begin to live. . . .”  They are the witnesses of the Kingdom of God because only those who have seen it and tasted of it are capable of that ultimate surrender.  They are our companions, our inspiration during Lent which is our fight for the victory of the divine, the heavenly, and the eternal in us [through Christ].

He concludes by reminding us that our corporate worship is meant to be “a constant reminder that however narrow and difficult the way, it ultimately leads to Christ’s table in His Kingdom.”

Others have gone before us and made a way, AND we know exactly where the path ends.  Do not lose heart fellow travelers!