At this midpoint of Lent , our readings begin to change in tonality and we are reminded of all that Christ did to heal those who were physically maimed, broken in spirit, unloved by the world, and, in some cases, dead to the world.
Where is this taking us? Why are these readings so carefully chosen and orchestrated so they build on one another? For each of the Sundays of Lent, I have tried to walk you through the steps that help you develop a personal relationship with Christ. Why?
For the same reasons that the readings are so carefully chosen. To remind you of the love that Christ has for you. It is a love that overpowers all that we have ever known in our life and a love that extends beyond our life. Do you think it is worth talking about? I do and I hope you do as well.
We heard in the Gospel reading two weeks ago, as Christ began his public ministry after his baptism, that he was first driven into the desert by the Spirit. To begin his work, he escaped into this isolation, he faced the temptations of the devil who tried to appeal to the humanity of Jesus, and he overcome them.
This escape into the desert and reviewing our humanity is an appropriate image for us, for this is what Lent is all about. We are called to escape into our own spiritual desert and take the time to reflect on our lives and put in place practices which allow us to grow. Particularly in our modern world of technology, it is easy to spend days on end without a moment of recollection. While technology has made daily chores less time-consuming, it seems that this time has only been converted to more and more busy-ness. We can get so caught up in our daily activities that we fail to stop and ask those important questions that give meaning and direction to our activity.
So what can we do about that? The key to Lent is viewing it as a discipline, as an opportunity to focus on what we are truly striving for, and find what we need to do to get there. And Christ tells us very clearly what we should be thinking about, “The kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the Gospel.” All that we do should be aimed at that one goal of eternal life. While we don’t think about it often, it’s important to reevaluate those habits and daily practices, and see if they are helping us achieve that goal. There are so many temptations in this world will seek to drag us down, activities and events which pull at us to spend all our time on things which are passing and unimportant. The discipline of Lent reminds us to stop, to reflect, and to fight these temptations by strengthening our relationship with Christ, who himself conquered the devil and gives us the same ability.
St. Paul describes life as a race to reach the imperishable crown. Just as in running, we need to be disciplined and trained, it’s the same with our spiritual life. Ideally, the practices we form in Lent should remain with us throughout the year, though maybe to a lesser degree. We should leave each Lent in a little better condition than we did the year before. We escape into the desert to collect ourselves, but we return to our lives renewed and stronger in that battle to save our own souls, and the souls of those we meet. Let’s not forget that each of us is called to touch the lives of those we meet. Each of us called to be the light of Christ. Each of us is reminded that those who meet us and see what we do should see in us a true follower of Christ – one who is other directed, one who is compassionate, one who gives of oneself so that those who have not can be touched by our actions and touched by the compassion of Christ. What’s the example of that?
The gospel reading today expresses that truth simply: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.” God sent us his Son out of love for us. and that sending became a giving when his Son was put to death on a cross. As Paul says in the second reading, “God loved us so much that he was generous with his mercy.” We are of such value in God’s eyes that God did not spare his own Son, but He gave him up to benefit us all. Incredible isn’t it especially when we reflect on what we think of ourselves at times? We are of such value in God’s eyes that God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all. That is why the cross has become the dominant symbol of Christianity. It is not because we glorify suffering, but because in the cross we recognize the extent to which God is prepared to go for love of us.
In the light that Jesus brings from God we find mercy, compassion, great love, kindness, and infinite grace. It is a light that need hold no fear for us; it is a divine light that lifts us up, just as the Son of Man was lifted up, in the words of the gospel reading. Here is a light that assures us of our worth and that helps us to see the goodness that is within us and the good that we are capable of doing. It is a light that, in the words of the second reading, allows us to recognize that ‘we are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live a good life’. It is the light of a love that shines upon us regardless of what we have done or failed to do. As the first reading reminds us, God’s grace, God’s love, comes to us not on the basis of anything we have done. It is not something we earn by our efforts; it comes to us as a pure gift. When God gave his Son to the world, He did not ask whether the world was worthy of his Son or whether the world was ready for his Son. Even when the world crucified God’s Son, God did not take back his Son from the world. What did he do? What did he do? He continued to give his Son to the world, raising him from the dead and sending him back into the world through the Holy Spirit, through the church. Here is a light that shines in the darkness and opens a new life for us.
We all long for that kind of light, a light that is strong and enduring, a light that can be found at the heart of darkness and that is more resilient than darkness. We have all experienced darkness in one shape or form. It may be the darkness of sickness, or of the death of a loved one or the darkness of failure; we may struggle from time to time with the darkness of depression, with those dark demons that tell us that we are worthless or that we have failed and that life is not worth living. We may have known our own experiences of exile in its various forms, times when we felt cut off from those people and those things that give meaning and purpose to our lives. The readings this morning assure us that in all those forms of darkness, a light shines – the light of God’s enduring love that is constantly at work in our lives so that we may have life and have it to the full. In the words of the gospel reading again, ‘God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him… may have eternal life’.
Even though this wonderful light has come into the world and wants to shine upon us all, we are sometimes reluctant to step into that light. In the words of the gospel reading, ‘though the light has come into the world, people have shown that they prefer darkness to the light’. This is the mysterious capacity of human freedom to reject the light, to turn away from a faultless love and a boundless mercy. Yet, our coming to the light is often a gradual process; it can happen slowly, at our own pace. The Lord is always prepared to wait on us; he waits for our free response. We are not accustomed to a love that is as generous, as merciful, as rich in grace and goodness as God’s love; it takes us time to receive it, to believe in it, to embrace it. Receiving God’s love and then living out of that gift is the calling and task of a life time and Lent is the time that we focus on that and begin living it.