Until the End
  • Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday in Lent

Deut. 26:1-11 • Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16 • Rom. 10:8b-13 • Luke 4:1-13

The first fruits are gathered in full knowledge that this is “the bounty of the Lord,” and thus a return is required. Only in giving back through oblation and recitation of the old story do the people affirm their utter dependency upon God. Their labor in the fields accrues to them not a mere speck of human merit, for this is “the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Deut. 26:2).

At the moment of offering, a creed is recited, a testament sealing an inner knowledge. “I am not merely I,” implies the creed. “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt,” where the Egyptians “treated us harshly and afflicted us,” and the LORD “brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut. 26:5-8). Let the rejoicing begin. “Let Christ be bread to us, faith our drink; happily let us imbibe the sober inebriation of Spirit” (Liturgia Horarum, v.iii, p. 676, Latin Hymn, my translation). True joy is the bread of the crucified, a cup of sorrow.

Our creed may be contracted to the holy name of Jesus. The Word is near us, on our lips and in our hearts. Believing that God has raised him from the dead, believing that by adoption and grace we are drawn into the mystery of his life, and knowing that our believing itself is a gift of God, we are startled to this truth. We are safe in him. Our safety is a matter of naked trust, for the Word meets us in the world. The Word reveals the “tribulation and promise of life,” Karl Barth wrote on Romans. The Word is a piercing honesty, insisting that “we should make ourselves aware of the actual course of the world and of our lives, simply and soberly, critically, and stripping ourselves of every illusion.” The Word is an invitation to reality; it is there, without illusion, that we meet “the Lord who is generous to all” (Rom. 10:12).

The Word rises wet from the Jordan dripping in Spirit. By the same Spirit he is led into the wilderness for a time of testing, and we, with sympathy and imagination, go with him. His trial and triple victory is our own if only we stay near him. Hungering, he is tempted to make bread of stone. His vocation hangs midair by the devil’s if: If you are the Son of God. Jesus escapes by feasting on something else, the Word which he is. The devil shows him the kingdoms of the world, yet even the devil knows that they appear only for an instant. Jesus knows that the worship of God and the call to serve him is all-expansive and ever enduring. The devil suggests religious tricks, extreme measures, drama. Jesus holds his ground, he himself the hidden ground of love. He has no need to put the Lord to the test. And yet this is a real struggle pulling at every fiber of his being; the recapitulation of our humanity is a costly work.

Jesus must find, moment by moment, as we must too, cause to endure and struggle and go on. His perfect victory is not something we can grasp. Rather, in our weakness and need, we may receive from him grace upon grace. And let us recall the glory of our goal. “What, I ask, is more wonderful than divine beauty? What thought more gracious and sweet than God’s magnificence? What desire more vehement and strong than the one planted by God in a soul that is purified of sin and cries out with true affection?” (St. Basil, Resp. 2,1: PG 31, 908-10).

Look It Up
Read Romans 10:8b-13. The Word is where you are.

Think About It
Love is fidelity, and fidelity is work.

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