2/21 Readings: Two Consoling Messages

1 Lent

Gen. 9:8-17
Ps. 25:1-9
1 Pet. 3:18-22
Mark 1:9-15

“And the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for 40 days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:12-13). We too are “assaulted by many temptations” (Collect). We survive this testing by resisting the devil, steadfast in faith, and we survive even when we fall because Christ died for sinners, and we survive because there are ministering angels in the wilderness of our lives.

Angels are messengers, and there are two consoling messages in the appointed lessons that we do well to hear and claim.

The first concerns an opened heaven. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:9-10). This stands as a reversal of an ancient curse, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, when God “placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life” (Gen. 3:24). Although shut out of the garden, God came again and again to the help of his people, and yet a pall of guilt and shame remained over them. In Christ, heaven, the paradise of God and humanity, is opened again.

Heaven’s door will not be closed, for Jesus Christ our Lord is the one “in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him” (Eph. 3:12). Jesus is our great high priest, through whom we “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

How human it is to experience a time of need. We are sometimes afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, forsaken, struck down, and we always bear in our bodies the death of Jesus (2 Cor. 4:8-10). Our human predicament is a cross to bear, yet we who have died with Christ have also risen with him, and our prayers and cries, our lamentations and exaltations, rise up through an open heaven. Meditate on this angelic message: “he saw the heavens opened.”

The second message concerns the power of Christ to break open the gates of hell. “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,” bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

The dear are among those brought to God. “He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey” (1 Pet. 3:18-20).

Here we see Adam and Eve, symbols of all humans, trapped in a murky wasteland of the dead. In Christ, they are locked up no more. An ancient homily imagines the event: “Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. … He took him [Adam] the hand and raised him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ … I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.” (An Ancient Homily on the Lord’s Descent into Hell).

Heaven is open. The gates of hell are broken. All is full of love and victory.

Look It Up: Phil. 3:14

Think About It: Hear the upward call of God.


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