SUNDAY’S READINGS | March 6, 2022
When we bring to the Lord the first fruit of our lives, our selves, our souls, and bodies, we are to rehearse and remember before the altar of God who we have been and who we still are. “When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut. 26:6-9).
God has brought us to this place, a holy Church, a foretaste of heaven, and yet we never forget that we were and remain aliens in this world, subject to affliction, heavy labor, toil, and oppression. Again and again, we are Simon of Cyrene, carrying the cross of Christ.
The Incarnation was a cross from the very beginning. “To his tenderness then,” says John Donne, “the straws were almost as sharp as the nails after, and the manger as uneasy at first as the cross at last.” We have the Lord’s promise that we never escape in this moral life the pressing weight of the cross. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). To be sure, there are days and seasons of joy and ease, comfort and good health, but they are not secure. We rise from the waters of baptism as new beings, pristine and beautiful, beloved and swaddled with affection. Filled with the Holy Spirit, we are then sent, as Christ was sent, into the wilderness to meet demons within us and around us.
In the wilderness, we are tested; and what is Lent but a time of interrogation? Do we believe in our hearts what we confessed with our lips? (Rom. 8:9). Have we truly renounced Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God, renounced the evil powers of this world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, renounced all sinful desires that draw us from the love of God? Is Jesus Christ our bread from heaven, a kingdom not of this world, a new temple? Have we turned wholly and utterly to Christ? If, thus having been tested, we often fail, the struggle is not over. We repent and return to the Lord. Even Jesus, though victorious over the desert demons in a way we are not, had to face them again and again as they found “an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). In a sense, mortal life itself is precisely this trial.
Within our mortal lives, another deathless life is at work, the Spirit of Christ. Christ brings us through affliction, toil, oppression, and death. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
The descent of Christ into hell, as articulated in the Apostles’ Creed and the First Epistle of St. Peter, is of immense importance because it shows both the total abasement of Christ and his glorious victory over death. As recited in the Easter Exultet, “This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave” (BCP, p. 287).
We are in a world of trial while also in the victory of Christ. We groan and yet rejoice.
Look It Up: The Collect
Think About It: In our weakness, we find you mighty to save.