The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (6:13-20) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (9:17-31)
Blessed 4thSunday of Great and Holy Lent. As we are now past the halfway point of this great spiritual struggle we hear these words of encouragement from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews: “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (NIV)
Through this message the Church is trying to nurture each of us and encourage us. What are we doing here? Why are we struggling and working and fasting and praying and doing the grimy and difficult work of repentance? What is the point of doing all of this? Couldn’t we simply live as the rest of the world is living, eating, drinking, “enjoying life”? The answer is certainly “Yes.” You can do that if you so choose. However we are reminded that we were each bought at a price with the blood of Jesus Christ. At our baptism we were betrothed to Christ and we also became His bond servants and slaves. Yet there is something more. There is a promise and a hope.
What we are doing together every day of our lives is struggling to live for Jesus Christ because we have a great hope that St. Paul calls “the anchor of our soul.” What is that hope? It is that we will one day rest in the kingdom of God with the saints. We will be in the presence of God eternally. We will be healed of our every spiritual and physical infirmity. We will lack nothing and in fact will be abundantly wealthy beyond our wildest imaginations. We will receive our inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High. We will truly partake of God’s divine nature. We will have hope because we will be in the presence of hope Himself, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
This is why St. Paul can confidently say that this hope is the anchor of our soul. It is a hope that is rooted in Christ who cannot be moved or defeated, since He has already defeated every enemy, even death through His own life-giving death upon the tree.
Our hope is not to get through lent, to survive the fast. Our hope is not to taste meat (even bacon) or to share chocolate and candies together. Our hope is not to light candles and process around the church. Our hope is not even to say “Christ is risen!” Our hope is to live the reality of what it means to say “Christ is risen!”
Our hope is only Christ Himself. And that should lead to a big shift in our thinking. Nothing else is required for our lives, if we have laid hold of Christ. We have received forgiveness of our sins. We have been purified and cleansed. We have been enlightened with the truth of His teachings. We receive His life giving body and precious blood on a weekly basis. And we will defeat death if we cling to the One who rose again from the dead. Truly we have this as a promise from God and if God has promised it, nothing is missing for us, except a bit of faith and acceptance of this new reality. We accept this new reality by living in communion with Christ and His Church and in obedience to His teachings and the life of the Church. This is the paradigm shift of those who come to life. This is the mindset of the saints and holy ones.
Among these holy ones, this Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, we commemorate St. John Climacus or John of the Ladder. He is called this because of his famous spiritual work “The Ladder of Divine Ascent” which is often called the most important and most read book in the Orthodox Church after the Bible itself. In fact it is typically read in it’s entirety during the period of Great Lent in the monasteries around the world.
In this book, which was directed first towards monks, we are given a glimpse into the spiritual stages or levels of growth and St. John pictures them as rungs on a ladder. He mentions 30 different rungs or levels.
St. John has many great and healing words in his spirit filled work, but the theme is important. The work of the spiritual life is not easy, in fact it is exceedingly difficult and painful especially at the beginning. It requires dilligence and patience, and great ascetical and physical labors, but God will help us if we are humble and will heal us through this daily struggle to be holy men and women.
Listen to his words,
“Do not be surprised that you fall every day; do not give up, but stand your ground courageously. And assuredly the angel who guards you will honour your patience. While a wound is still fresh and warm it is easy to heal, but old, neglected and festering ones are hard to cure, and require for their care much treatment, cutting, plastering and cauterization. Many from long neglect become incurable. But with God all things are possible [Matthew 19:26].” + St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5.30
“With God all things are possible.” This is the message that we take from the St. John of the ladder as well as today’s epistle. This is also the message that we take from the gospel where we see a man who is at the end of his rope and in desperate need of a cure for his beloved son. Our Lord turns to him and says “If you believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” And this broken man falls to his knees and cries out to the Lord Jesus saying “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” My brothers and sisters, this is the way to grow in Christ. Our own prayer life has to hit that level and that depth because it is the broken hearted that are heard by Christ and healed. Don’t be afraid now. We have a couple more weeks to struggle. Let us struggle with courage. He is with us and desires to save us.
We will surely find that His help comes swiftly, because He has promised this to us and God will not break His promises. Glory be to God forever AMEN.