The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (4:14-5:6) and The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
On the third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we mark a wonderful event. We have now reached the halfway point of this great and holy struggle. The Church is a wise mother and she knows her children well. She has seen their struggles over two millennia and in the midst of their struggles and trials and tribulations, she has raised up countless numbers of saints from among her children.
So today as we celebrate the third Sunday of Lent, Our mother, the Church, brings forth the remembrance and the image of the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ to strengthen us and to encourage us during this difficult time of fasting and prayer. In the life of a Christian, nothing is more frightening or painful than to look at oneself and ones failings before God and to examine his or her life and repent honestly and truly. If it was easy, everyone would become saints. If it was easy Our Lord Jesus Christ would have said “The way is large and wide and many enter it!” But our blessed Master does not say that at all. He says “The way is narrow and there are few who find it.”
Yet the Church reminds us that even in the midst of these difficult days of repentance, we should keep going, keep pressing on towards God. And as we begin to grow tired of fasting and repentance and struggle, the Church brings out her most powerful treasure. She shares with us the trophy of the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, which has become our victory as well. How can we not be comforted whenever we see the image of the cross of Christ? How can we not have our wounds soothed by that beautiful image of God’s love for us?
These days, we might feel that we are suffering more than we did in previous lents. The whole world seems to be in fear regarding the virus that is spreading around the world like a wildfire. Some of you are really missing the Divine Liturgy. This might be your first or second week away from the liturgy. For some of you, maybe it was even longer than that. But I want you to know that it is natural to miss the Liturgy and to hunger and long for the life of the Church. What is unnatural is for people to skip the Divine liturgy for worldly reasons and pathetic excuses. It means that there is a lack of love for God. But here in our situation it is admirable and good that we obey the authorities and do our part to help in this battle against the virus.
Our time away from the church, reminds me of the Israelites in the wilderness after they had received their freedom from Egypt. They had to wander for a long time with only a promise in their hearts. They were promised that they would one day see the promised land and dwell in it together. Until then they were nearly empty handed. They did not have much in the wilderness! We might feel like we are stuck in the wilderness of our own homes. In fact we cannot even find toilet paper! But what did the people have in the wilderness? They had the presence of God. God went before them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. We cannot even imagine such a spectacle!
Yet, what we as Christians have is much much more than anything that they could have imagined in the wilderness. We have the presence of God within us because we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit through our Baptism and Chrismation. You have become temples of the Holy Spirit! God is with you always. God has also given us promises. He has promised to never leave us. So we are called to be faithful to His teachings and to never leave Him!
In today’s Epistle reading we hear these words,
“For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One Who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ understands our condition, because He has lived this condition. He held within Himself, our human condition and His divine, heavenly condition. And because of this, we are told that He sympathizes with us and loves us. The apostle goes further to say that we should “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Today we might feel that we are in a time of need. In truth, all of our life is a time of need. We are completely helpless and dependent upon the Lord and only the arrogant or the insane believe otherwise. So don’t squander this time of isolation, this time in the wilderness. Transform your homes not only into little churches but into little monasteries, away from the world. Take the initial steps to draw near to the throne of grace and you will find God’s grace poured out on you and your family through faith.
In today’s gospel the Lord says “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” Now we feel that we have lost some of the world, we are a bit cut off from the world around us. But we should not despair, because during this time we can dedicate and focus our lives on Christ. Instead of a time of torment and torture, this can be a time of comfort and peace through our union with Christ in prayer and in service of one another (as much as that is possible). So, far from being a time of torment, it can be a new paradise. Isn’t that why the holy men and women went into the deserts and wildernesses of the world, to find Christ in prayer?
Brothers and sisters, let us run the rest of this lenten race, carrying our various crosseswith haste and understand that we have not lost anything, but we have gained a chance to regain our lives and our souls by returning to Christ. To Him be the glory with His Father and the Holy Spirit, AMEN.