“No sooner had the wood of Thy Cross been set up, O Christ our Lord, than the foundations of death were shaken. Hell swallowed You eagerly, but it let You go with trembling! You have shown us Your salvation O Holy One, and we glorify You O Son of God! Have Mercy on Us!” -Ode 3 Canon of Matins for the Cross
Here in the midpoint of Great Lent, right around the time that we become weary with fasting and putting our spiritual lives, we are given a reminder of why we continue to move forward towards the Crucifixion and Resurrection: We have God who unconditionally Loves Us!
Love is such a deeply misunderstood word in our world today. It carries with it such deep meaning! I think in any serious relationship that we have, many of us can go back and pinpoint, or remember somewhat, the first time that we said or realized that we loved our significant other. That moment when we first heard those words “I love you” in many cases are burned into our memory, because that simple word “love” is filled with so much meaning and emotion!
Isn’t it interesting how so often, because of our misplaced priorities and focuses in life, that when we hear the words “God loves me”, it doesn’t seem to carry as much weight in our minds? If we truly did understand what that phrase meant…”God loves me”…and incorporate it into every fiber of our being, it would dissolve all of our fears! Instead of sadness, guilt and pride, we would be filled with happiness, peace, and security because the creator of EVERYTHING…you, me, this church, our houses, our cars, the stars, the grass on the fields…the creator of everything loves us unconditionally, totally, and eternally.
If we could do nothing more in our faith, than learn what it truly means to be loved by God and let that shape the way we see the world, it would be the most significant achievement and the most magnificent blessing of this life. But so often, we don’t do that. We play a little game that I am sure all of us remember and probably had done at some point in our lives, where we take a flower, and without counting whether there are an even or odd number of petals, we pick one and say: “He loves me”…and then another…”He loves me not”.
This game has been played by mankind for centuries! In scripture, starting with the children of Israel: God leads them out of Egypt: “He loves me”. Pharoah’s army traps them against the sea: “He loves me not”. The waters of the red sea part, allowing the Israelites to escape and drown the Egyptians: “He loves me.” There is nothing to drink in the wilderness and we are dying of thirst: “He loves me not”.
We play this same game in our present time as well! Our family bought our first new car: “God loves me” Car gets dented by a runaway cart: “He loves me not” Prayed for the healing of a family member and they got better: “He loves me”. Eventually that family member got sick again and passed away: “He loves me not”. I had a very awe inspiring moment at Divine Services in the Church: “He loves me” I can’t seem to get out of bed…as everything (even prayer) feels numb: “He loves me not”!
Recently, it feels like we have had more odd petals than even ones! Worldwide pandemic shuts down Pascha last year: “He loves me not”. Faith shaken by the response of the Church in dealing with COVID: “He loves me not”. Political Climate a mess…no one gets along anymore: “He loves me not”. Family Members falling ill and other Podvigs galore as we begin Great and Holy Lent: “He loves me not”
We can understand God’s love and see it so easily when things go well, but when difficulties arise, our view of His love can be easily obscured by the world. This is why “He loves me…he loves me not” is not a game that we can continue to play with God, and this is precisely what the Church reminds us of on this mid-point of Great Lent with the Cross. His love for us is eternal, unconditional, unfailing, and unchanging!
Despite being at home last year for Pascha, that day still felt special and made us all yearn for the Glory that awaits us in just a few short weeks: “He loves me”.
Despite hearing things we don’t want to hear and adhering to things we don’t want to adhere to, we had a chance to learn and to put into practice what obedience to the Church that is guided by the Holy Spirit looks like. We all grew as Christians this past year: “He loves me”
Despite going to visit some ailing family and a beloved Metropolitan this past week, by the Grace of God and not in my original plans, I was blessed with being able to venerate a weeping icon, seeing a miracle play out in front of my eyes, and strengthening the faith of my family in a difficult moment: “He loves me”
Today, we are reminded of what that wood represents: Love. And not just any love, but the kind that when you see it and experience it, it MEANS SOMETHING! May God give us the grace and strength to continue to encounter this love, and let it grow in our hearts and minds, Amen.