I reproduce a sermon here which I gave on the first Sunday in Lent. As you may have gathered, the theme I am peddling this Lent in sermons, stations and the prayer groups is that of declaring the acceptable year of the Lord and all which this entails, that we look seriously at our Christian duties of bringing about a state where the world is recognisably a place which glorifies God in thought, action and word. This necessitates great change in us all, but brings sublime happiness and eternal dwelling in God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Not a few lines before the Gospel today we read of the baptism of Jesus, the wilderness experience where He encounters John and God comes down to anoint His Son. The next place of encounter is in the desert today, where Christ encounters the devil and overcomes His lies.
Christ goes to the desert for forty days, as we did on Wednesday, at the beginning of Lent. He -and I hope we- will encounter something there which will make us stronger and then will urge us on for the rest of the year in proclaiming our truth, that the year of the Lord's favour, the acceptable time, could be upon us if we repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. Christ’s experience is to not only return and preach, but also be rejected by his own kind, after which he would leave the area. Christ, of course, after returning from the desert preached in Galilee but was rejected at Nazareth, His hometown, as He fulfilled the word of God within Himself, leading to the attempt on His life in the Temple.
Lenten preaching and the guidance of Lenten quiet days can be a fraught affair and unless some of the message given is rejected, I wonder if the 'real deal' is being delivered. Fasting and retreat are an integral part of Lent, along with repentance, which includes Sacramental confession and some clear, visual reparation for wrongs done, the example of Christ includes both interior dialogue, dialogue with God as well as visual and actual action. Proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour which is another way of saying ‘repent and believe the good news’ involves asking that of people which is difficult - real and actual change - for this is what we offer God, in the place of encounter which is the season of Lent, as our part of the covenant of faith. We say that we DESERVE His grace, 'Lord, we do well, always and everywhere, to give you thanks...' in the encounter of the Mass, but we are given forty days to repent and show that we are worthy of the year of the Lord's favour, which will come when our return from the place of encounter is so corporately strong that the fire of the Holy Ghost in us will be so strong, so evident to those around us, that we will, in truth, renew the face of the earth.
Over the next forty days, we are all to be changed. We are all called to follow the way of the cross, to shoulder the burden with Christ as he carries his own instrument of death up Calvary until, reaching the place of his death, with what agony after being stripped and beaten for our sins, for that is what he is beaten for, because he loves us enough to show us the way to salvation, reaching that place he is stripped once more and laid down on the cross as the sacrificial lamb. This is where He changes from Jesus son of Joseph, the thorn in the side of the authorities, to what He promised at the last supper. This is where He becomes, visibly and clearly, the naked sacrificial Lamb of God, who is to take away the sins of the world. This is the meaning of Lent – we encounter Jesus as He lays down His life for us. The Lamb of God is stripped and laid down and we, spiritually here on the holy mountain, we also must change here. This is where we all are stripped down to our most elemental figure, that of body, soul, salvation and damnation. This is where He chose the sacrificial path of life, in obedience to his own commandment to hold Love paramount. This is where we must make that decision as well, or we may as well turn back, walk down the hill, go into the tavern and sit forever at the end of the bar, perpetual observers, malcontents and voyeurs.
This is where he and we are naked, vulnerable in the desert, stripped of any earthly pride we may have. This is how it is to be able to clothe the stranger. To have such understanding of ourselves that we know that Christ, the king of kings but the stranger to the strangers, the naked, stripped king of love, is to be sacrificed for us. And before that blessed day, when early in the morning of the third day he is to rise and break the curse of death, to exchange the kiss of death for the kiss of life, before that, he calls us to follow him. And that means you and me, here in your church and my church. This is where to start.
This building stands for the worship of God, of he who stands before us naked by the cross, ready to die for your sins, the worship of He who stands at the gate of Lent waiting to encounter you and I without our offices, our status and our place. To worship him without following his example is futile, to use the church as a place where the Lord is not served is to withhold your help from the least of all strangers, and that is to withhold your help from the Lord. In absolute truth if we come into this building to gossip, to get position or power, we turn away from the Lord and ignore His call.
Week after week you come here naked in the sight of God and others come here, vulnerable, naked in their minds, abused and violated, out there is as much hurt as was encountered on Calvary tree, out there and in here is as much potential for forging a better life for others, to live again in Christ, as there was to St John and Our Lady as Christ commended them into each others care in one of his last acts before he died.
If people are suffering here then we are not clothing the naked and this is not the acceptable year of God. If people bear guilt and are not absolved, if people bear the weight of oppression and are not relieved, then we do not clothe them and this is not the house of God. If we do not strive for equality and justice, peace and an end to warfare, then this is not a community of God.
This Lent, walk up the holy mountain and look around you with love and compassion. Do not fall into the trap of ego. Look to Christ for your example and look to the cross and early in the morning, on the third day of the week as the sun rises you will be ready to see Christ as he truly is, in a place fit for his service. Clothe yourself in penitence for the Lord is coming, clothe others in Joy and liberation from the word of the Lord and you will be his sons and daughters and be numbered among the sheep and not the goats and as God commanded Noah to save the animals, so we may be saved by our faith, for nothing we possess, no office we hold and no accident of birth can save us.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.