This morning we have the cross veiled for Lent. It is not required in the Episcopal Church, although I am accustomed to it. There seem to be a variety of historical, theological and mystical reasons given for why we may do this.
Simply it is a reminder that it is Lent. All year long we look to the bright cross, as the manifestation of our deliverance, our redemption…but during Lent, we especially spend time contemplating our mortality.
Part of our mortal nature…in this life ..is that we struggle to see clearly into the mystery of life and God. As Paul tells us in a passage from 1 Corinthians: We only see “dimly.” The true nature of God and reality is veiled.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And while things may seem veiled to us in this life… the veiled cross can also be a reminder that we are hidden in God.
As the psalmist sings today: “You are my hiding-place.”
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
There’s a lot that’s happening between Genesis and Matthew today. They are readings that ask us to compare Adam and Jesus. And Paul also does this through his complex letter to the Romans.
The lessons point us to this concept of harm entering into the world, how we respond to it - and how Love entering into the World (in the model of Jesus) responds to it.
Matthew’s gospel is very archetypal in terms of looking at three channels through which we can experience temptation, and it can be very subtle.
What’s interesting is that the earliest of writers who wrote Genesis are the ones that point us to that subtlety…that harm can be very simple. It’s very alluring: like the apple.
What is harmful is sometimes masked by what seems pleasing, good and right… what may even seem logical or just.
And in Matthew, the devil for example, quotes scripture: psalm 91, in his conniving test of Jesus…
“For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”
The devil cleverly uses what seems right and good and pleasing to tempt Jesus away from his true self.
The story of Adam and Eve is our archetypal story for humanity. It identifies deep questions. Why are we conscious of our mortality unlike other animals? These questions are unanswerable of course. This is an origin story based in archetypal relationships. The big bang theory does not do that for us.
Survival as humankind is based in relationships and trust.
Trust is something humans alone have - and have the ability to mutually nurture and develop.
These lessons are about human nature and primarily about relationship.
Jesus is in the desert to have his own vision quest, to discern these things.
being in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights was a way for Jesus to be in relationship with God: for coming into an understanding of his own humanity. To trust.
He goes into the wilderness, through this trial, before he goes out into the world. That is the hero’s journey.
And what happens?
He is tempted not to believe he is the beloved Son of God.
This experience shows his own courage to stand alone and to have personal integrity, faith and keen perception. To Trust. This experience and test is affirmation of his identity and belovedness.
He must go through this trial in order to be that model, to be a presence that is in communion (right relationship) with the divine. To know his veiled identity as the beloved.
Not only that, but every answer Jesus gives to the Devil comes from Deuteronomy 6-8.
After surviving forty years in the wilderness…just as they are about to enter the Promised land, the people of Israel hear these instructions:
One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that comes from the mouth of God.’”
‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
Jesus’ trial is directly related to the trial of his people and also our deepest questions about redemption for humanity and our own lives…
In Lent we spend these forty days in reflection of that…
Do you trust your own belovedness?
Who are you.. hidden in God?
This time for Jesus in the wilderness comes directly following his Baptism. The Spirit leads him there.
And his experience is mirrored in our own baptismal covenant and the prayer that we say over the newly baptized…that was said over each one of us:
Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy
Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the
forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of
Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit.
Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.
Jesus models this for us. That’s who we are hidden in him.
There is a lot going on in our world right now. These questions about harm and evil, and what is right and what is just, and how to discern through the madness of war weighs on us. We are flooded by the news and feel out of control.
But this is a spiritual sermon. We also have a lot going on in our own lives; trouble and despair and fear on more personal levels. So I invite you to spend this Lent focusing on your lives and those you love, to retreat from the television…(not to bury your head in the sand) but to invite the love of Christ into your intimate World to sustain you.
That is the message of our readings, that God will sustain us through the trials. That we can trust we are redeemed by Love; and to remember the words of Paul, that you have been fully known.
While we see only dimly, as life events - and world events unfold, hold unto Christ who knows you, and is hidden in the cave of your hearts.
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The Rev. Heather K. Sisk