The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark 8:34-9:1
Today we are officially at the half-way point of Great and Holy Lent. For some of us this is a warning that half of the race is already over. If we have not started to make an effort yet, now is the time to do so! Now is the time to reach out and try to wrestle for the blessings that God has to offer.
However, on this day, at the mid-way point of Lent, the Church assumes that we are already struggling to keep the fast, the increase in prayer and almsgiving, to increase our spiritual struggle. And for this reason the Church brings out her most treasured possession.
If we have been struggling to know and to serve God during this fast we understand that we are in the midst of a battle. This is a battle for the hearts and minds and ultimately the souls of humanity. If you have been struggling to obey the mind of the Church you quickly begin to realize that what we are doing is not fun, and it is not simply a matter of “giving things up for Lent.” My brothers and sisters, we are at war. This war has been going on for thousands of years and it is continuing with us now. There is a spiritual warfare going on. Angels and demons exist, and when we take the teachings of the Church seriously, when we engage in the practices of Great and Holy Lent, we have in fact declared war against Satan and his armies.
If you have been fasting and struggling during the last few weeks, you will notice that the urges and temptations have become much more powerful during this season. The demons see us making progress and they tremble. They are losing valuable real estate in our hearts. The darkness is being pushed back and light is about to break through. So now, the demons regroup and call in reinforcements. They begin to attack us but they don’t stop there. They begin to agitate others and cause strife within the home and within the Church. They will look for any and every possible angle to achieve their unholy purposes. They cannot afford to see us making progress, they cannot afford to see us drawing near to Our Lord and His body, the Church.
The Church knows all of this through a deep experience of living this and witnessing the lives of the saints and members of the Church who came before us. The Church knows that we are at war and as a loving mother, she cannot just sit by while her children are beaten and punished and exhausted through the struggle.
So now she brings out the secret weapon that will turn the tide of the war in her children’s favor. She brings to us, her only boast and her only joy. The Cross!
During the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, at one point many of the people were attacked by poisonous snakes. Those who were bit would die. But God had mercy on them. He told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole. Those who were bitten and looked to the serpent would immediately be healed and spared death. Now God comes to His people the Church and says to us “If you are bitten or wounded in the battle, have no fear, only look to the Cross of my Son.”
This Cross is not magic. It is the remembrance of Christ Our Lord’s sufferings and trials at the hands of sinners. It is the remembrance of the manly, heroic courage of Our Lord in the face of unrestrained evil. But the reminder is of a dual nature. We are reminded of Christ’s heroic struggles on our behalf and the demons are reminded of their ultimate defeat at the hands of the Holy Son of God. The Church sends out the reminder, the demons may win some of the battles, but the war has already been lost. Satan’s kingdom was overtaken when it gladly accepted the Trojan horse in the form of the crucified Lord and it rejoiced that it had destroyed the Son of God who hung upon the wood of the cross. Little did it realize that the celebration would turn into mourning as Christ turned the world upside down and defeated death through His acceptance of death upon the cross.
Today we are each reminded to be strong, to be courageous, to be Christ-like. And we are encouraged by the Lord’s very own words “whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.” Take up your crosses! Patiently endure everything that is coming your way as the children of God and be faithful. God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. Let us be weak as Christ was weak. Let us lose our wills in obedience to God’s will. Let us lose our lives in order to enter into His true life! There can be no doubt that He who commands us to take up the cross will also command us to rise from the grave and into His glorious resurrection!
Glory be to God forever, AMEN.