The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
One of the key aspects of being a human in our world is self-preservation. We believe that people will ultimately do what is best in order to benefit and save their own lives. In fact, the whole idea of Darwinism (understood as an ideology and not simply a scientific theory) is precisely this ideology of self-preservation, that everything exists in the hopes of continuing it’s existence. Everyone’s primary goal for their life is to continue to try to live. And we hear strange stories of those who have even tried to plan for their deaths by finding ways to have themselves preserved much like Walt Disney was preserved.
The Christian gospel day in and day out, for two thousand years, has demonstrated it’s utter rebellion against the thoughts of this world, against our “human” way of thinking. Listen to the words of the Lord regarding this subject of self-preservation. If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it.”
On this, the third Sunday of Great and Holy Lent we celebrate the veneration of the Cross. It is yet another sign that the Church is alive and loves her children. The Church’s very cycle of worship is designed with her people in mind. The Church throughout the centuries has always asked “what is best for My people, what will bring them to their right minds, what will bring them true healing, what will bring them to a genuine experience of life?” Today the answer is the cross of Jesus Christ.
At this the halfway point of the holy forty days, we are given two roads and we are forced to choose one of them. The first is the way of the world, the road of self-preservation. It is the road that looks easy, the road where we aren’t weighed down with extra church services, the road where we eat whatever we want and minimize our own discomfort. This road can even be filled with distractions, what will I buy next? What will I watch next? All of these are aspects of wanting to save our life and wanting to live life to the fullest. We fall into the trap of feeling that there is no time to lose. In fact we are absolutely correct. There is no time to lose. But it’s not our time to gain or to lose, it all belongs to the One who gave this to us as the gift of life.
The first road was the way of the world, the road of self-preservation. But there remains for us another road and the Lord has shared that with us today. This is the way of self denial and self sacrifice and this path is found when we decide to make the teachings of Jesus our life’s work. It is certainly the road that is less travelled, but it is by far the more noble and beautiful way. Every day we are forced to decide whether we will live for ourselves or whether we live for Christ. Every day we are forced to choose between saving what we call a life or denying this life to enter into genuine life with the only Giver of life. And we are reminded that this struggle is a life or death struggle. 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?” Our beloved Jesus is sharing one of the spiritual laws of the universe with us and for that we should fall on our knees in awe and gratitude. He tells us that if we try to live for our physical and material benefit we will lose our souls. Yet if we forget about ourselves and try to live richly and faithfully towards Christ and towards His kingdom, we won’t just gain our souls, we will gain everything good and much more than we could ever imagine.
Now is the time to choose a path and there are only these two paths available to us. One of those roads looks hard and will no doubt lead to some exhaustion. The other road looks like a bed of roses, but it is filled with hidden thorns. Take up your crosses and commit to following the Son of God during these remaining holy days. Fast and pray with zeal. Show love to your neighbors and serve others with zeal. Understand that we will all have to give up this life and our only legacy and inheritance will be that which the Lord Himself gives us.
We remember that the Lord never ever teaches his followers to do something that He has not already done or planned to do on our behalf. The Lord of glory, who controls the heavens and the earth and who gave life to the whole of creation, willingly offered Himself on behalf of those whom He loved. He took up a cross willingly to endure, to suffer and to die to give us His life! When we understand that sacrifice and that love we are moved to imitation and obedience of the Lord because we see that His way is the only way that leads us to real life and it is so powerful that it can transform our souls that were dead in sins and breathe new life and resurrection into each of us. These solemn and joyful days are days where we draw near to God so that He can pour out His life and revive us. Yet He does this only with our consent and our cooperation. He cannot give life to those who believe they have “life” apart from Him.
At this halfway mark of the fast, we venerate His precious and life giving cross and are reminded of His love for us and His power to destroy not only evil and death in the universe but our own sicknesses and spiritual infirmities. May He who destroyed death by the power of His cross, give us strength and inspire us to carry on with joy, in the hope of becoming partakers of His glorious resurrection! And glory be to God Forever, AMEN.