Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Glimpse of Lent

Today is the Wednesday before the Great Fast and as part of our final pre-Lenten preparation the Church offers us a glimpse of what is to come. The services for today are Lenten services although we are not yet actually in Lent. It’s nice to experience how the Church gradually eases us into the Great Fast. We began the fast from meat this week, but no other fasting is yet expected. Even today the Church allows us to eat dairy, fish and oil which will not be the case next week once the Great Fast has begun. The readings for today speak of the future and our need to return to Christ, which has been and will be the continual theme of the Triodion and the Great Fast.

Here are today’s readings...
Joel 3:12-21 (RSV) - Let the nations bestir themselves, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the nations round about. Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe.  Go in, tread, for the wine press is full.  The vats overflow, for their wickedness is great. Multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of decision!  For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and the moon are darkened, and the stars withdraw their shining. And the Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake.  But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel. "So you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who dwell in Zion, my holy mountain.  And Jerusalem shall be holy and strangers shall never again pass through it. "And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord and water the valley of Shittim. "Egypt shall become a desolation and Edom a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the people of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land.  But Judah shall be inhabited for ever, and Jerusalem to all generations.  I will avenge their blood, and I will not clear the guilty, for the Lord dwells in Zion."
Joel 2:12-26 (RSV) - "Yet even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."  Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.  Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.  Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants.  Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, "Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'" Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.  The Lord answered and said to his people, "Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations. "I will remove the northerner far from you, and drive him into a parched and desolate land, his front into the eastern sea, and his rear into the western sea; the stench and foul smell of him will rise, for he has done great things. "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!  Fear not, you beasts of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield. "Be glad, O sons of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord, your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the latter rain, as before. "The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.  I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. "You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.  And my people shall never again be put to shame."

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When was the last time you denied knowing Christ?

Please trust me when I tell you it is not be accident that the Church this week before the Great Fast calls our attention to the events of Holy Week. Great Lent is an ancient journey and sacred tradition for members and catechumens of the Church to focus attention on the really important things in life. These things have nothing to do with stock markets and international trade deals, but everything to do with the eternal comfort of our souls. As the Great Fast approaches, the Church invites us to take a moment and consider the question of denial. When was the last time you denied knowing Christ? Take a moment to read today’s Gospel reading for the Tuesday before the Great Fast...
Gospel Reading: Luke 22:39-42, 45-71; 23:1 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus came out, he went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation."  And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours, be done."  And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, "Why do you sleep?  Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation." While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them.  He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, "Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?"  And when those who were about him saw what would follow, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?"  And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus said, "No more of this!"  And he touched his ear and healed him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house.  Peter followed at a distance; and when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them.  Then a maid, seeing him as he sat in the light and gazing at him, said, "This man also was with him."  But he denied it, saying "Woman, I do not know him."  And a little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."  But Peter said, "Man, I am not."  And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, "Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean."  But Peter said, "Man, I do not know what you are saying."  And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed.  And the Lord turned and looked at Peter.  And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times."  And he went out and wept bitterly. Now the men who were holding Jesus mocked him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and asked him, "Prophesy!  Who is it that struck you?"  And they spoke many other words against him, reviling him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes; and they led him away to their council, and they said, "If you are the Christ, tell us."  But he said to them, "If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I ask you, you will not answer.  But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God."  And they all said, "Are you the Son of God, then?"  And he said to them, "You say that I am."  And they said, "What further testimony do we need?  We have heard it ourselves from his own lips." Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate.
Saint Peter whom we know as the leader of the Apostles fell to the temptation of self preservation and denied even knowing Christ. In Peter’s case it wasn’t just once but three times before he realized his sin. Fortunately for Saint Peter, Christ forgave him and offered Peter the chance to repent after the resurrection when He asked, “Simon Bar Jonah, do you love Me?” (John 21.15) Three times Peter denied knowing Christ, so three times he was able to confess his love for Christ.

I’m sure there have been days, weeks or month even, in your life when you have denied knowing Christ either in words or actions. We each fall to the temptation of self preservation at one time or another. That is one of the great benefits of the Great Fast. We have a chance to repent and confess, in actions and words, our love for Christ. The Sunday before the Great Fast is known as Forgiveness Sunday in the Church. Take a few minutes this week and consider how you may have denied knowing Christ in your life. Then come to Church Sunday and confess your love for Him by being with Him in Church and offer your voice in praise of His glory. Call you priest and make an appointment for Holy Confession during the Great Fast. It worked for Peter; it can work for you.

Monday, February 20, 2017

You Cannot Silent the Gospel

There are many examples of the world attempting to silent the Gospel of Christ. It began when Herod sent out armies to slaughter innocent children as an attempt (and I repeat....attempt) to stop the Messiah. It didn’t work. Rome itself was unable to silent the Gospel even killing Christ and unknown hundreds of Christians. Eventually Rome fell to the grace of God and the Gospel was victorious. In modern times too there have been many attempts to silence the Gospel. For more than seventy years the Soviet Union attempted (and I repeat....attempted) to silence the Gospel by forbidding public preaching, teaching and outward displays of faith. Within days of the fall of the Soviet Union, Churches were reopened and thousands have been rebuilt in the years that followed. You might think the enemies of the Gospel didn’t believe Christ....
Gospel Reading: Luke 19:29-40; 22:7-39 (RSV) - At that time, when Jesus drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, saying, "Go into the village opposite, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat; untie it and bring it here.  If any one asks you, 'Why are you untying it?' you shall say this, 'The Lord has need of it.'"  So those who were sent went away and found it as he had told them.  And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, "Why are you untying the colt?"  And they said, "The Lord has need of it."  And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their garments on the colt they set Jesus upon it.  And as he rode along, they spread their garments on the road.  As he was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"  And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples."  He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying; "Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it."  They said to him, "Where will you have us prepare it?"  He said to them, "Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters, and tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I am to eat the passover with my disciples?'  And he will show you a large upper room furnished; there make ready."  And they went, and found it as he had told them; and they prepared the passover. And when the hour came, he sat at table, and the apostles with him.  And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you I shall not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God."  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."  And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you.  Do this in remembrance of me."  And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.  But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.  For the Son of man goes as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"  And they began to question one another, which of them it was that would do this. A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves?  Is it not the one who sits at table?  But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren."  And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death."  He said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me." And he said to them, "When I sent you out with no purse or bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"  They said, "Nothing."  He said to them, "But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag.  And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.  For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, 'And he was reckoned with transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfillment."  And they said, "Look, Lord, here are two swords."  And he said to them, "It is enough." And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him.
This reading from the Gospel is read on the Monday following the Sunday of Judgment (which was yesterday this year) as a reminder of what is to come. Christ has told us exactly what to expect. Whether it was the Old Testament signs which were to prepare us for His First Coming in the Flesh, or the many signs from the New Testament that have come to pass. Christ has always prepared us for what He had planned, and His plan is to save us if we are willing.

As you make your final preparations for the beginning of the Great Fast next week, I invite you consider how you may have been ignoring the Gospel in your life. Over and over the Church calls our attention to the challenges of faith. Yesterday we learned of our coming judgment. Next week we will hear how we must forgive. We will be forever tempted to take the path of the world, but the world will never be able to silence the Gospel. Why keep trying? Wouldn’t it be easier to embrace the Gospel and Live A New Life In Christ?