Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Destination Matters!

On the Third Sunday of the Great Fast, the Church places in front of us the Precious and Holy Cross of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. We are half-way through our Great Lenten Journey, just as with any journey, we see a sign of what is ahead of us on the road. Every traveler needs to be reminded of the destination every now and then during the journey. That is the case today. The Holy Cross is our destination.

The challenging words of Christ in today’s Gospel speak profoundly of the destination of the Great Fast. If we desire to follow Christ, we cannot avoid our cross. “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8.34) The Great Fast is not about a diet or mastering some fantastic vegan recipe. The Great Fast is about one thing and only one thing. It is about learning to deny ourselves and take up our cross.

In the case of every journey, if we don’t know where we are headed we are destined to get lost along the way. If we don’t understand the Great Fast as a journey to the Cross of Christ, then we may lose weight because we fasted, but we will never follow Christ into heaven. If we don’t understand the Great Fast is about putting our agenda aside, we will never learn the path to paradise. The destination matters.

During the Divine Liturgy today we will process the Precious Cross around the Church while we sing the hymn, “We venerate Your Cross, O Master, and we glorify Your Holy Resurrection. Τὸν Σταυρόν σου προσκυνοῦμεν, Δέσποτα, καὶ τὴν ἁγίαν σου ἀνάστασιν δοξάζομεν.” Without the Cross, there is no Resurrection. If we are going to celebrate Holy and Great Pascha in a few weeks, then we must first encounter the Cross. Life without struggle is life without relief, and life without sorrow is life without joy. If we desire to follow Christ into heaven, the only way is to follow Him first to the Cross.

This is why the Orthodox Church lifts the Cross high in the Holy of Holies for all to see. For us the Cross is a sign of victory over death. It is a sign of life. It is a sign of the power of God. I invite you to take an opportunity and evaluate your Great Lenten journey so far. Has it brought you closer to Christ? Has it been a struggle? Has it opened your eyes to your sinfulness? If not, then you may not be on the right path.

Thankfully the Church reminds you where you are headed…if you desire to follow Christ. The cross is the sign of our destination, and when it comes to our road to heaven, the destination matters!

Here are today’s Readings:
Epistle Reading: St. Paul's Letter to the Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:1-6 (RSV) -BRETHREN, since we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is bound to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not take the honor upon himself, but he is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee"; as he says also in another place, "Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek."
 Gospel Reading: Mark 8:34-38; 9:1 (RSV) - The Lord said: "If anyone wishes to 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. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power."

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