Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; 2 Peter 1:2-11; Joel 2:12-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When the cloud of glory and the primordial light of the Son of God faded, and Moses and Elijah rejoined the white-robed throng around the throne of God and the Lamb, then Peter, James, and John arose and beheld no one but Jesus only. That was the Transfiguration of our Lord which we celebrated together nearly four weeks ago. It was a foretaste of the Lord’s glory which was always with Him, though veiled, that they and we will enjoy with Him eternally in heaven when He returns and raises our dusty bodies from the dusty earth of which they were made. Our Lord granted His disciples this glimpse of His glory that they might have faith to persevere through what was about to happen in Jerusalem, when King Jesus would mount His throne, not in Herod’s palace, but upon Golgotha’s cross.
The days between the Transfiguration of our Lord and His crucifixion and death in Jerusalem were a kind of Lenten pilgrimage for His disciples. They, who were prone to desire and praise magnificent signs and shining glory were prepared to discover that God’s glory is not in the things that men count as glorious and praiseworthy, but in the humble and lowly things, the despicable things, and things that are not. The disciples’ Lenten pilgrimage was preparation for them in which they had opportunity to de-stone and weed the gardens of their hearts, to remove all the obstacles, all the idols they had raised up for themselves which obscured their faith and focus on Jesus, that they might fix their eyes upon Jesus only and behold the glory of God in action for them, laying down His life in death for His friends.
For you too, dear Christian, this Lenten pilgrimage serves the same holy purpose. This is an opportunity for you to reflect all the more upon those things, those people, those actions, those emotions that you have put your fear, love, and trust in above and before God. In many cases, these are things that are permissible and good in themselves, but you have allowed them to control you and to obscure your faith and focus on Jesus. Lent is an opportunity for you to be freed from these idols that you may serve Christ.
And truly, this is what the Lenten discipline of fasting is all about. Fasting means to willingly abstain from something that in itself is both permissible and good. In so doing you show both yourself and your Lord that you can take this earthly thing or leave it – you are not a slave to it, you don’t have to insist upon it. This is the right way for a Christian to live. We should use this world and its goods as if we didn’t need them. No created thing should control us. We should not permit ourselves to be bound or captive to anything. Nothing should be allowed to be more important to us than the Lord Himself.
A related Lenten discipline is almsgiving. By abstaining from certain things – at least for periods of times – we can give money and possibly time to serve Christ in a special way. It can be a good form of fasting to abstain from something and instead give the money to a special Lenten collection or to something else.
And yet another Lenten discipline is prayer. When you abstain and give alms, then most assuredly temptation will come. The devil will take advantage of your weakness just as he did with Jesus when He fasted and prayed in the wilderness for forty days. He will tempt you to place your fear, love, and trust in the worldly things that you have given up and take your eyes off of Jesus. He will tempt you to think that this is all for show or that it’s something that only superstitious, unenlightened people do. Therefore, pray. Pray all the more during Lent. Pray, not just alone, or with your family, but pray here with the body of Christ, the Church. Make use of the extra services in both Lent and Holy Week that you may resist the temptations of the devil and root out your idols.
But, whatever you do or don’t do, if you fast or not, give alms or not, attend extra services or not – whatever you do or don’t do, don’t do it to be seen by others and to win their praise. Others will see you, and that’s okay, but don’t do it to be seen. If you do, it’s not the doing that’s wrong, but it’s your heart that’s wrong. Don’t wear the ashes because someone will be impressed with your piety, but wear the ashes because you know and confess that you are a sinner and that you merit only death and eternal damnation. Those ashes are a confession that you are dust, and that to dust you will return; You are Adam, and to Adam you will return. But, those ashes are also in the form of a cross, for Jesus, the Second Adam, has taken your sin upon Himself and has died your death that you may live. Indeed, you are Adam, and to Adam, that is, to Jesus, you will most surely return.
No one said it would be easy, least of all your God and Lord Jesus. His way to life and glory was through Golgotha’s cross. And, to you His disciple He has said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” This is what you have been called to. You have been called to leave behind all the things that obscure your faith and focus on Jesus and follow Him. You have been called to deny your desire and praise for magnificent signs and shining glory and follow Jesus in humility and lowliness, not around suffering and death, but through these into life. Yet, like His disciples of old, your Lord provides you a foretaste of His glory to preserve your faith along the way. He gives you His resurrected and glorified body and blood to eat and to drink that He may commune in you and you in Him – that where He, your head, is, there you, His body, shall surely be.
Lent is an opportunity for you to take stock, once again, of what is true, what is lasting, and what is most needful. Your Lord teaches you to lay up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, for where your treasure is, there you heart will also be. And, your God calls to you, “Return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” And, with the preacher to the Hebrews I, your pastor, exhort you, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” For, now we set our faces steadfast to go to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, where it will all be accomplished.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.