The “I “crossed out- Third Sunday of Lent St Botolph’s 2012
An Orthodox boy took one of his non-orthodox friend’s to Church with him and at the end of the Holy Liturgy he asked his friend what he thought of the service. His non-Orthodox friend, who had never been to an Orthodox Liturgy before, thought for a moment and said : “ It was very good how people kept crossing themselves out.” His Orthodox friend asked what he meant. “It’s like a big letter I that people put a line through!” In his own way the little boy had observed an important truth about the nature of Christian discipleship. For we live in the me generation where everything is geared to satisfy the desires of the individual for personal self fulfilment and self discovery.
On this third Sunday in Lent we Christians look to the Cross of Jesus. I love that phrase in St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 12:
12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
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That phrase “Looking unto Jesus,” is all important. We need to keep our eyes fixed on him.
Why, you may ask is this necessary, surely we have that in Great Holy Week. We are in mid Lent, but it is important to focus on the purpose of our journey. Someone once said it is more important to remind ourselves of ancient and eternal truths than to espouse modern and passing fashion. At this time we are feeling the physical and spiritual effort of fasting and our fatigue more evidently. We need help, refreshment and encouragement at this point in our pilgrimage as we travel towards the centre of our faith, the rays of Easter light.
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34
As Fr. Alexander Schmemann says in his book on Great Lent:
“……we can not take up our cross and follow Christ unless we have His Cross which He took up in order to save us. It is His Cross, not ours, that saves us. It is His Cross that gives not only meaning but also power to others.”
St. Paul in his second letter to his spiritual son Timothy warns of the coming danger of this egoistic and hedonistic generation.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman…..swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God….(2 Timothy 3:2-4)
Fr. Anthony Coniaris points to the consequences of self obsession:
If you want to be thoroughly miserable talk about yourself, use “I” as much as possible in your conversations- you will not only bore others you will find that you even bore yourself. Listen with wrapt attention at what people say about you. Be jealous and suspicious of others and expect gratitude. Never accept criticism and don’t trust anyone who does not agree with your opinion. Sulk and show your disapproval for those who give you the cold shoulder. Consider ways how you can shirk responsibility…… Look for distractions.
These are just a few ways to be miserable-there are many more and they all have one thing in common, all are totally self-centred.
It is true that we should know ourselves and be aware of our weakness but we should not indulge in self pity or resort to the failed principle of better the devil you know. When we lift up our hearts to God and stretch out our arms to others then we find the source of our hope and our life.
The glory of God is a human being fully alive; and to be alive consists in beholding God.”
― Saint Irenaeus
Beholding God and looking unto Jesus. This is why the Holy Cross is placed before us in the middle of Lent
As C. S. Lewis observed:
God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.
As Christians we each have a cross to carry: If any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. There is no room in this pilgrimage for passive resignation or individual indulgence but only for active engagement and fellowship together. In the prayer that Jesus taught us this corporate understanding of faith is expressed:
Perhaps the strength of that prayer is summed up in this poem found in a letter from the Omaha Home for Boys:
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say “I.”
You cannot pray the Lord’s Prayer and even once say “My.”
Nor can you pray the Lord’s Prayer and not pray for one another,
And when you ask for daily bread, you must include your brother.
For others are included … in each and every plea,
From the beginning to the end of it, it does not once say “Me.”
Deny; take up; follow!
These words of Our Lord tell us that Discipleship is about what we must do. Our faith is composed of verbs rather than nouns, it is activated by Him who emptied Himself gave himself for the life of the world. It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me:
20 I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
In the prayer that Jesus taught us the corporate expression.
The little boy was right, the Cross is the “I” crossed out; it is putting on Christ and following Christ to the Cross and beyond to Resurrection glory. Not I but Thou O Lord. As often as we sign ourselves with the Cross of Christ we proclaim His death and until He comes again. Even so come Lord Jesus! Maranatha.