St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 13:11-14; 14:1-4
Today we stand at the cusp of Great Lent, which starts tomorrow. On this day, the Church commemorates the expulsion of Adam from Paradise. This morning in Orthros we sang:
Wretch that I am, I disobeyed Your good commandment, O my Lord. And being stripped of Your glory, alas! with shame I am laden. And I have been evicted from the pure delights of Paradise. — Exaposteilaria for the Sunday of Forgiveness
Note that the Church poetically uses the first person, making all of us Adam exiled from the garden. Today, the Church reminds us all that we are in the world — we are fallen. Every one of us is born into sin and every day we sin — we do things that separate us from God. Like Adam, we live in a world that exists outside Paradise and that if left to its own devices would return to the nothing from whence it came. Yet, St. Paul encourages us in today’s Epistle:
Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand — Romans 13:11
We are reminded that our goal — the end of our journey through the trials and tribulations of Great Lent is this:
Please note who Christ is lifting up from the tomb — Adam and Eve. To continue the metaphor, you and I are Adam lying in the tomb in the dark. Christ Himself is standing over us with His hand extended, waiting for us to take that hand and be lifted up into the Kingdom.
During the whole history of salvation, God has never tread upon our freedom. He allowed Adam and Eve the freedom to reject Him. He still allows us, to this day, that very same freedom. He allows us to participate in salvation — it is up to us whether or not we reach out and take His hand to allow Him to lift us up into the Kingdom.
This freedom is illustrated in today’s Gospel Reading when we hear Christ telling us:
If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. — Matthew 6:14
God gives us the freedom and the power to participate in our own judgement as we stand before the Judgement Seat. We have the freedom to determine by what standard God judges us. Thus, God wants us to participate in our own salvation. He wants us to reach up out of the tomb and take His hand. He wants us to act.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul implores us to this action and participation:
Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day — Romans 13:12-13
The Church takes this image and expands it in a hymn we sang this morning during Orthros:
The stadium of virtue is now open; those who wish to compete, enter therein, girded for the good contest of Lent, for those who compete according to the rules shall receive their laurels rightfully. Taking up the full armor of the Cross, let us do battle against the Enemy. As an impregnable wall, we have the Faith, prayer as our breastplate, and acts of mercy as our helmet. Instead of sword, there is fasting, which cuts every evil from the heart. He who does this shall attain a true crown from Christ, the King of all, on Judgment Day — Lauds for the Sunday of Forgiveness
To place this imagery in the metaphor of our being Adam in the tomb, we reach out toward Christ to take His hand by taking up the Cross, praying, giving alms and fasting. In other words, the purpose of Great Lent, with its fasting, its extra services and the call to pray and give alms is to re-orient ourselves to Christ — to actively participate in our own salvation. We do that by reducing the amount of time we normally spend on things like preparing food, watching TV, going to movies, going out on a Friday night, reading romance novels — things we indulge in for ourselves — and dedicate that time for prayer, reading Scripture, going to the extra services during Lent and giving out time and treasures to worthy causes. We make the effort to reach out from the tomb to grab onto Christ’s extended hand, so that at the end of this journey, He may lift us up into the Kingdom and the Resurrection.
May we have the courage and the strength to put on the full armor of the Cross, the breastplate of prayer, the helmet of alms-giving and the sword of fasting so that we are active participants in our own salvation. May the Holy Spirit guide our hands as we reach out of the darkness — out of the tomb — and take the hand of our Lord, God and Saviour so that we might be lifted up into the Kingdom and the Resurrection. Amen.