Who for our sake endured temptation and suffering

Crucifixion from the monastery of Hosios Loukas (narthex), detail

Ash Wednesday 2019

“Come, let us worship Christ the Lord, who for our sake endured temptation and suffering.” antiphon for the Invitatory Psalm in Lent

Somehow the antiphon came as a shock this morning, I”m not sure why since it’s the usual antiphon for Lent. But it struck me again (as if for the first time, as these things tend to do) that this is what Lent is: we put on temptation and suffering as the way we worship Christ the Lord who put them on for our sake.

We take up sacrifices which will tempt us bodily and spiritually. We allow our bodies to suffer hunger and deprivation. Not because we are punishing ourselves for being bad, like children sent to bed without supper. No, because He did and we want to be like Him. Or we want to want to be like Him.

On Ash Wednesday we pause to consider the human condition. We are made from dust, we will return to dust. We are doomed to die. We are dust into which God has breathed a divine spirit, which makes us not spirits living in a meat body machine, but a creature uniquely of both earth and heaven. And we are separated from God and we cannot under our own power cross over the abyss that opened up when we said no, when we denied our dependence on him and asserted our right to determine our own path. Being limited we were not able to chart a good path and we wandered further and further off course. Now we are in the middle of a storm, swamped. We cannot draw ourselves out of the mighty waters. We need the help of the one who can calm the tempest. We need a life boat. We are in over our heads and need someone to keep us from drowning.

Because even when we can figure out what the good is, we still somehow fail to do it. And sometimes we are so hurt and broken by other people’s sins against us— the sins of our fathers and grandfathers, of our mothers and grandmothers, the deep intergenerational wounds passed down through all of history from our first parents, who wounded themselves, each other, the world and their own children, who were so wounded by their separation from God that jealousy entered into their very worship and one killed another because he seemed to be closer to God. We are wounded by the weight of all those hurts and by our own failures to love and to cherish those we should. We need healing. Deep, deep healing.

And there was one who had compassion on our suffering and even though he was incapable of suffering in himself, being spiritual being not a physical one, he wanted to love the people he had made to the fullest so he became one of them, capable of suffering. And he put that suffering on for our sake.

So since he did that for us… we can try to do that for him as well: put on temptation and suffering.

We owe him worship because he his our creator. But we need Lent because we are so far from him that worship doesn’t come easily to us. We need a ladder to draw closer. And that ladder is our Lenten observances.

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