Our life as Christians is and is supposed to be a journey. Our life as Christians is a spiritual sojourn, which as Americans we tend to think is our personal journey, a very private one which doesn’t involve others much. It’s just between me and God. Yet all of the imagery and prayers of the Church portray the spiritual life as a community journeying together, like Israel did on its escape from Egypt and as it wandered the desert for 40 years. We read the spiritual journey of that community in the book of Exodus and through most of the Torah. Never was that a private journey for those involved, but they experienced all the events and they experienced God as a community.
You and I are part of that same community journey, we are traveling on a grand journey to the ultimate destination, the Kingdom of Heaven. Like all journeys it can have moments that are arduous or difficult, at other times it might seem long and boring, and at times intense or exciting. But it is meant to be experienced together as members of the Body of Christ. From the moment we are baptized we are part of the Body of Christ – we are baptized into Christ, into His Body. So at no time are we ever a Christian individual. In the early Church they taught, “One Christian is no Christian.” We only can practice the love that Jesus taught if there are others around us for us to love and serve. Holy Communion carries the notion of community in it. We pray “Our Father…” We assemble together to show we are part of the community and to remind ourselves that we share a common life with all those who are in the Body of Christ.
We are as a community approaching Great Lent, this is part of our journey together in which we especially think about our Lord’s words “to take up our cross daily, to deny ourselves and to follow Him.”
But this journey follows an unusual path, for on this sojourn we are asked to travel deep inside ourselves, to examine our own hearts and to let the light of Christ shine into our hearts, so that every part of our self can become light. We are endeavoring to submit every aspect of our lives and every single thought of our minds, and each feeling in our hearts to the judgment and Lordship of Jesus Christ our God. This is the journey we are about to embark on. So this great journey to the Kingdom of Heaven which we take with all our fellow believers is also a journey into our hearts. We each are to examine our hearts and then we open our hearts to another in confession to share what we find there, so that we can make room for Christ and to rid ourselves of all those things which separate us from God and from one another.
We enter Great Lent together – next week on Forgiveness Sunday. Forgiveness too shows us the journey is not individualistic for we need to forgive others and ask their forgiveness. Being a Christian always involves other Christians. Great Lent is not meant to be just a private journey, a free solo climb of a mountain, but rather it is a communal experience – we attend the same services, eat the same foods, say the same prayers, deny ourselves the same pleasures so that we have a common mind, the mind of Christ.
We fast to make our thoughts, our feelings, our cravings, our desires, our hearts, our minds and our bodies obedient to Christ. Fasting is a tool to help us carry the cross of Christ and to be aware that we are in fact choosing to carry the cross of Christ. As St Paul said in today’s epistle, “Certainly food will not bring us into God’s presence; if we do not eat we are none the worse, and if we do eat, we are none the better.” (1 Cor 8:8)
We are learning how to sojourn together as Christian family. We worship together, stand together, sit together, make the sign of the cross together, commune together to help us experience Christ which we can do only as the Body of Christ.
And if we pay attention to the Gospel Parable of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), we see it is nations which are assembled before God, not individuals. We are judged in and part of a community, so we have a responsibility to make our community the right community for Christ for we share in the judgment that the entire community faces.
As you contemplate the Judgment as described in Matthew 25, consider these thoughts:
1] We are going to be judged by whether we treated the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters with mercy, compassion, generosity, love. We show love to Christ by showing love to the least of His brothers and sister. Am I doing for others what I would do for Christ Himself?
2] St Basil the Great on blessings received: “If you hoard them, you won’t have them, if you scatter them, you won’t lose them.” Generosity is seed planting and we will benefit from the harvest. Besides, by giving to the poor we make God indebted to us, at least so said many of the early saints.
3] Offer hospitality and charity to the stranger in need, so that at the judgment you will not be counted by Christ as a stranger to Him, but rather He will speak to you as a cherished friend: ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt 25:34-36)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)