Prophets have a hard job to do. It’s not fun, it isn’t pleasant, but it needs to be done. Telling people what they do not WANT to hear, but NEED to, is what prophets are all about. We can see this both in Our Lord’s earthly ministry and throughout the history of the Church. It is dangerous, and it can be costly but it is something which must be done. We exist to carry on the exact same proclamation, to call the world to repent and to believe, words they may not want to hear, but they need to, as their salvation depends upon it. Lent is a time for many things, but among them we need to reminded where our loyalties lie, and what we’re about as Christians. It’s a time to focus on what matters, to keep our eyes focussed on the Cross, a place of sacrifice, which gives us hope, and demonstrates God’s love for us.
When we look at salvation history we cannot ignore Abraham, he believes in the Lord, and is reckoned as righteous: he trusts God and his relationship is sealed with a covenant, one which makes the Land of Israel the Promised Land to his descendants. Where is a covenant, there is sacrifice, and this points to the Cross, where God makes a covenant with us in his Son’s death upon the Cross, the final and complete demonstration of God’s love, which assures us of our heavenly homeland, Just as Abraham went from deep sleep and terrifying darkness to life in relationship with God, so we in the church have moved from the darkness of sin and the terror of hell to new life in Christ.
Our citizenship is in heaven, as St Paul writes to the Philippians. Heaven is our true and eternal home, where we can be with God forever. And as Christians we try to live lives which imitate the saints. One of the ways we learn is by copying: we’ve seen it, we’ve done it ourselves: it is normal and natural. We follow the example of others, which is why the choice of whom we should imitate matters. Paul writes this letter from prison, he’s seen people being tortured, and his belief in Christ will lead to his death, and yet he is happy, concerned for others more than himself, a wonderful example for us to follow. We don’t want to be like the enemies of Christ, people opposed to who and what Christ is and what he does. The world around us tends to show its enmity towards Christ more by indifference than violence, we are ignored or patronised, but we can stand against this, together, in Christ, confident in the God who loves us.
In the Gospel we see Herod, a ruler who has killed John the Baptist for speaking against him. John died for standing up for morality which comes from God, and now Herod is turning his attention towards Jesus. In the face of the threat of persecution Jesus stands up for who and what He is, and what He is doing. He is not intimidated, he has a job to do which proclaims God’s healing love. It makes the Kingdom of God a reality in people’s lives. Jesus sees Herod for what he is: a nothing and a nobody, a tyrant, interested in the spectacular He speaks a word over Jerusalem as a place which kills prophets, and in this Christ is looking towards his own death. He has to go away, so that he can come back. He prophesies that he will not return until people say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ he is looking forward to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the prelude to Christ’s Passion and Death.
Lent prepares us to celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is striking that Jesus can face the future in such a calm way, proclaiming the Love of God both in healing the sick and showing that God cares for humanity. He loves us. He wants to be in a covenant relationship with us. Even though we reject God, God does not forsake us. This is true sacrificial love in action, and it is the heart of our faith. Ours is a God who longs to transform us by love. A God who longs for us to enjoy heaven with Him. St Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. We’re not Welsh, British, or European, or anything else. Our primary identity is that we are Christians, and heaven is where we belong. It is our homeland, and the source of our identity as Children of God, our Heavenly Father.
This should inspire us as we walk the journey of faith. In this our Lenten journey towards the Cross, and beyond, we travel with Christ, nourished by Word and Sacrament, knowing that to follow Christ is to share in His Passion, to take up our cross and follow Him, who is the Way, the Truth , and the Life. It involves standing up for truth, at the risk of persecution and death, and it is something which we do gladly because we can trust in a God who loves us, who heals us, who has made a covenant with us in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We can have confidence that God loves us, and will never leave us, he is with us no matter what may come our way.
It is a great comfort that we can travel on our pilgrimage of faith with one who will not leave us, or fail us, who knows our pain, who suffers and dies for love of us. So let us travel with Christ through Lent, through Life, knowing that we are living out our faith, and let us share that with others that they may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever.