President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address last night. It has been a long time since an American president spoke to a nation facing so many crises at one time. As a result, Fox News predicted that his address would be “the most consequential speech of his life.”
Leading the list is obviously the crisis in Ukraine. Russian forces are escalating attacks on civilian areas of the nation’s largest cities today, provoking what a United Nations spokeswoman predicted will become “Europe’s largest refugee crisis this century.” President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to European lawmakers yesterday was so moving that the English-language translator momentarily lost his composure. The address was met with a standing ovation from lawmakers.
Finances are on everyone’s mind as well. Inflation is at a forty-year high. Gasoline prices are the highest they’ve been in eight years, with the war possibly driving them even higher. A new poll reported that only 31 percent of voters are satisfied with the way things are going in the US today. Over half think our country is worse off than it was a year ago; only 35 percent say the nation is better off.
David Axelrod, former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, wrote in the New York Times, “The state of the union is stressed.” He noted that the vast majority of Americans believe our nation is on the wrong track, with the devastation of the pandemic and the rise of suicides, drug overdose deaths, and violence in our homes and on the streets.
“Freedom will always triumph over tyranny”
So, what did President Biden tell the nation?
Proclaiming that “freedom will always triumph over tyranny,” the president vowed during his address to make President Vladimir Putin of Russia pay a price for invading Ukraine.
He announced a ban on Russian airplanes from American airspace. Mr. Biden also stated that the US would release thirty million barrels of oil from strategic petroleum reserves to curtail gasoline prices; foreign counterparts will release another thirty million barrels.
Jill Biden invited Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, to join her in the first lady’s box for the address.
In addition, the president addressed inflation and a variety of other domestic issues, including his endorsement of the so-called Equality Act. He honored retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and noted his nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to take his place as the first Black woman to serve on the US Supreme Court.
Today is Ash Wednesday
Lent begins today.
“Lent” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon or Teutonic word Lencten, which simply means “spring.” By the end of the second century AD, it had come to designate a period of spiritual preparation for Easter. The season begins on Ash Wednesday (today), always the seventh Wednesday before Easter Sunday. In more liturgical traditions, ashes are placed on worshippers’ foreheads as symbols of humility and gratitude for our Savior’s death.
As I have reported previously, 78 percent of Ukrainian adults, some thirty-five million people, are Orthodox Christians. Their tradition does not observe Ash Wednesday; they began their Lenten season last Monday (they call this “Clean Monday,” referring to spiritual cleansing through fasting, prayer, repentance, worship, and seeking forgiveness).
During these weeks, observant Orthodox Christians abstain from eating until sundown and then eat only approved food items. During the first week of Lent, some will eat only on Wednesday and Friday evenings. Worship services follow an ancient liturgical pattern.
“Unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light”
While American evangelicals may feel little in common with Orthodox traditions and rituals, the crisis in Ukraine reminds us that we are all part of one family—the human family (cf. Genesis 1:27). And Christians are all part of one body—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
As a result, we have a hope to share in this crisis that no one else can offer.
We worship a God who became one of us that we might be one with him. Frederick Buechner described the Incarnation in these passionate terms: “The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself.”
As a result, our Savior feels every pain we feel and knows every fear we face. As “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Revelation 13:8 NIV), he endured our temptations (Hebrews 4:15) and died on our cross.
Then he rose from our grave to prove that “everyone who believes in [Jesus] shall never die” (John 11:26). Max Lucado noted: “The ultimate proof of providence is the death of Christ on the cross. No deed was more evil. yet God not only knew of the crucifixion; he ordained it. Everyone thought the life of Jesus was over—but God. His Son was dead and buried, but God raised him from the dead. God took the crucifixion of Friday and turned it into the celebration of Sunday.”
“Where love exists, it works great things”
Because we share the same incarnate, crucified, resurrected Lord, this Washington Post headline is entirely appropriate: “Christians around the globe take up fasting for Ukraine on Ash Wednesday.” Five Christian World Communions are holding an online prayer service for Ukraine today. Christians across the denominational spectrum are planning to fast and pray for the Ukrainian nation and Ukrainian Christians.
I invite you to join me in taking extended time on this Ash Wednesday to join them. Pope St. Gregory the Great was right: “The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.”
Will your love for your heavenly Father and your human family exist today?