We find our spiritual struggle can become heightened in us during Lent. We struggle against the darkness within ourselves. This is part of the point of the Great Fast. But because we take up the fight, we must remember we cannot do it all ourselves; this is why we need to look up to the cross, the source of our victory, and receive its healing grace lest we slip and fall, turning the period of the Great Fast from a time of spiritual advance to a route. And so, in the middle of the fast, we look up and see the cross positioned as a beacon of hope. It is lifted up, so that through its power, all our sin is able to be rendered null and void, as we are once again able to set off on our journey toward our spiritual homeland.
Indeed, we are to be reminded that as sin has been taken away by the power of the cross, now the cross stands in front of the gates of heaven, keeping it open for us, so we can enter into paradise instead of being turned away by the cherubim of old:
The angel’s fiery sword will no longer guard the gate of Paradise, for the Cross of the Lord has extinguished it wonderfully. The power of death has been broken, the victory of Hades wiped out, and You, my Savior, have arisen and called out to all those bound in Hades: “Come now, and enter into heaven!” (Kontakion Sunday of the Veneration of the Holy Cross)
We have the sign of glory before us, the sign of victory, the sign of the cross, which we can all boast and raise up in veneration. We are not in this alone. As we slip and fall under the burden of sin, as we let the poison of sin taint us, we have the doctor of our souls ready for us with the medicine of the cross. Thus, in the middle of the Great Fast, we lift high the cross, we are shown the sign of hope lest we become weary and, like the children of Israel, find ourselves wanting to turn back into the bondage of Egypt.
The cross is lifted up, the cross is glorified, the cross takes from us the poison of sin as Jesus lets it all be put upon him in his journey into the chaos of death. The gates of hell have been vanquished and the gates of heaven have been opened to receive all the spiritual immigrants whom Christ shall lead into beatitude. He took on the weakness of the human condition so that he could put it up on the cross and elevate it in humble glory:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16 RSV).
We must accept the cross, and let ourselves take up our cross, indeed, be lifted on it, so that we can be healed from our self-attachment. We are filled with spiritual poisons which we have willingly accepted, and only by letting it all bleed out, by detaching ourselves from our self-attachment, will we find salvation:
And he called to him the multitude with his disciples, and said to them, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
And he said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mk. 8:34-9:1 RSV).
When the poison of sin is removed, the world and all that is in it is will be seen in a new light. We will realize its inherent goodness, a goodness which points to and leads us to the greater and absolute goodness of God himself.
The journey through the Great Fast is difficult so long as we keep it in the spirit of sinners, holding onto ourselves, trying to bless and do all things ourselves. With the cross raised up before us, we can see the light of God exposing the sin in our life. We should let ourselves go, for when we do, we can be guided by the cross and follow it to where it shall lead, the kingdom of God which we all desire.
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