The forty days of Lent are set aside for Christian people to prepare for the feast of the Lord’s resurrection. In the early Church, candidates for Baptism were instructed in the Christian faith during this season and prepared for their Baptism early on Easter morning. The already Baptized use this time to remember their own Baptism and prepare for a renewal of their vows.
A good way to begin our preparation is to take a careful look at the faith we profess. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul lays the foundation for the view of salvation based on this faith.
The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." – Romans 10:8b-13
St. Paul begins by saying that Jesus has put an end to legalism. And who would know better than Paul what a legalistic kind of faith was all about? He believed that radical obedience to God’s Law was the requirement for salvation and for a right relationship with the all-holy God. He looked upon God as a celestial creditor, God’s chosen people as debtors, and everybody else as sub-human and outside of God’s concern.
Then, his encounter with Love Divine on the Damascus Road changed all of that. His faith was transformed from trust in his own goodness to trust in the goodness of God. The new faith Paul describes is born not of works but of faith. Our salvation is in being loved by God. Jesus came to tell us that, show us that, and put an end to legalism.
So, St. Paul says that the essence of this faith is the claim that Jesus is the Sovereign of our lives. That means that we can approach the cares and concerns of daily life out of the strength of his love. Even when all else fails, he will never let us go. That is the promise of our Baptism! We are “marked as Christ’s own for ever.”
Jesus is not a good man who once upon a time was martyred for his convictions. He triumphed over the two forces that cause us the greatest anxiety – sin and death. He is a living sovereign who is near to us in our journey through this world and into the next.
Finally, Paul stresses that Jesus is not our private possession. He is everybody’s Sovereign. This is a testimony to the inclusiveness and universality of God’s salvation. This way of faith is not exclusively for one race, or group, or political movement. It is for everyone. If you and I believe that, we can be saved from arrogance, pride, prejudice, judgmentalism, and self-righteousness. To know that the One who rules my life and loves me also loves others transforms the way I see and treat others.
There is an old story about a vagabond who fell ill in Lombardy centuries ago. He sought the aid of doctors. After they diagnosed his malady, one of them said in Latin, “Let us try an experiment with this worthless creature.” Then, to their amazement, from the sick man lying in rags came this question, also in Latin: “Will you call him a worthless creature for whom Christ died?”
Jesus Christ is everybody’s Sovereign!
So, as we begin our Lenten journey, let us examine the faith we confess. Let us reclaim the belief that Jesus came to replace a legalistic relationship with God with one based upon Love Divine freely and generously lavished upon us and all sorts and conditions of people. Let us search for new ways to confess this faith with our lips and in our lives.
I'll see you in Church!