And instead of letting this be a call for repentance, as every disaster truly is, we instead too often succumb to the deceits of the enemy as he whispers: “And do you still believe that there is a God of love? Do you still persist in that delusion? Face it, IF there is a God, he is no loving being; for what loving being would possibly allow such horror to take place?”
It’s the same words he whispers in our ears when we face those personal trials too. Would a God of love let you or someone you love get cancer? Would a God of love allow your child to die? Would a God of love take your parent from you?
And so on and on he persists. Our Lord Himself knew something of it. For He had come wet from His Baptism, hearing the promise of His Father that He was the beloved Son and that the Father delighted in Him. And there, driven by the Spirit into the wilderness, he sat and wrestled. Fasting and starving. Satan comes at him with the lie: “Some fine Son of God you are, sir. It’s clear to all the world how much Your Father loves you. Left you out here in the desert with stones to eat. Look, you have to take care of yourself in this world, because there is no God you can rely on to take care of you. Make these stones bread!”
Weary with his fasting, our Lord refused the lie. The lie that Satan sold us on for ages. “No. For it is written, man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Which is to say: “I’m holding fast to His promises because He does not lie. He has not lied to me. What He promises is the only thing in this whole world that you CAN finally rely on. He will not fail me. I trust in Him and what He says. That’s what gets a person through – not the food they stuff in their belly.”
It was a wondrous answer, but Satan persists. “So You trust Him. Beautiful. But that can just be words you know. Pious talk. Show me. Put your trust into action. Here. Jump down from the pinnacle of the temple and then I and everyone will know for certain that your trust is real and that you are who you imagine yourself to be: God’s Son.”
Again, the Lord picks up the Word to fight the battle. “No. I’ll not do that. It is written: You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. My faith is not something that I have to prove to you, to anyone, or to myself. I hold to my Father’s Word and promises. They do not fail.”
Finally, Satan unmasks the hunger of his heart. Taking the Lord to the high mountain, showing him all the kingdoms of the world and all their glory – he promises “I’ll give them all to You if only You get on Your knees and worship me.” Do you see what is at the heart of that temptation: all that our Lord would win by His cross and Passion, Satan offers him without the suffering, without the crying, without the dying. But the Lord will not walk that path. His will be the kingdoms of this world – all their glory finally is His – and yet they will come to Him as King when they see Him nailed to the tree, raised up in suffering, and dying, pouring out His blood and His life so that they can have His forgiveness, His peace, and His unshakable eternal joy. When they see that He suffers with them.
A God of love? You want to know if God loves you? Look once and for all at the heart of what this God has done. WE brought sin into this world. And so WE unleashed death and brought it into this creation. It is OUR doing, OUR choice as we heard in the first reading. Every sin of our lives is a choice for death and suffering. Every one. And what does the God of love do about it? He JOINS US in our suffering, taking flesh from the holy virgin. He JOINS US in our grieving, in our dying. He takes our sin from us and bears it in His own body to death. He does so in order to transfigure suffering and death so that they are no longer the final destination to which we are headed, but the path through which with Him we will enter into the glory of the life that has no end. He suffers, dies, and then rises from the dead to trample death underfoot and to give us the certainty and joy of a life that death cannot, will not, take from us.
In the midst of life, we are in death. But there is a death in the midst of which was LIFE. His death for you. Baptized into that death, death is no longer the end game of your life. It’s become only a passage through which He will bring you into that life that has no end.
In His Supper He gives you the body and blood that were for you on Calvary, blotting out your sin, as His promise that He is the God who loves you, joins you in your suffering, and has defeated your death and that nothing – no earthquake, tsunami, nuclear accident, bus accident, terrorist attack or whatever the god of this world, the liar and murderer from the beginning, might throw your way – nothing, will be able to separate you from His love. He has already given you the Life that proved mightier than the grave, and for that, at the beginning of this somber Lent, we give all glory to the Father, to the Son, and the Holy Spirit, even as join in praying His mercy upon all who suffer at this time – that in their suffering they might know the peace that His presence alone can bring. Amen.