We look forward to the glory of Easter Sunday—but we know that first we’ll have to experience the somberness and sorrow of Good Friday. We look forward to the joy experienced in the six weeks of the Easter season—but first we must undergo a time of sorrow and sacrifice during these six weeks of Lent. We know that, come Easter, our church will be beautifully decorated with flowers and banners—but for now, it’s rather bare and plain. Success must be preceded by hard work; happiness must be preceded by patience; glory must be preceded by sacrifice.
We know this is true for many different aspects of life. For instance, if we want to impress people with our ability to play a musical instrument, we’ll first have to spend countless hours learning and practicing. If we want to purchase our dream home, we’ll probably have to work for years to save up the money for the down payment and then the mortgage. If we want to achieve any worthwhile goal—learning to ride a bike, being elected to public office, starting our own business—we’ll have to dedicate ourselves, work hard, pay our dues, take chances, and overcome our mistakes. Success isn’t free; it comes with a price. This same idea applies to our spiritual lives. Being a true Christian isn’t easy—but it does lead to the fullness of everlasting life. If we wish to share one day in Jesus’ glory, we must first imitate His example of sacrifice.
The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent show that God will make any sacrifice for our sakes—and He expects this same degree of commitment from us. In the Book of Genesis (22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18), we see how God’s faithful servant Abraham was confronted with the most difficult test imaginable: that of sacrificing his beloved son Isaac. Even though all his hopes for the future were centered in the boy, Abraham showed himself willing to do what God asked. When the Lord saw this, He glorified and blessed Abraham to an extent previously unknown in history. Abraham, of course, represents God the Father, and Isaac represents Jesus; the sacrifice God didn’t actually want Abraham to follow through on was one He Himself was to make. As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans (8:31-34), God did not spare His own Son—and if we identify ourselves with Christ’s sacrifice, no one is in a position to judge or condemn us. The Gospel of Mark (9:2-10) describes Jesus’ Transfiguration, in which His divine glory briefly shone through His humanity. Peter was overwhelmed by what he saw, and wanted to prolong the event by constructing three booths or shrines—but instead Jesus led him and the others back down the mountain, commanding them to keep this event a secret until after His death and resurrection. In effect, Jesus was telling them that a time of glory would come—but only after it had been purchased by His supreme sacrifice.
In the 19th century a young Christian from England named George Atley went to central Africa as a missionary, willing to give his life for the sake of the Gospel—and that’s what he ended up doing. After settling in at the primitive mission station near the outskirts of the jungle, he set off into the wilderness to find a native tribe who had so far resisted all attempts at evangelization. A few miles from the tribal settlement, however, George spotted a group of about six native warriors coming to intercept him. From their weapons and expressions, it was obvious they meant to harm him. George was armed with a Winchester repeating rifle with ten loaded chambers; he could easily have killed or wounded all the native warriors. However, he quickly realized that killing them would do far more harm to the work of evangelization than allowing them to take his life—so George did not defend himself. When his body was discovered by fellow missionaries a few weeks later, his rifle was also found—with all its chambers still fully loaded (Knight’s Master Book of 4000 Illustrations, p. 587).
Nothing worthwhile will ever be accomplished unless we’re willing to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve it—and for followers of Jesus, this even means laying down our lives, if need be. Through faith, we know that a wonderful and perfect life awaits us in Heaven; through experience, we know that suffering and sorrow are quite often our lot here on earth. These two truths go hand-in-hand. As Christians, we have to bear our crosses, whether big or small, temporary or ongoing, easy or hard; if we want to experience the joy of Easter, we must first endure the sacrifice and self-denial of Lent.
As we try to do this, there are three things in particular we must keep in mind. First of all, we should offer up everything we experience for God’s glory—all our pains and disappointments, our worries and burdens, as well as our joys and blessings. We don’t have to look for or desire suffering or sorrow—but when these things come, we should offer them up to God. He can turn them into a valuable experience of growth and grace, if we allow it. Secondly, we should constantly pray for God’s help in bearing all our burdens. None of us can manage on our own—nor are we expected to. Whenever we’re about to do anything difficult or unpleasant, we should first say a short, silent prayer, asking for God’s guidance and strength. He wants us to succeed, and is eager to help us. Thirdly, we should remember that Heaven is our ultimate goal, and that everything we experience is worthwhile if it helps us achieve it. Life’s burdens can be easier to bear if we see them serving a larger purpose. We need to remind ourselves from time to time that, if we’re trying to follow Christ, every cross we carry, every unpleasant situation we endure, every sacrifice we make, brings us that much closer to our final destiny of perfect happiness.
Jesus never took shortcuts, or ignored His responsibilities, or took the easy way out. He was always true to Himself, faithful to His mission, and willing to pay the price this involved. As His followers, this is the Lenten challenge placed before us. Our honest commitment to Christ here on earth will lead us to everlasting glory in the life to come.