Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Lead us not into Temptation

(Salvador Dali "Temptation of St. Anthony" 1946.  Musées Royaux des Beaux - Arts de Belgique, Brussels)

"Pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Lk. 22:40).

Tonight we pray “Lead us not into temptation.”  This was the prayer of Jesus on the eve of Maundy Thursday.  As He knelt on the Mount of Olives among the disciples He urged them on saying, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

This is the night our Lord was arrested and tried.  Before the ending of the day our Lord would be betrayed by Judas, and denied three times by Peter.  He would be mocked and struck on his face before the council.  Our Lord knew where he was going on the eve of this Maundy Thursday.  He knew all the prophecies; he would be stripped, beaten, and lifted up off the ground.  Hands and feet would be pierced for our transgressions.

Our Lord kneels down in the dust with disciples and prays, “Lead us not into temptation.”  “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  Just hours earlier Jesus had stood among the disciples in the upper room for their last Passover Supper together.  He wrapped a towel around his waist, and knelt down to wash the feet of his disciples. He took his hands that that created and fashioned the cosmos, and now unfastened sandals.  He washed dusty and grimy feet, drying them with his towel. The disciples, embarrassed as they were, remembered His words, “I came not to be served but to serve you and to give my life as a ransom for many.”   

When the hour had come to eat, Jesus sat among his disciples at the table.  In loving affection He said “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 

He took the bread, and when he had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said “Take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.  This do in remembrance of me.  In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.  This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Later that night as Jesus knelt and prayed for the disciples, “Lead us not into temptation.”  For He knew that they would scatter.  Judas would betray him, Peter would shrivel up into fear and deny him.  The rest of the disciples would live out their lives quarreling with one another.  As our Lord prayed in the Garden he knew our chances too.  He saw us denying our Lord.  He saw us gossiping and striking down the reputation of another.  He saw us bored or indifferent to worship and the scriptures. 

He has seen us tempted.  And he has surely seen us cave to temptations, one after the next.  He has seen us neglect family or friends, as we blame it on stress or busyness.  He has seen us abandon prayer, as he stayed up all night praying, sweating and bleeding in anxious agony – praying for us all – as he waited to be arrested and crucified.

For us disciples, who scatter, He prepares for us a supper.  And before feeding us He washes us.  He arms us with Holy Baptism to wage war against the tempters and powers of this world.  He leads us beside those still waters, washes away all sin, and restores ours souls.  He prepares for us a table in the presence of earthly temptations and leads us to Himself.  He who was tempted, but never succumbed to temptation, He has made for us a way.    

For those of you, receiving the Lord’s Supper for the first time – this is where you come when you need comfort.  It is where you come when you feel spiritually numb and weak – or when you feel nothing at all.  This supper is where you come when you feel spiritually awake.  This is where you come when are lonely.  This is where you come scared, or nervous.  It is where you come when you are joyful and thankful.  This supper is where you come when you are tempted, whether you are young or old.  This Lord’s Supper is where we go when we succumb to our temptations and our molested and struck down by the dark powers of this world.  It is for us when we are shamed or embarrassed. 

It is this food and this drink that makes you well.  For the common phrase, “You are what you eat” takes new meaning here.  You eat and drink the true body of Christ, the Word made flesh in the Virgin Mary – the body that hung on the cross – and that body risen from the grave.  The Lord delivers you through all temptations by having you partake of his body – to partake of his innocence and claim it all for yourself.  It is all for you.  What you consume, what you eat and drink is what you become.  That life in the body - and life in the blood is the holy life of Christ given and shed for you.  What is his is yours.  For he lives, and you live in Him.  And He loves you without measure.      

Now all the devils, tempters, and powers of this world cannot threaten you.  Even your own sins will not stop his love.  He is the good shepherd, the good meat and drink, who leads us not into temptation, but leads us into the ways of righteousness.  He leads us to the altar – leads us to himself – yes, leads us into heaven itself. 
But for now on your earthly travels – for today and for tomorrow – this is all you need for the whole journey.  In the name of Jesus.  Amen.          

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