Jesus hid himself from them, and left the temple. That’s not good. It’s not good when Jesus leaves you. Especially if he hides himself. We symbolize this with the veiling of the images. The picture, statue and crucifix are veiled, and those veils are not removed until the resurrection is announced, and the disciples see Jesus raised from the dead. For now, we have hidden Jesus. The unbelief of the people drives him from their midst. He hides himself from them, and is gone.
Today is the Sunday of the passion. By tradition, next Sunday is when the passion according to Saint Matthew is read. But today is the day the focus turns from testing and trial, to the suffering and death of our Lord. Today we veil the images, today we remove yet another part of the service – the festive “Glory be to the Father.” Lent moves ever closer to the cross, and our service gets ever more disjointed. It just feels wrong. And well it should. We come into the Nave, and see – or rather don’t see – the images. We omit some of our most joyful songs, and now add another to that list.
Jesus is in the temple teaching the people. For the second time in as many weeks, someone accuses him of having a demon. They refuse to see in him the finger of God, the voice of God. Why? Because, as Jesus says, they are of their Father, the devil. He is a liar, and the father of lies. He has always lied about God. It’s what he does. He lies to lead us astray. Jesus does miracles? It must be by the power of a demon. Jesus speaks? it must be demonic lies.
Jesus tells us a harsh truth: Either we are children of God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, or we are children of Satan. There is no middle ground. No fence sitting, no maybe this way or that. We are, by nature sinful and unclean, children of wrath. And we belong to Satan.
When God created earthly fathers they were a reflection of his true fatherhood. That’s why a society that disregards the family, that disregards fatherhood and motherhood as it was created in the beginning, is already on its way to ruin. The family points us to God. Fatherhood? That’s a reflection of our heavenly Father. Motherhood? A reflection of our life in the church. Marriage? Christ and his bride the church. Children? Our position before our true Father in heaven.
But such an understanding does not come naturally to our sinful flesh. Instead of husband and wife, in love bringing forth children into the world, our society sees Fatherhood as disposable, motherhood as a burden, and children as a commodity, to be bought and sold, or if too inconvenient to our future plans, discarded entirely.
Into this sinful world, our Savior comes. And by the washing of water and the word, Satan is cast out, and we are once again made children of our Heavenly Father who created us. What does that mean? It means that we can use the prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples, to be used by the children of God: Our Father, who art in heaven. It means that we can approach him as dear children approach their dear Father. It means that, instead of the fearful judge of all the earth, who punishes the sinner, we plead the merits of Jesus, and are received into the kingdom of grace, for his sake. It means that we can begin to learn to love others as he has loved us.
Not that we don’t want to return sometimes to our father the devil. And not that we don’t sometimes fall. But, the Spirit works, even in our sinful flesh. Even in this world as we return to our sin. Scripture says, as a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly. And that’s pretty much what happens to us. Time and again, making resolution after resolution to this time be better people, and time and again falling into sin. The same sins.
That’s because Satan doesn’t let up. He knows the weak spots. He watches and sees where you fall. And that’s the temptation he gives you. He knows human psychology better than any person. He knows what we want. We want the lie. The promise of easy _____ insert the attempt to be God here. Easy power, easy love, easy wealth, easy fame. Easy comfort. You are told, salvation is found, not in the merits of Jesus, but in you. Just find the strength in yourself. You can do it. And you are tempted to believe the lie.
The truth is, you can’t save yourself. You can learn create and achieve. We have been made in the image of God and that image is not totally lost. We still have our mind, our creative powers. But turned inward. Turned to our own selfish desires. There is no part of us uncorrupted by sin. And so, we reject the gift Jesus gives in favor of ourselves, in favor of the lie told to us by Satan.
The people don’t see it. They see only Jesus the arrogant, claiming to be God’s son – something he can not be. They see someone claiming to undo death – something that can’t happen. They refuse to see who he is, because to do that they would have to admit that their salvation is not in themselves. That’s the true sin. Rejecting God’s way of doing things, and finding the salvation ourselves. That’s the easy path that leads to damnation. Our own thoughts and ambitions, our own lineage, our own powers to choose. Our own whatever it is that we pride ourselves on. That’s what Satan sets before us. He wants you to return to him.
After all, you can find God later. He’ll always be there waiting. But closed churches don’t preach the Gospel. The Holy Spirit, like a summer rain, can move on to other places. He does not promise always to bless one nation or one people. Christian Europe is almost totally secular, devoid of God. Massive beautiful cathedrals built by the faithful centuries ago now sit vacant on Sunday, filled only Monday through Friday during visiting hours for the curious tourist.
Jesus can leave.
And that’ more frightening than any word of judgment. Any list of sins we might commit. Jesus hid himself, and left. Could he do that to us? Could our hearts become so hardened that we can no longer see him, that he hides himself from us and leaves. The veiled images are not so much reminder as they are threat.
The Gospel is a great and glorious gift. The good news of forgiveness freely given for Jesus sake is an immeasurable treasure. But it is not ours by right. It is not our possession because of who we are, it is gift because of who he is. Passiontide: we come to the cross itself. Jesus is hidden from the eyes of those who will not see. They can not see God dying on the cross. They can not see redemption. They can not see the resurrection on the other side. And the veils remind us that none of that belongs to us, as if we are owed by God. It is all gift, all the time.
Thanks be to God for the gift of salvation given in Jesus. Let us not neglect it, or despise it. Let us pray that we do not turn away from it, that we are not lured away by the pleasures and cares of this world, that we are not offended by the cross that we must carry as because of our faithfulness, that we are not distracted by Satan. Rather let us pray that our eyes are kept on Jesus, and his cross.
On my heart imprint Thine image, Blessed Jesus king of grace,
that life’s riches cares and pleasures, never may your work erase.
Let the clear inscription be, Jesus crucified for me.
Is my life, my hope’s foundation. And my glory and salvation.