We find ourselves near the mid-point of Lent. Halfway to Jerusalem, so to speak. It seems like Lent only just began, so that means Holy Week will arrive before we know it: The week of our most intense commemoration, our most intense remembering.
Lent unites us with the ancient Israelites. God liberated them from slavery in Egypt. They journeyed home to the land that God had given their father Abraham. During that journey, God gave them their law.
One of the most important precepts of the law was: Don’t forget what happened in Egypt! No matter how settled you may get in the Promised Land, no matter how comfortable: never forget! You were beggarly slaves, living in cruel desperation. God Almighty reached down from heaven and freed you!
The Passover remembrance involved a lot more than just a yearly ritual. It actually gave the ancient Israelites the foundation for all their piety and their morality. By remembering that they owed God everything–that they owed Him their freedom and whatever prosperity they had–by remembering that they, too, had been desperate and poor, they kept compassion for the desperate and poor alive in their hearts. Their commemoration of the Passover taught them not to turn away from the desperate soul in distress. Because they, too, had been desperate souls in distress, and still would be–were it not for God’s gracious mercy to them.
As St. Paul has explained, what happened in Egypt occurred in order to give us an image of what Jesus was to do in Jerusalem. In the days of Moses, God saved one nation from slavery.
Then God came to the earth Himself, and He saved all of us from an even more desperate and poor state. Slaves not just of Pharaoh, but of Satan. Destined to die in misery and languish forever in a hopeless netherworld.
But God did not turn away from us–desperate as we are, helpless as we human beings are, in the face of our own weakness and our inevitable death. He did not turn away. He turned toward us. He offered His face to buffets and spitting. He spread out His arms for the nails. He bowed His Head in death for us, and He overcame our Enemy and rescued us for eternal life.
The precept of precepts in our Gospel law is: that we never forget this! That we live with the constant memory of Christ redeeming us from the most desperate slavery. That we live with the constant memory of Christ giving us an unimaginably wonderful destiny, immeasurably greater than we could ever deserve.
This remembrance gives us the foundation of our piety and our morality, too. Christ laid down all He had for us, when we had nothing. So we have to lay down all we have, to help the brother or the sister who needs something.
h/t Dr. Timothy Gray