“Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:6-8
Picture yourself in the middle of the desert. It is intensely hot-so hot that your throat feels as though it has closed in on itself, that you continue to gasp for air no matter how deeply you breathe in, that you feel as though you might suffocate. The wind stings. Your lips are dry and your eyes unable to open because of the blinding glare of the sun. Your head and your shoulders are on fire, and your feet must constantly shift in the deep sand to keep from burning. When you try to take a step, it feels as though you have weights around your ankles, dragging you down so that each heavy movement takes you no more than a few inches. Your head spins with a constant, dull throb. Your body aches. When you pry your eyes open enough to look out at the horizon, there is nothing there but endless rolling dunes, a cloudless sky, and the sear of the beating sun. You are alone.
You keep moving. Why? Because the desert is not quite enough to defeat you. It only exhausts. It slows. It tests. It is not one instant of intense, crippling pain. It is an eternity of heaviness that slowly beats down. It is not a trial of instant glorification or failure. It is a purging. A burden of endurance. One step. Another. Endure. Endure.
“It is enough. The hour has come. Behold, the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners. Get up, let us go. See, my betrayer is at hand."
Now take a drink of cool spring water. We spend forty days in the desert, waiting and watching and moving toward a horizon that never seems to end. We fast. We pray. We endure. And in a moment, we can see the resurrection. We can imagine the joy of hope and rest and peace. Our hearts lift in anticipation. We are so close. So close. And still, we know what must come first. We know that the desert is not over, that the hardest, the cruelest, the most testing is still ahead. Can we make those last steps? Can we make it to the cross? Can we finish our dying so to begin our rising?
In our readings today, we find that the answer is “yes.” Isaiah reminds us that we have been made ready for this by God. God has formed us. God has given us the tools, the strength, the mind, and the will to take each step closer to that moment of satisfaction. God has made us strong. With God, we can stand before the trials, the temptations, the abuses, and keep our eyes fixed on the victory to come. The Psalm continues this. Even in abandonment, we are united with Christ. Christ, who is obedient. Christ, who has come to save. Christ, who will take on what we cannot. Christ, who will be glorified. Christ, whose very name stands above all of creation. Christ, who is our rain cloud. We can bear the final challenges, the final scourgings, even when stripped and broken, and still proclaim the name of our Lord at the top of our lungs. We can, because God has strengthened us with Christ, who bears the cross before us, with us, and after us.
In the desert, we do not walk alone. Christ walks with us to Calvary. Knowing that Easter is so soon, so close, we must still focus ourselves now, in the moment, in whatever place we stand, and remember what Christ must endure first, that we must endure first. We must center our hearts on that moment of glorification in which Christ conquers the desert through death. We must participate in the Passion. We must have contrite hearts. We must kiss the cross.
But we do it all with joy because the horizon now shows a cloud. A shadow filled with truly life-giving rain to bring about the spring. It will come. It will come. And with it, a Rainbow. “Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”