3rd Sunday in Lent

Readings: Ephesians 5.1-14Luke 11.14-28

Jesus brings deliverance to a victim by the hand of God, but his opponents say he is the puppet of the Devil. This is an extreme form of delusion. We have seen some poisonous examples at work in recent days — the despot who claims he has no official position and so cannot resign, the tyrant who kills his people in the name of the people – and what we see in this gospel scene is not lethal (yet), but it is in a sense even more complete in its inversion of reality. Jesus’ opponents are people who do not just say that North is South and that inside is out: they gaze upon the presence and activity of God and call it the work of the Devil. Jesus’ warning to them is severe.

Whatever your doubts about the state of your soul, it is hard even to set foot in a church and not be confident that you are delivered, at least, from being one of these people. That is one reason to be cheerful. The second reason is that, though much in my world may still seem topsy-turvy, if I earnestly repent — if you want to be different, or at least want to want to be different — then God’s grace is simply there: as the words of absolution say, God delivers us from all our sins; or (to use the imagery of the gospel reading), the house of your heart is swept clean again.

But the clean, bare house, says Jesus, is still vulnerable to unwelcome guests (as the freshly cleared desk of an untidy worker will soon get recluttered). That is why this Eucharist invites each of us not only to ‘confess our sins in penitence and faith’ but also to ‘draw near’, to ‘eat’, to drink’ and ‘feed on’ Christ. This service does not just wipe the slate clean, it opens up the possibility of writing a different story on it. It is a time not only of sanitation but of invitation.

It is the real presence of Christ that best fills the empty halls of the heart; we are not worthy that he should come under our roof, yet he will come; if we will have him. And so, as we take, as we eat and drink, we can make our own the words of the ancient night prayer:

Lord, be the guest of this house,
and drive far away all the deceits of the evil one.


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