Sic transit gloria mundi, thus passes the glory of this world. Sic transit gloria mundi. In the days of papal coronations, this phrase would be mournfully recited before the new pope at three stations between the sacristy and the papal altar of St. Peters. As they paused, a long pole with burning flax would be held before the pope to observe that all the pomp that surrounded them in this moment, the kingdom they now occupied, goes as quickly as it arrives. What matters then, is the interior proximity of the office holder to Christ, because no matter who we are pope, monarch, CEO, pauper, we all die the same way. We are all placed into the ground the same way. We can’t take any of this with us, so we are but dust, and Lent provides a time for us to deepen our understanding of the dust we will return to.
Our reading from Matthew is positioned in the Sermon on the Mount, that incredible sermon on the virtues and life we are to live as we follow Jesus. The Jesus of Matthew remains a person whose whole ministry and purpose in this world is to heal us, to bring us back into right relationship with God, and to free us from the social and economic wasteland that is Roman occupation. Yet we start this Lenten journey with an admonishment every year, to look inside us and figure out what's really important to us, not to brag or moan about the penance we undertake, to give in a larger way than we have before to those in need, and to pray more deeply for the world. But why start now? We know how the story will end.
Sic transit gloria mundi, thus passes the glory of this world, is a reminder and an admonishment for us to remain vigilant spiritually within ourselves on what actually matters to us in our lives. Society around us is predicated on creating comfort. Gone are the days where we have to raise our own food, rather we can order meal subscription boxes or have the groceries delivered. Gone are the days where we would rely on our neighbours to help us in retirement, rather we are reminded as soon as our first pay cheque is cashed to start saving for retirement, to buy the house, to amass wealth and protect it through wise investing. Yet, at the end of our lives, all that wise investment does not go into the grave with us. Death taxes, inheritance and property transfer tax obliterate all our prudent savings. Sic transit gloria mundi reminds us of the dust that we are, and the kingdoms we build for ourselves will return to dust too, but our dust, our substance is of infinite value to God.
Investments and security are not, in themselves, bad things, but they should support and reflect our faith and baptism. Our investments open for us the opportunity to reflect on the kind of world we want to live in because of our economic ability these investments give us. Do we want a world where homeless are degraded, kids go hungry, and the environment is destroyed for our profit? Our baptismal covenant tells us the answer to that is “no,” so then what are we to do? Lent offers us the opportunity to embrace a fasting lifestyle, which is not just about dietary fasting, although for some that is effective. However, it also is about a lifestyle fast as well.
Our baptisms are the one thing we take with us to the grave, nothing, not even death, can take that away from us. So it is fitting then that we reflect on our lives and its proximity to Christ, in Lent, through our baptismal covenants to see where we may need to embrace a fast to open us up to what really matters, because of who we follow. Follow me for a second here and reflect with me as you are able as we remember our promises in baptism:
- Do you believe in God, the God who made and formed you, and gave you everything you have?
- If this is true, how are you stewarding the gifts you have been given from God to serve this world?
- Do you believe in Jesus, the man who died in love for you, to keep you in relationship with God forever?
- If this is true, how are you building relationships in the world? Are they out of love, or control? Power, or mercy?
- Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the animating force that binds us and this church together into an ancient and future family?
- If this is true, how are you participating in the work of the church to build this family?
- Will you continue in the apostles teaching, the prayers, and the breaking of the bread?
- If this is true, how are you deepening and educating yourself in the faith?
- Will you resist evil, and when you fall into sin return and repent to the Lord?
- If this is true, how are you becoming a person of forgiveness?
- Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
- If this is true, how are you showing that truth with your life?
- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?
- If this is true, how are you lifting others up with your presence into the hope of Christ’s salvation?
- Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
- If this is true, how are you living peace in the midst of chaos and turmoil?
- Will you strive to safeguard God's creation, renewing the life of this earth?
- If this is true, how are you living a life that honours God’s gift to us of this planet?
This is why we need 40 days for this work, because it's a deep dive into who we are. But do not be afraid, God is with us in this work. We are not ugly spiteful worms in the eyes of God. We are wonderfully made in love, a love so deep that God himself died in order to never be apart from us again. So I invite you to observe with me a holy lent, which looks at these covenants and asks u"s to reflect what is important in our lives, and what may need to stop, in order for us to live more fully as a resurrection people in Easter. For some of us, that maybe a nutritional fast, for others that maybe a lifestyle fast, where we opt to buy less because we don’t need it, and use the extra to support transformative work in our neighbourhoods. For others, it may mean breaking down the walls of fear inside us to engage with a homeless person, or to stand with indigenious voices as they fight for the rights to their lands. For others, it may be revisiting what it means to live in peace and forgiveness, by coming to confession and experiencing the joy of being unburdened from the toils that hold us down. Whatever it is, remember this. Sic transit gloria mundi - thus passes the glory of this world - from dust to dust. Sic transit gloria mundi.