Being Changed into His Likeness (February 2017)

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The last Sunday in February, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, is traditionally called Quinquagesima, literally meaning ‘fiftieth’, because it is fifty days before Easter.   I love the Collect (special prayer) for that Sunday:

‘Almighty Father, whose Son was revealed in majesty before he suffered death on the cross: 
give us grace to perceive his glory, that we may be strengthened to suffer with him and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory.’

The Collect asks God to give each of us his grace, so that we can perceive Christ’s glory.  We need God’s grace to be able to fully grasp the enormity of the glory given to the Son, the enormity of the sacrifice borne by Christ on the cross for each of us.  And the more of his grace we receive, the more we will understand, and the more we will be changed on the inside to become increasingly like Him.  As the prayer says, ‘changed from glory to glory’.   But there’s also another reason prayer asks for God’s grace for us, to give us strength, as it says ‘to suffer like him’. 

That might seem a strange thing to mention in the middle of a beautiful prayer about God’s majesty and glory.  But the centre of the Christian faith is all about suffering.  That may not sound very attractive.  But it is part of the mystery of how God works in our lives.  He sent His Son to suffer and to die for us.  If we are to follow Jesus in our lives, truly following him involves being prepared to go through something of what he went through, including suffering.  As the Collect puts it, when we suffer for our faith, we suffer ‘with Christ’.  He is with us in the experience.

That can make Christians uncomfortable.  But the Christian faith, if it has a solid foundation, often leads the disciple along a rocky and difficult path.  I sometimes think there should be a health warning written above the church doors, something like:  ‘Beware:  Becoming a Christian can make your life more painful and difficult.’  It can be painful and difficult because non-believers can mock us for our faith.  It can be painful and difficult when we are called by God to give up things we love, for Him. 

Being a Christian means placing what God wants first in our lives, before family or work or what we want.  Being a Christian means obedience to God’s leading, and seeking His will first and foremost.  And sometimes, in my experience, there can be something I have loved doing that God tells me to stop, or there has been somewhere I have great nostalgia for that God says needs to change.  The difficult question God asks me at such times, which I believe he asks all of us, is ‘How much do you love me?’  He also says, ‘Are you prepared to place me before your love of this or that thing you want to hold onto?’

All of us need to be clear about our priorities:  do we place God first in our lives?  And if the answer to that is not sure, perhaps there is even more reason to pray the Collect for Quinquagesima to be true in your life.

Tina Upton