When I was a teenager (and this happened more than once) I was often told by my father or mother to go downstairs, or into the garage or in the kitchen of our restaurant to go get something. Invariably I would run take a quick look around (not having paid any attention to where my parents had said the item was) and come back and announce, “It’s not there!” They would reply “Did you look?” I would say, “Yes, it’s not there!” Of course they would go and find the item exactly where I should have looked in the first place. Sometimes we need to be reminded of what is right in front of us, what has always been with us. Great Lent is our reminder that God is with us; He always has been and always will be. It is also a reminder that we need to take the time to be still and listen. We need to make the effort to open our hearts and souls and experience His presence. 

On Monday evenings during Great Lent we celebrate the service of Great Compline. During the service a hymn is sung with the refrain, “For God is with us”. This refrain proclaims a deep truth and communicates an awesome message; God is present! He is in this world, and in our Church, and in our lives. It may seem difficult for us is to recognize that He is here with us, but we simply need to look in the right place. And if we can acknowledge His presence perhaps we can deepen our own faith and share our Lord’s presence with others. 

From the beginning of time God is present in the world. He created us and the world around us, His signature is on all of creation. The beauty of the natural world and the precious gift of life attest to God’s presence in the world. We read about God revealing Himself throughout the Old Testament, talking to the great personages such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and revealing Himself at the Burning Bush and Mount Sinai. However, it is when Christ is born that God breaks into our history and into our lives as never before. Saint Matthew, quoting the Prophet Isaiah, states that Christ is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”. Christ becoming one of us unites humanity to God. Before Christ was born, the union, the link between God and man had been broken. Humanity’s fallen nature and sin had severed our relationship with God. 

The Lord becoming one of us was not a surprise to anyone who knew the Old Testament. There is not only the promise of God dwelling with His people, there is also the desire of His presence with them. The people of God pray for God to be with them. They do so knowing that when He comes, life will change and hope enters human history. Psalm 80:1, 2 (79 LXX) implores God: “Give ear O Shepherd of Israel...and come and save us…” The “Shepherd of Israel” is Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. The presence of God in Jesus Christ with His people means salvation. Psalm 80 continues (verses14-15): “Look down from heaven and see this vine and the vineyard which your right hand planted.” If it seems familiar, it should. These are the words that our Metropolitan intones after the Thrice Holy Hymn during the Divine Liturgy. It is his plea for the Church. The prayer recognizes and acknowledges that our church was planted by Christ. It is His presence that makes it holy. In the Church and through the person of the Bishop we experience the presence of God as our Shepherd. Christ works in the priesthood, because the priesthood is His and He is our Great High Priest who mediates on our behalf. 

When Christ takes on human flesh, He begins our restoration. He re-establishes our link and union with God. He takes flesh from His mother the ever Virgin Mary and becomes one of us. Jesus is like us in every way but one: He does not sin. And in becoming one of us, He is always present with us. We see and experience Him in many different ways; we simply need to know where to look. Everyone should have an icon of Christ in their home. It is our belief that the icon makes Christ present: God is with us. When we read the Bible and the Gospels (especially when they are read in the Church), God is with us. You see the priest censing everyone in the Church because each and every one of you is the temple of the Holy Spirit and God dwells within you (I Corinthians 6:19); God is with us! We simply must be willing to accept His presence.

God’s desire is for us to be with Him and Him to be with us. It is stated so simply and beautifully in John 3:16, “God so love the world that He sent His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” As we progress through Great Lent and near Holy Week and Pascha, take the time to experience the presence of God. Do not hurry, but patiently, diligently and faithfully, seek Him; He is here. Look and you will find that God is with us!

Have a blessed Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha!