In the past weeks and months I have posts entitled, “How hard is it?” “How much is enough?” “How Much is Too Little?” “What is at Stake?” In all of these I have pointed towards the maximum as the standard by which we live the Christian faith – even if we cannot live at the maximum standard. This neatly coincides with the Scriptural notion of sin as “missing the mark.” Of course, if we cannot live at the maximum standard, then it is obvious that we will miss the mark. And of course we will.
In a culture that suffers from grade inflation (everybody wants an ‘A’) it is hard for some people to live with the idea of perpetually falling short and missing the mark. It is also easy to understand why so many churches are moving the mark. “Everybody’s Welcome!” a wonderful statement of hospitality can also be code language for, “We don’t think of anybody as a sinner here!”
In an Orthodox Church everybody is not just a sinner, but says aloud each week that of sinners, “I am the first.” At least we get to be first in something! This, of course, is much the same as Christians have confessed everywhere, for most of Christian history. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under Thy table,” used to be regular liturgical fare for Anglicans. My seminary ridiculed that particular prayer as only so much “groveling.”
Of course, we ought to grovel. It is, after all, God before Whom we stand in worship. The only proper response is to fall down before Him (even if Orthodoxy is a bit seasonal about when it’s proper to fall down). We cannot be healed and become what we were truly created to be by puffing ourselves up and making ourselves feel better about everything. It just won’t work because it’s not true.
Every child can make an ‘A’ in a classroom, but it every child does, then it is either a highly selective class, or the ‘A’ has come to mean nothing more than “not absent.” We want more than this of our salvation. For to dwell in heaven as I am now would quickly become torture for me and obvious for all around me. I am not ready nor fit, and if I die tonight, then I will hope that friends and family will begin to pray for me with great fervor – for I shall need it.
The only way up for us as Christians is the way down. Only as we follow Christ and the way of the Cross will we find the door that opens from Hades into Paradise. It is there and has been well trod. If it is a road of maximum effort, it is only because God would not want less than all of me to be saved.
I will miss the mark today. Perhaps I will be closer than yesterday – but if so – it will only be because I have learned how to let a steadier hand guide the bow, a more sure hand clasp the arrow, even if my hand is still there. Of sinners I am the first. But if I am to be last in anything, please, O God, let it be in the number of those who are saved!