In the liturgy for the Second Sunday in Lent, Mother Church continued to prepare God’s People both for the mystery of the Passion and for the joy of the Resurrection.

The First Reading from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 22:1-14) refers to the episode in which God puts Abraham to the test.  Abraham had an only son, Isaac, who was born to him in his old age.  He was the son of the promise, the son who would also bring salvation to the peoples.  Nevertheless, one day Abraham received from God the command to sacrifice him as an offering: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you” (v. 2)

The elderly Patriarch found himself facing the prospect of a sacrifice which for him, as a father, was without any doubt the greatest imaginable.  Yet not even for a moment did Abraham hesitate and having made the necessary preparations, he set out with Isaac for the divinely prescribed location.

And we can imagine this journey toward the mountaintop, and what happened in Abraham’s own heart and mind and in that of his son.  Abraham builds an altar, lays the wood upon it, and having bound the boy, grasps the knife, ready to sacrifice him.  Abraham trusts totally in God, to the point of being ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son the future, for without a child the Promised Land was as nothing, ends in nothing.  And in sacrificing his son he is sacrificing himself, his complete future, the whole of the promise (see Genesis 15:18-21).  It really is the most radical act of faith.  At that very moment he is restrained by an order from on high.  For God does not want death, but life, the true sacrifice of atonement will ultimately not bring death but life: 

“The Lord called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’  And he said, ‘Here I am.’  He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’” .

Genesis 22:11-12

In the Second Reading (Romans 8:31-39), Saint Paul says that God Himself has made a sacrifice:  He has given his own Son.  He gave Him on the Cross to triumph over sin and death, to defeat the Devil and to overcome all the evil that exists in the world.  And God’s extraordinary mercy inspires the Apostle’s admiration and profound trust in the power of God’s love for fallen humanity.   Indeed, Saint Paul says: “He [God] who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32).

If God gives Himself in the Son, He gives the Christian everything.  And Saint Paul insists that the power of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice is stronger than every other force that can threaten a Believer’s life.  Thus, the Apostle asks: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?  It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn?  Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (vv. 33-34).

The Baptized live in God’s heart.  This is a Christian’s greatest trust.  This creates love and in love His People move towards the Triune-God.  If God the Father has given His own Son for all who believe, no one can accuse the saints, no one can condemn us, nothing “in all creation” can “separate us” from His immeasurable love (v. 39).  The supreme sacrifice of love on the Cross, which the Son of God accepted and chose willingly, becomes the source of every Christian’s justification, of their salvation.  This act of the Lord’s love endures for the regenerate disciple in the Holy Eucharist (the Church’s greatest sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving), and in Christ’s heart, for eternity; and this act of love draws us, unites us with Christ, so that we may dwell in Him and He in us.

I am personally very struck by the words spoken to Peter by Jesus in Mark’s Gospel (8:33): “Get behind me, Satan!  For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (v.33).  I have been convicted by these words because of my own constant faults and failing in life – especially in this Lenten season of 2021.  Convicted by my sin of arrogance by which I have too often believed that I can accomplish things in this life that will bring glory to God upon the testament of my own efforts, will and talent.  How foolish I have been.

The Baptized live in God’s heart. This is a Christian’s greatest trust.

Derek Redmond (who was born on September 3, 1965 in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, England, to West Indian immigrants) is a retired British sprinter.  Redmond, when he was just shy of his twentieth birthday, first broke the British record for the 400 meters in 1985 with a time of 44.82 seconds.  This record was subsequently broken, but Redmond reclaimed it in 1987 with a 44.50 clocking.

At the 1991 World Track & Field Championships in Tokyo, Japan, Redmond was a member of the British team that shocked the athletics world by defeating the mighty and highly favored Americans to claim the gold medal in the 4×400 Meter Relay.  Redmond ran the second leg in what was then the second fastest 4×400 Meter Relay in history.

Injuries constantly interrupted Redmond’s career.  At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, he pulled out of the opening round of the 400 meters just ninety seconds before his heat because of an injury to his Achilles tendon.  By 1992 he had undergone eight operations due to injuries.

The twenty-six-year-old Redmond, however, was in good form coming into the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.  He posted the fastest time of the first round of the 400 meters and went on to win his quarter-final heat:  he was running like a legitimate medal contender.  In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 meters from the finish, his hamstring tore.  He limped to a halt, and then fell to the ground in excruciating pain.  Stretcher bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond waved them off for decided he wanted to finish the race.  He began to hobble along while still in his lane.  He was soon joined by his father, Jim Redmond, who barged past the security guards and on to the track to be with his son in Derek’s worst moment of emotional agony.  Father and Son managed to complete the lap of the track together, with Derek’s right hand tightly grasped to Jim’s left shoulder for support – as they did so the crowd of 65,000 spectators rose to give them a standing ovation.  I am put in mind here of the words of the Psalmist: “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall” (Psalm 16:8).

Although Redmond was disqualified and officially listed as a “Did Not Finish” due to the outside assistance in finishing the race, the incident has become one of the most well-remembered moments in Olympic Track & Field history.  In fact, there is little doubt that Derek Redmond is far more famous today for his courageous struggle to just finish than he ever would have been if he had won the 400 Meter Gold Medal.  His father Jim would go on to be one of the Olympic torch bearers in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

It has now been nearly twenty-nine years since Derek Redmond was effectively forced to retire because of the torn hamstring he sustained in the semi-finals of the Barcelona Games.  The fifty-five-year-old icon admits that presently, barely a day passes by without him being asked by someone about that summer’s evening in 1992 when he reached the finish line with his father acting as his crutch, the Barcelona Olympic Stadium rising to their feet to applaud his determination to at least complete the race rather than be stretchered meekly off into oblivion.

“People keep asking me about it, even now,” he stated in 2017 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the race.  “I see the video of it all the time…it feels fresh in my memory.  But the emotion I get when I look at the screen is one of frustration mainly.  The reason for that is because I was running pretty well at the point going into the Games.  I always feel if I’d finished that race, I’d have run a personal best.  And so the fact I didn’t finish it, and I got nothing from it, it’s stuck with me because I’ll never know how fast I could have run or how absolutely good I could have been.  That’s the ultimate if you want to be the best in the world.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way.”

It is true.  Life, in fact, rarely works out the way we want or hope it will: no matter how talented, smart, strong, or fast one may be.  In the end, just perhaps, Derek Redmond had accomplished something far more significant by just getting to the finish line with assistance than he would have had he not tore his hamstring and did manage to go onto “run a personal best” time.   Indeed, there is not any race in life we can satisfactorily complete without our leaning heavily upon the shoulder of the Lord Jesus Christ who has already won for us the most important and precious victory.

Dear brothers and sisters let us continue with courage and stamina on this 2021 Lenten journey that will take us to Golgotha, the hill of the supreme sacrifice of love of the one Priest of the new and eternal Covenant.  That sacrifice contains the greatest power of transformation of both the human being and of history.  Taking upon Himself every consequence of evil and sin, Jesus rose the third day as the conqueror of death and of the Evil One.  Lent prepares us to take part personally in this greatest mystery of the Faith which we shall celebrate in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ – the ultimate victory.

I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

Psalm 16:8

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Rev. Mark R. Galloway
The Rev. Mark R. Galloway

The Rev. Mark R. Galloway (BA, ThM, MA, STM) (Bishop-retired) is an Elder at Holy Communion Anglican Church. He voluntarily serves in his capacity as Bishop (episkopos), assisting the Rector in pastoral ministry. Mark is a loving husband, father of four grown children and grandfather to three grandchildren, and is an avid long-distance runner.

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