|30 Second Sunday of Lent, March 23, 2008|
Heb 1:10 – 2:3
Heb 7:26 – 8:2 (St Gregory)
John 10:9 – 16 (St Gregory)
Yesterday, we read from
At the beginning of Great Lent, we noted that the lectionary had taken us through the events of the Savior’s crucifixion, his death and his burial even before Great Lent had begun. We entered Great Lent having read the Savior’s last words from the Cross, “It is finished!” We read how the women saw the tomb and observed how he was laid, and then returned home to prepare fragrant oils and spices, and rested on the Sabbath. We will not return to the Gospel again, except on Saturday and Sunday again, until we come to Holy Week. In the meantime, we are reading from the Old Testament.
In the way the Church has put her lectionary together, she seems to be telling us that the period of Great Lent, though it is six weeks in length according to calendar time, is in fact the Today of biblical time, specifically that mystical period of time that falls between Christ’s death on the Cross and his Resurrection. Christ died on Friday according to calendar time; but in biblical time, it was no ordinary Friday. We call it Great and Holy Friday because in its inner essence, it is the Sixth Day of creation when God finished creating the world with the creation of man in his own image and likeness. When Christ calls out from the Cross, “It is finished!” he is performing his last creative act on the Sixth Day of biblical time. It is the re-creation of man in his own image and likeness, establishing man in Christ’s own divine Person, which is itself the Image of the invisible God. In his last act of creation accomplished on the Cross, Christ God descends into the dark abyss of death and fills it with his uncreated light. Illumining hell with the uncreated light of his divinity, he goes searching for us, each one of us is the “one lost sheep”, just as he did in the Garden when he went out looking for Adam calling out, “Adam, where are you?”
If we return home with the women, as we read on the Thursday before Great Lent began, we are returning to the bridal chamber of our heart. That is where we will meet the Bridegroom who is looking for us. That is where the Bridegroom will be coming to meet us on Pascha midnight. If we are preparing fragrant oils and spices, then we are taking up our cross through the ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting, self-examination and confession of sins; we are denying ourselves; we are coming out of hiding to make ourselves transparent before Christ; we are removing the fig leaves of shame from our heart. This is how we make our return home to our heart, to prepare the bridal chamber for the coming of the Savior at Midnight on Great and Holy Pascha. If we are resting on the Sabbath, we are gathering our mind and all of our senses inward in the watchfulness and vigilance of prayer, all our inner senses awake and alert to hear the call of the angel: Behold, the Bridegroom comes at Midnight, so that we might go out to meet him who has come down from heaven looking for us here in the tomb of this life and in the depths of hell, that we might hear him say, Your sins are forgiven you. Rise up from your bed and walk. And so that we might receive his Spirit breathed into our face as he breathed it on Adam, that we might drink from the font of living water and come alive in Him and walk with him in newness of life into the Eighth Day, the First Day of the New Creation, Sunday, the Day of the Lord’s holy Resurrection.
With the women, the Church directed us on that Thursday before the beginning of Great Lent to observe the Lord’s tomb, to see how he was laid. We understand this to be much more than just a literal account of the women observing how his body was laid. It is an exhortation to those who believe: see how he is laid as on a bed, and understand. We have come to the Last Day of biblical time. The Lord is resting from his work of establishing even our death in himself so that he may be the first in all things. The Lord is resting. He is preparing to rise up again – and when he does, it will be the end of this age and we will stand before the risen Lord as the Judge of all at the beginning of the Age to Come. So hear and understand: while the Lord rests, now is the acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of our salvation. Now is the time for us to return to our homes and to prepare fragrant oils and spices, to make ourselves ready to greet the risen Lord when he rises from his bed on the Eighth Day of the week, Sunday, the Day of the Lord, the Day of his Holy Resurrection, the First Day of the New Creation.
We need not be anxious about how we do this work? We see in this morning’s Gospel how much our Mother the Church, the Bride of Christ, loves us, her children. She shows us what work we should do to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Bridegroom at Midnight, and she helps us do that work.
Note how the paralytic is absolutely helpless and utterly dependent on the four men to carry him into the house – and when the four men can’t get into the house, they go about opening up the roof and cause the paralytic to descend into the presence of the Savior. You and I are the paralytic. Are we not paralyzed in soul and body because of our vanity and our ignorance? There’s really only one thing we can do, as there was only one thing the paralyzed could do: we can say yes or no.
It says that the Savior entered
Were we not like the paralytic when we were brought to the baptismal font? Many of us were infants, and so we were as helpless as this paralytic. We were carried to the Church by our parents; we were handed over to our godparents. They held us throughout the service. They gave us to the priest, who brought us to the baptismal font. He made us to descend into the waters, and there we were washed and made clean, body and soul. We were carried to the Chalice, and there we received the Heavenly Spirit. We were incorporated into Christ’s body. The seed of his life was planted in our soul. We left the Church that morning new creatures, no longer children of flesh and blood, but children of God, born from above of water and the Spirit.
The Church does not stop carrying us even as we grow into adults. This morning, I want you to see how the Church continues to carry us even as we grow into adults.
Let’s say that these four men who carried the paralytic represent four pillars of the Church. Let’s identify those pillars as the Church’s biblical and dogmatic teachings, her ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting, the synaxis or the assembly of the faithful, and the liturgical worship of the Church. By means of these four pillars, the Church comes to us and says to us, “Do you want me to carry you to the Savior?” We give our consent when we renounce our laziness and indolence and take up the prayers and ascetic disciplines that the Church gives us to say and to do. We say yes to the Church when we choose to come to the Church and to be immersed in the synaxis, the assembly of her faithful, rather than staying home to read the morning paper, or to do the business and pleasures of worldly comforts. When we come to the Church, we come into the company of the blessed Theotokos and the saints. All of our senses are filled with the beauty of the Church, the very body of Christ, and we are shaped by the beauty of the Church’s spiritual life that we see in the Church’s doctrines and liturgical worship, and above all by the influence of the saints gathered around us in whom the beauty of Christ has become incarnate.
Through her doctrines, her prayers, her ascetic disciplines and in the company of her saints, the Church breaks opens the hard stone that covers our heart like the four men breaking open the roof covering the inner chamber of the house where the Savior was present. As we submit in obedience to the Church’s guidance and direction, she lets us down into our heart, the bridal chamber of our soul, and into the presence of the Savior.
This morning, the Church is asking us as these four men surely asked the paralytic in this morning’s Gospel: Do you want to meet the Heavenly Bridegroom on Pascha Midnight? Let me carry you to him. Say yes and listen to the Church’s teaching rather than your own; do the prayers and the fast that she gives you to do; practice the commandments of the Lord that she gives to us. Those commandments are a light upon the earth. Walk in his ways and you walk in the uncreated light of his holy Resurrection. Acknowledge and confess your sins in the sacrament of confession. Come to the worship of the Church. Surround yourself with her saints in the spiritual company of her faithful and retreat from the soul-destroying company of the world.
During this Lenten season, we are reading from the Old Testament. But you will note that at the Matins for Sunday morning (which we at St Herman’s celebrate at the Vigil on Saturday night) we read from the Gospel. Our assigned readings for these first two Sundays of Lent have been accounts of the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples. It is like the light of Christ’s resurrection breaking into our Lenten discipline. It is as though the Church is telling us that by doing what the Church tells us to do, our inner eyes and ears will be opened and we will begin to see and hear the risen Christ even now in the midst of this Lenten discipline of taking up our cross and following him. This gives to our Lenten discipline its deep joy that the world cannot see or understand, or take away. It fills our heart with love for the Savior, and for his holy Church. We begin to marvel even now at the Savior’s goodness. He does not deal with us as we have sinned, but when we humble ourselves, he comes to us and he grants to us a taste of his grace and mercy and compassion. We need only to say yes and do what he tells us to do in his holy Church, and his holy Church, our Mother, opens the roof of calendar time. She lets us down into the Today of biblical time’s Great and Holy Sabbath, into the presence of the Savior and the great mystery of his death and resurrection by which he has trampled down death by his death and granted to us who dwell in the tombs eternal life in his holy resurrection on the Eighth Day, the First Day of the New Creation in the Age to Come. In the joy, in the hope and in the beauty of this glorious vision of the Church, take heart. Be resolved to complete the course of the fast so that we may all go out together to meet him when he comes to us at Midnight on Great and Holy Pascha. Amen.