|33 - Third Sunday of Pascha, Myrrhbearing Women, May 4, 2014|
Beloved faithful, on Pascha Night, we entered the Church as into the tomb of Christ, having heard on the steps of the Church the angelic proclamation to the myrrhbearing women: “Christ is risen! He is not here!” We saw no body, no Jesus. Then, we heard the angel saying to the women: “He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him!” We heard the witness of St John’s Gospel at the Divine Liturgy of Pascha: “No one has ever seen God at any time!” Yet, we heard St John’s witness: “The only-begotten Son of God has revealed Him, and we beheld His Glory!” And, we heard the Church singing on that night: “Let us purify our senses, and we shall see Christ!”
On Sunday afternoon, at the Agape Vespers, we began to read the story of St Thomas. “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails and put my finger into the print of the nails and my hand into His side, I will not believe.” We finished that story on the Sunday after Pascha. In the Upper Room, the LORD showed Thomas His hands and His feet and His side. And, He said to St Thomas: “Blessed are those who do not see and believe.”
And then, we heard St John saying to us: “Many other signs Jesus did in the presence of His disciples; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that, believing, you might have life in His Name.” Note well: they are signs, witnesses, not proofs. Proofs are inherently dialectical, i.e. deductive or inductive, and they do not produce the knowledge of faith, which transcends the knowledge, I dare say even the proofs of the world. They are signs that call us to the work of faith by which we come to know in the fear of God, with faith and love that Jesus is the Son of God in a knowledge that is living, healing, restorative and transformative.
Contemplating the witness of St John from within the spiritual life of the Church, I hear him telling us: “These signs have been recorded that you may learn how to go see Him in Galilee, how to purify your senses, how to unite yourself to Christ so that you who do not see may yet believe in Him who is the Hope of Glory in you (Col 1:27) and receive from Him the power of His Holy Spirit to become children of God, born from above.” That is to say, I believe that there is imbedded in the biblical witness to Christ’s Resurrection the revelation of a “spiritual program,” a “way” that does not at all end at Pascha. In fact, it begins at Pascha. It is the very essence of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship that continues without ceasing every day, every hour, every moment in the life of the faithful. Doing it makes those who follow it “believers”, for it brings them to “see” and to “know” that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is risen from the dead because by doing this “way”, they find themselves attaining to life in His Name.
This is not a way of dialectical reasoning or logical deduction. It’s not a way of “believing” as in just lying there nodding our heads and so attain to life in His Name. It’s a way of “believing” as in getting up, taking up our bed, our cross, and walking in this way of repentance and in obedience to the LORD’s commandments. This way leads to the knowledge of faith, which is not of the world; it is a knowledge that is higher than the knowledge of the world. It brings us to true knowledge and true “seeing” because it is born from the grace to become a partaker of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4), from Christ Himself in me (Col 1:27), from Christ living in me as my very life (Gal 2:20; Col 3:4); it is knowledge that comes from the grace to exist, to live, to move, to have my very being in the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection (Acs 17:28).
In this morning’s Gospel (which is the original ending of St Mark), I believe this spiritual way is given in the words of the Angel to the myrrhbearing women: “He goes before you into Galilee; there you will see Him!” The Church herself, I think, was telling us what it means to go to Galilee that we might see Jesus when she cried out to us on Pascha Night, “Let us purify our senses and we shall see Him,” and when the Gospel of St John was read to us at the Divine Liturgy: “In the beginning was the Word.” From this, I think: “The LORD goes before you into Galilee; there you will see Him” means: “Go back to the beginning.” The “beginning”, from, “let us purify our senses,” I think clearly refers to the beginning of the Gospel, and to the LORD’s baptism.
For, St Mark’s Gospel begins: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” and moves “immediately” into Jesus’ baptism by the Baptist; and, the opening verses of St John’s Gospel, which we read on Pascha Night, are, I believe, St John’s theological vision of Jesus’ baptism by the Baptist in the Jordan. And, this is how St Matthew introduces the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.” (Mt 3:13)
From this, I see the word of the Angel to us in this morning’s Gospel: “He goes before you into Galilee; there you will see Him” to mean, “Purify your senses; go back to your baptism; there you will see Him.”
Brothers and sisters: what did we do at our baptism? We renounced the devil and we united ourselves to Christ in the confession of our sins. We were united to Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection. But what does that mean if not to take up our cross to follow Christ? Now we read the Angel’s words: “Go to Galilee; there you will see Him” as: “Take up your cross; flee from the corruption of the world that is in carnal desire (II Pt 1:4), crucify what is earthly in you (Col 3:5), deny yourselves to the point of losing your life – your earthly life that is captive to death and is passing away (I Jn 2:17) – for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, so that Christ who is Himself the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25) can become our resurrection unto life eternal as communicants of life eternal, partakers of the divine nature, living, moving and existing in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit through the resurrected and glorified humanity of Christ.
Now, after Christ was baptized in the Jordan, where did He go? Into the wilderness. Led by whom? The Holy Spirit. For what purpose? To be tempted by the devil – but, in the light of Holy Pascha, we read: to triumph over the devil.
The wilderness is our own soul. “My soul thirsts for Thee as in a dry and weary land where no water is!” the Psalmist says. (Ps 63:1) It is the “dust” of the ground that the LORD, from the beginning, has been trying to get us back to, because it is in the dust of the ground, “in the midst of the earth” (Ps 74:12) that our salvation begins, that our resurrection to life eternal begins.
Liturgical texts from the Feast of the Elevation of the Cross on Sept 14 draw a parallel between the wood of the cross and our own humanity. Lenten texts describe the ascetic disciplines of Great Lent – prayer, fasting, confession of sins, deeds of mercy and compassion – as “flowers that grow from the wood of the Cross.” From this, I believe the Church is telling us that we go to Galilee, we take up our Cross and “purify our senses” by confronting ourselves through the ascetic disciplines of the Church: confronting and battling our lust, our malice, our impure desires, our selfishness, our laziness, our indolence, our impure habits, even our addictions by the power of the Cross given to us in the ascetic disciplines of unceasing prayer, inner vigilance aided by fasting with our stomachs as the Church directs us, "closing the doors" of our eyes and ears, and in the sincere and honest confession of our sins. These disciplines of the Cross do not end at Pascha with the end of Great Lent. Rather, Pascha reveals the reason we take up these disciplines of the Cross as the work of our life every day, every hour, every moment: that we may see Christ and attain to life in His Name.
If we confess our sins, it says, He is faithful and just to cleanse us our sins and from all unrighteousness. (I Jn 1:9) In Holy Scripture, to be cleansed of our sins and unrighteousness is to be raised from death to life. This is an experience not of this world; yet, the soul knows she has been raised to life in the love, the joy, the peace, which also are not of this world, which pervade her. Here, brothers and sisters, the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ is no longer outside of us as a mere religious “belief” that is itself easily overwhelmed by the darkness. It is beginning to become active within us as the most intimate experience of the soul that illumines our darkness and purifies our senses.
Now, when we hear the Angel saying: “He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him!” we hear: “Take up your cross; and, in its life-creating power, go into the desert of your own soul “in the midst of the earth”. Deny yourself, confront yourself and lose your life for the sake of Christ and His Holy Gospel; i.e., in the fear of God, with faith and love; and you shall see Christ! You shall see Him in an unseeing way, because His Holy Resurrection is no longer a religious assertion outside of you. It is becoming your inner life. You know it because you become it! It is embodied in you as your very life. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen!