|01 - CHURCH NEW YEAR: TIME A GARDEN, Sept 3, 2023|
1 Corinthians 16.13-24
This last Friday, Sept 1, we passed over into a new Church year. The liturgical shape of the Church New Year reveals a beautiful theology of time. It reveals that time has meaning because in its inner, hidden essence, it is the movement of God’s love for man and of man’s love for God. Time is therefore the movement of salvation; its movement is measured by the LORD’s descent to us in His love for us, and of our growing in love for God, and in that growing love, ascending to the eternal God.
This vision of time as the movement of the saving love of God may be behind the LORD’s word to His disciples: ‘He who endures to the end will be saved.’ (Mt 10.22) Time comes into view as an invisible fire that tests our love, whether it is for God or for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. And so, our movement through the ‘days of our lives’ becomes either the furnace that burns away the dross of our sin and our death, or the furnace in which we disintegrate back into the dust.
For, the liturgical shape of the Church New Year is this: we pass over from the Falling Asleep of the Theotokos at the end of the old year to Her Nativity at the beginning of the New Year. The birth of the Theotokos (on the eighth day of the New Year) has the shape of Her bodily resurrection, which the Holy Apostles witnessed at Her Dormition. The liturgical texts of Her Nativity sing out to Her as the ‘Daughter of God.’ But She is not a Goddess; She is human. And so, She shows that it is our nature and destiny to become ‘daughters’ of God. As human, She becomes the Mother of all those who unite themselves to Her Son, Christ, the Son of God, in Holy Baptism, and who are raised from death to life in the Font as new-born children of God.
In this liturgical shape of the Church New Year, we see ourselves being raised from death to life in the arms of the Holy Virgin. She is the New Eve, the hoped for ‘Mother of Life;’ and She Herself has been raised from death to life, bodily, in the arms of Her Son and God, our LORD Jesus Christ.
We can see this in the shape of this liturgical season of 40 days. It begins with the LORD’s Transfiguration on Mt Tabor. It ends with our taking up His Cross. Both of these feasts are feasts of the Savior. And they hold within them these two feasts of the Theotokos: Her Dormition and Her Nativity. Indeed, in the Icon of the Theotokos’ Holy Dormition, we see Her soul held in the arms of the Savior, even as we see the LORD held in the arms of His Holy Mother at Christmas.
Therefore, when you come to the Church, you are drawing near, in the movement of time, to the loving embrace of the LORD and His Holy Mother. You are drawing near to the inner essence that gives the movement of time its true meaning. And when your own soul is caught by that vision, and your heart is quickened with a longing to be received into that meaning, and you ‘desire’ to become a catechumen, a student, a disciple of the LORD, in the desire to learn how to become a child of this love of God, you are uncovering the faith that is the innate movement embedded in your heart. For faith is not an intellective, indemonstrable opinion; it is the movement of our heart’s love for the eternal God.
In that faith we are conceived as it were in the womb of our new and true Mother, the Holy Virgin Theotokos. In Her loving embrace, the embrace of the Church, She shapes us, we are nurtured and nursed by Her, until we are ready to be born in the Holy Font as sons and daughters of the New Eve and the New Adam, the Son of God (Lk 3.34). And, when we rise from the Font and are clothed in the Garment of Light, we are received into this loving embrace of the Holy Virgin and Her Son and God, Our LORD Jesus Christ, which is the inner essence of time.
Now the movement of time for us is transfigured in the uncreated Light of Christ that has become our Life. The days of our life become the path of our following the LORD to the top of the mountain of His Ascension (this is the inner essence of the Christian’s grave!). The trials and afflictions that beset us are transfigured. They become meaningful, even a reason for rejoicing because they become the fire that tests the genuineness of our faith, our love for the Savior, which is more precious than gold. [1Pe 1:6-7]
In terms of our Gospel this morning, the days of our life become a mystical garden, a living vineyard. This was not the first time the LORD told this parable. He told it centuries earlier, before He became flesh, to His prophet, Isaiah. There, we learn that the vineyard is Israel (Is 5.7), and that the fruit the LORD was expecting to receive from Israel when the season drew near was the fruit of justice and righteousness.
Well, but Jesus Christ is the ‘Righteousness’ of God. He is the perfection, the completion, the heart of the Law, He is Himself, therefore, the Justice of God. And the Holy Virgin Theotokos is the Garden; She is the tree of life who holds in Her arms the LORD God as a cluster full of grapes. She is the soil from which the ‘vine’ that is Christ takes root and grows as a man in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. In the love of God, She receives the Holy Spirit as the Seed of God into the soil of the pure blood of Her womb and conceives the Son of God in the flesh.
Here is the great mystery of the Gospel: She ‘transfigures’ the Son of God so that He becomes the Son of Man. In Her, He emptied Himself, He lost His life for our sake, i.e., out of His love for us, to find His life in us, in the womb of the Holy Virgin. For again, She is not a Goddess; She is fully human, She is one of us. Clothing Himself in our humanity from Her pure blood, He was found in our death, in the tomb of our heart. And the Holy Virgin, as the Garden planted by God, brought forth from Her womb the Righteousness of God, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father.
The worldly soul loves the idols of the ruler of this age, and she hates the Icon of God. She therefore loves the darkness of death, and she hates the Light of God that exposes her darkness. And so, she kills the Son of God, believing she can now have the world to herself and do with the days of her life as she wants.
But here is the great mystery of the Gospel. It is found beneath the surface, in the heart where we are deep, beyond all things. When we descend with our mind into our heart, we descend into the waters of our soul where the Spirit of God is moving over us as He brooded over the waters of creation. We descend into the waters of His voluntary death on the Cross, we descend into the concrete expression in time of His great love for mankind; for in His Cross and Burial, He became one with us even in our death. And so, we descend into the Light of God that the darkness cannot extinguish; and, descending into the Light of God, we descend into our true Life, into the Icon of God in whose love we came to be and who is the true shape of our being. And when we unite ourselves to the death of the incarnate God, we find ourselves united to His Resurrection. We then become the Garden of God. By putting to death all that is earthly in us, we become one with the Seed of God, the LORD Jesus Christ, who was sown in the soil of our soul and body in the womb of the Holy Virgin. And now the days of our life become the Garden, the Vineyard of God, and we begin to bring forth Righteousness and its fruits, the love, the joy, the peace, the eternal life of God. Dying daily in the death of Christ we bring forth daily the Resurrection of Christ. We not only enter the Garden of Eden mystically; we become, in time, the Garden of Eden incarnate.
Perhaps the Church New Year should be the time we make New Year’s resolutions that are truly transfiguring in the way of the Church. Might we resolve to take up our Cross in prayer and fasting in order to die to ourselves, and seek to lose our life in the death of Christ that we might be transfigured in the uncreated Light of Christ who alone is our eternal life! Amen!