|01 - SIGNS OF THE TIMES, Sept 1, 2019|
For audio, click here
Today begins a new Church Year. With the New Year, we reflect on creation, as well as on the Last Day: a huge commemoration, cosmically huge!
We read in Genesis that, on the fourth day, God created the sun, the moon and the stars “for signs and for seasons and for days and for years.” (Gn 1.14) Should we note that the Greek word for ‘signs’ is the same word for Jesus’ miracles? And, that the sun, moon and stars were not created until the fourth day? And, that they are for signs before they are for measuring morning and evening? It seems to say that they, along with the seasons, the days and the years that they measure, have another purpose than simply measuring the flow of time. For, how was there evening and morning on the first, second and third days when there was yet no sun, moon or stars? Not only that, already on the third day—before there was sun and moon—the plants and trees began to grow. Do they not need light to grow?
Remember that the first thing God created was the light. If it was not the sun or the moon or the stars, what was it? From indications in the prophets, the Proverbs and the Psalms, I believe it may have been Torah, the Law of God, not coming into existence but ‘coming to be manifest’ as light. Was this light of creation the first dwelling in the world of the Christ? For, He is the WORD (Logos), the Law of God. He is the True Light coming into the world who, in these last days, “came to be flesh and dwelt among us.” He is the uncreated Light of God incarnate whose brilliance shone out on Mt Tabor, and again at the Tomb. I want to say that it was in this light, the Light of Christ, wrapped in the light of Torah as in a garment, that the plants and trees began to grow on the third day, before there was sun or moon. It was by this light of the True Light that morning and evening were measured on the first, second and third days. It was of this Light that sun, moon and stars, seasons, days and years were created for signs. That is, the movement of astrological time, measured by sun, moon and stars, proceeds from a much deeper movement. This is the movement in love of the True Light, Christ the LORD, the Beginning and the End (Rev 1:8), the Fountain of Life, descending into the world through the seasons, days and years in His love. He weaves for Himself a garment of light (Ps 36:9), the light of His Torah. In this light, He brings creation forth (Jn 1:2); and in this light of Torah, He, the True Light, hides (Col 1:26) until the Day He comes to be flesh of the Virgin (Isa 7:14) and dwells among us as the WORD, the Law of God incarnate (Jn 1:14).
Thus, we can see that the movement of time in its inner meaning is the sign of the True Light descending through the seasons, days and year in love to His Bride, the Church, embodied in His Living Temple, the Holy Theotokos; but, also, the movement of the seasons, days and years is a sign of the LORD’s Bride, the Church, ascending in love to Her Heavenly Bridegroom. In the sanctuary of her womb, shown to be more spacious than the heavens, He becomes man; and, on the Last Day, clothed in our mortal, darkened flesh, the True Light descends into the tomb to become one with us in our death that we might become one with Him who is Himself Resurrection and Life (Jn 11:25). Seasons, days, years—the movement of time—are, with Jesus miracles, signs of God’s love for the world (Jn 3:16), in which the world moves and has its being.
In the liturgical rhythm of the Church year, we move in time from the birth of the Theotokos at the beginning of the year to her death at the end of the year. The feasts of the Theotokos’ birth and death together mold the seasons, days and years into the Gate of that Temple Ezekiel saw, the gate that faces east (chptrs 43-47). The Church year comes into view as a cosmic Temple of space and time. Entering that Temple, we come in time into the Cave of Bethlehem, we bend down and come, in time, to the Cave of the LORD’s Tomb. We come into the mystery of God hidden from the ages in the seasons, days and years of sun, moon and stars.
We come into the Temple of the Church and we step into the mystery of God hiding in time. We see the icon of Our Lady of the Sign on the East wall, her Dormition on the west wall, the icon of Christ Pantocrator on the top ceiling overshadowing the whole space and liturgical movements of the Temple. We see sun, moon and the stars carrying the Theotokos, who carries Christ. But, Christ holds her, the world and the movements of sun, moon and stars in His hands.
Here, in the Temple of the Church, we see why the creation that God made is kalos: good, beautiful. We were not made for death (Wisd 1:13-14). We were made to be immortal in the image of God’s own eternity (Wisd 2:23). Created in God’s Image, we were made able to hold God in love because God first holds us in His love (1 Jn 4:19). In the movement of sun, moon and stars, in the seasons, days and years, God moves toward us. We can be saved, we can be delivered from death in the love of God, incarnate of the Virgin. The flow of seasons, days and years is not meaningless: it is the river of repentance. Its mighty current is the love of God incarnate that would carry us up to His Holy Temple on His Holy Mountain.
In Christ’s Holy Church, we are at the threshold, the Gate, of this mystery, the mystery of Christ in you! (Col 1:27) And, when you descended into the Font, you descended into that mystery!
Here, in this moment of time, we stand at the throne of the LORD of Glory, the King, as we are given to understand in this morning’s Gospel. Before His Glory, all self-righteousness and every self-justification vanishes in a puff of smoke. It is all we can do to fall down in fear and cry out, LORD have mercy! Here, we begin to see how we have stolen the image of God and claimed it for ourselves and used the flow of seasons, days and years to make ourselves gods without God. Great is our debt!
Yet, the LORD, because He is deeply compassionate, in His mercy forgives us all. Graciously, simply because we ask Him, He pardons everything and receives us into His Holy Church. And, if we would, He leads us down into that primordial movement of time that proceeds from His uncreated Light. When we vowed that we would unite ourselves to Him, we bore witness to our resolve to love Him who first loved us and, in that love, to ascend to Him in His Glory.
If we were to center the flow of our seasons, days and years in the presence of the all-merciful God, would we not want to pardon those who are indebted to us? Would we want to hold on to the grudge? Does not the grudge darken joy? Does it not drag us down from the presence of the King who makes all things new and living and good, and in whose presence we feel the joy that comes from the cleansing of His forgiveness?
Note, then, that it was when this servant went out from the presence of the King that his covetousness—which St Paul tells us is the essence of our idolatry (Col 3:5)—comes flooding back. In his greed, he refuses to give to his debtor the pardon the King gave to him. And so, he is thrown into prison by the King. Let’s say, he is thrown back into the “circle of life”, whose circling movement is not the love of God that abides forever, but the cold, impersonal, lifeless movement of the sun, moon and stars, whose seasons, days and years, when stripped of their meaning as signs of God’s love, mean nothing more than the approach of the end and our dissolving back into the same “circle of life” we just left, over and over again.
Dear faithful, when we left the Church on the day of our baptism, when we leave the Church after a Vigil or a Divine Liturgy, are we going out from the presence of the LORD? Christ is in you. Your body has become a temple of the Holy Spirit. The seasons, days and years of your life have been revealed as the Temple in whom the LORD of Glory dwells and in which He descends to you in His love. Nothing compels us to go out from the presence of the LORD, if we resolve not to.
When we are assailed by covetousness in any of its many forms—gluttony, lust, anger, envy, vainglory, etc.—precisely in that moment of time, we need to remember to go not out of but into the presence of the King. For, in His presence, we find consolation, peace, joy, and divine strength to give ourselves not to the merciless greed of self-centered idolatry but to the love of God. In the love of God, we find the seasons days and years of our life transformed into an ever ascending ascent from glory to glory in the joy of His Resurrection. Amen!