|03 - To Save Your Soul, Sept 16, 2012|
Galatians 2:16-20 & II Corinthians 4:6-15
Mark 8:34-9:1 & Matthew 22:35-46
I think we can say that the Cross is where the mystery of the world that was hidden in God from before the ages is fully unveiled – to the eyes of faith. When Christ voluntarily ascended the Cross to endure death out of His love for mankind, the eyes of faith and even the eyes of angels, so the liturgical texts tell us, are startled to see just how unfathomable and incomprehensible God’s love in fact is. Unveiled also in the mystery of Christ’s Cross is the glory of the biblical world-view and the revelation of just how majestic, high and noble is the nature and destiny of man, which greets the faithful when they climb the steps of the Church to receive the mysteries of the Christian Faith in holy baptism.
I wish this morning to share with you a little bit of this vision that I am able to see when I contemplate the mystery of Christ’s Cross in the light of what I know of the doctrine of Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church. My hope, of course, is that my words will bear faithful witness Christ’s Holy Gospel, and I pray that through my words, the grace of Christ’s Holy Spirit will touch our hearts and anoint them with love for Christ and His Holy Gospel.
The bible’s theological account of creation (different from scientific or mythological) reveals a movement of time, we’ll call it, that is much deeper, much more primordial than the astronomical time of the world measured by the movement of sun and moon. This biblical or theological time is measured by the spiritual movement of God coming out of Himself in love to create the world and to dwell in it, and of the world coming out of itself in love to receive God and to be received into God. This movement of the world that I’m referring to takes place in the mystery of the Theotokos.
This theological vision of the bible proclaims that the world does not exist as it does by chance. It exists as the expression, the icon of divine love. The Psalmist sings out: the earth is filled with the steadfast love God, and the heavens declare His handiwork. Heaven and earth are full of His glory.
The crown of God’s creation is man. In theological time, i.e., in the movement of divine love, on the Sixth Day God makes man as male and female in His own image and likeness. Borrowing from St Dionysius: “spell-bound as it were by His goodness, love and longing, God relinquishes His utter transcendence.” He empties Himself (cf. Phil 2:5) and He breathes into the face of man so that man becomes a living soul who lives, who moves and has his being, and this is critically important, not in himself, not in his own soul, but in the Spirit of God’s love (Gn 2:7). Here, the bible proclaims man’s innate kinship with God. The seed of God’s love is in him. Man therefore becomes what he really is as he comes out of himself, as he moves in theological time, the movement of love, to live consciously, freely and intentionally in God. Therefore, to live, man must die – in God: he must come out of himself to live not in himself but in God, as God came out of Himself to breathe life into man. This movement of theological time, this movement of love, as far as I can see, is the deepest principle of the world. It is not found on the surface of existence. It is hidden deep in the heart of man.
In this theological vision of the world, we see that we suffer because in our heart we have moved away from God. Instead of moving toward Him in the obedience of love, we move away from Him in the rebellion of pride. But, in the bible’s theological vision of the world, we are not surprised to hear that when we had fallen away, God did not cease to do everything until He had raised us up again to heaven. He came out of Himself again; He relinquished His utter transcendence again when He emptied Himself in the obedience of His love for the Father and took on the form of a servant and became flesh and dwelt among us.
Here, in the Son of God’s conception and birth from the Holy Virgin, the veil of the mystery hidden in God from the ages begins to lift to disclose the unfathomable depths of God’s love. For, the Son of God’s descent from heaven does not stop with His conception and birth of the Holy Virgin in the flesh. He becomes flesh in order to take up His Cross. He ascends His cross so that He may descend into hell and become one with us in our death, so that He can make us one with Himself in the glory of His own divine life in heaven.
The Cross is the concrete and visible expression of God’s love for us. His call to deny ourselves, to lose our soul for His sake and the Gospel’s, and to take up our cross to follow Him is but His call to us to love Him who first loved us, to take up our cross in love for Him who first took up His Cross in love for us. Why? That we might become one with Him, that we might become partakers of the virtue and glory of His own divine nature. (II Pt 1:3-4)
This descending movement of divine love met by the ascending movement of the love of faith is the deep “time”, the movement of love between God and the world in which the world moves and has its being. And, the descending and ascending movement of this deep time in which the world exists is centered on the Cross of Christ. The Cross, that is to say, is the heart of that deep movement of theological time whereby God descends to become one with man and man ascends to become one with God. The Church is the crucified and risen body of Christ. That means that the Church is the mystery of Christ’s Cross. That means that the world is centered in the Church, and it means that the Church is the concrete and visible expression of God’s love for us. That means that in the sacramental mystery of the Church’s liturgical worship, we descend beneath the movement of astronomical time and come to the movement of theological time that brings us to the Cross of Christ where the love of God and the love of faith meet and become one and produce children of God in the love of God.
St Mark tells us that Christ called the crowd along with His disciples. I think this is St Mark’s way of saying that Christ calls everyone; and if that is so, I think it is because everyone is God’s creature. Everyone exists in the deepest principle of his or her being in the theological time of the world that is measured by the descending movement of God’s love for the world, and the ascending movement of the world’s love for God. Christ is calling all of us into our heart to love Him who first loved us.
The Lord says, ““If anyone wishes to follow after Me, let him deny himself. Let him take up his cross and follow me. Whoever wishes to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake and the Gospel’s will save it.” I think the key words in this saying of the Lord are: “…for my sake and the Gospel’s.” With this, the question comes to mind: who in the world is not dying? and is dying because of the movement of love in which they exist. What I mean is this: everyone is dying, because everyone loves. To love and to die are the same thing, because you are coming out of yourself and into another. So, the question that Christ’s command raises for us is this: what are you dying for? What are you coming out of yourself for? What are you giving your love to? Are you loving the world, the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life? Then, that’s what you are dying to.
Christ is calling to us to die not for the sake of the world, not for our sakes but for His sake and the Gospel’s. If you love yourself, you come out of yourself, you die, if you will, in order to live in yourself. If you love the world, you come out of yourself, you die in order to live for the world. But if the movement of your love takes you into yourself or into the world, you die for that which has no existence in itself; and so you live, if you will, in death. In other words, you perish.
But, Christ is Himself the Way, the Truth, the Life. To take up your cross and follow Christ, to turn the love of your soul so that it is moving towards Christ, is to ascend to Christ Himself. Truly to live is to be in Christ, to know Him, to see Him as He is. Truly to live is to live and move and have our being in the personal mystery of communion with Christ. He is the Cause of all beauty and goodness. He is the Creator of all things. He is the Heavenly Bridegroom, the only Lover of mankind. That’s why St John writes in his first epistle that to love Christ and to live in fellowship with Him is the fullness of joy and peace; and Christ tells us that the world cannot take away that joy or that peace or that love; because Christ, in His love for us, has destroyed everything that would separate us from Him. All that remains is for us to love Him back, to deny ourselves, to come out of ourselves in love for Christ, to take up our cross and to follow Him. May God through the prayers of His most pure Mother and all the saints, help us and have mercy on us, and save us. Amen.