|06 - WHAT OFFERING SHALL I RENDER TO THE LORD?|
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St Paul writes to us this morning: “Though you were dead in your transgressions, God made you to live in Christ, in order to show to the ages to come the surpassing wealth of His grace in kindness for us in Christ, for by grace are you saved. This [being made to live with Christ] is not from you. It is the gift of God.”
When it happens according to the will of God, a child is conceived in its mother’s womb when its father and mother come together in the sacrament of love. The child’s existence is not his own doing. It is the gift of the love of his parents. The conception of a child in the sacrament of marriage is an icon, an image of the mystery of our creation in the beginning, and of our salvation when we are made a new creation, a child of God.
For, our very creation, our being created by God the Father to live in His Son, the LORD Jesus Christ who is Himself the Image of God, in His Holy Spirit—this is salvation. As it says in Wisdom: “God did not make death, neither has He any pleasure in the destruction of the living. He created all things for being, and the generations of the world for salvation—for life in health and vigor. He created man to be immortal. He made him to be an image of His own eternity.” (1:15&2:23)
We did not create ourselves; neither do we “save” ourselves. Our being created in the image and likeness of God, robed in the Robe of Light, clothed in Christ who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment—this is salvation. To be saved is to be created; to be created is to be saved; we are created and saved in the love of God, so that the love of God is the very principle of our nature. We were made not for misery and depression but for the praise and glory of God—i.e., in the joy and gladness of thanksgiving; and, this is wholly a gift of God. He creates us and saves us for no other purpose than that He loved us and gave Himself for us, so “that He might show to the ages to come the surpassing wealth of His grace in kindness for us in Christ.”
But, alas! In the ancestral sin of our first parents—as we sing at the funeral service—we have been “wedded” not to God but “unto death.” We were wedded, turning to St Paul, to “the “Ruler of the power of the air, the dark spirit that works now in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph 2:2) This doesn’t mean that we are living until the day of our death. It means that we died on the day of Adam’s transgression. “The real death,” writes St Macarius the Egyptian (4th C; Hom 15:39), “is within, in the heart, and is concealed, and it is the inner man that perishes.”
And, the “children” born of that dark marriage are hatred, enmity, strife, conflict, the fragmentation of our soul into thousands of psychic fragile shards, confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, loneliness, despair. The “grandchildren” of that dark marriage, if you will, are maladies, sicknesses and diseases that cripple and deform not just the body but the soul as well. All these are the material and immaterial, the corporeal and the incorporeal symptoms of the evil of death that is now a root in our members, turning again to St Macarius. “The thief, the opposing power, is in the house,” he writes; “It is a defiant and invisible force; and unless a man sets himself to combat sin, the inward evil gradually spreads and by multiplying, carries the man along into open sins.”
“Sin entered into the soul and became like a member of it,” going back to St Macarius. “It united with the bodily man; it became entwined and mingled with the soul.” (Hom 15.35) And, for that reason, writes St Macarius, “Evil is continually gushing up like the eye of a well-spring. Let your labor, therefore, be to stop the streams of evil.” (Hom 15:48)
St Macarius’ metaphor allows us to see how the hemorrhaging of this poor woman in this morning’s Gospel is an image of the evil that is in our soul “continually gushing up like the eye of a well-spring,” as St Macarius writes. And, the daughter of Jairus who dies in this morning’s Gospel, is an image of our inner man, our heart, that is dead in our own house, in our body. I believe that these very real stories of the Gospel, of real people who were really sick, physically, concretely, and of the Savior’s healing of them, shows us how real is our spiritual sickness unto death—but also how real is the Savior’s healing of our spiritual death in the root of our being, our heart, where the evil of death was “sown” in us from the devil’s seed. If these healings of the Savior are salvation—our being made well, i.e., our being made to live again in Christ—then they are the Savior, the same WORD of God who created us in the beginning, re-creating us and raising us up from death to life, from darkness to light. Why does He do that? That He might show to the ages to come the surpassing wealth of His grace in kindness for us in His inexpressible love for us. For He is Light and there is no darkness in Him at all. He is Life, there is no death in Him at all. He is love, there is no hatred in Him at all.
If this salvation of the LORD is real, concrete, of the body as well as of the soul, where does it happen in a real way? It happens in the baptismal font. That is to say, it happens precisely in our death: for, in the Font, we are united to Christ in a death like His. The reason we are united to a resurrection like His when we are united to a death like His is because His death is the death of death and all its symptoms, because it is the death of death at the root, in our heart.
See how Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman are showing forth to us the beauty of faith and the incomprehensible wonder of God’s salvation, of His re-creation of us in the Font or in the “Bridal Chamber”, or in the uterus ecclesiae, the womb of the Church, as it is called in liturgical texts. They show that the mystery of faith is drawing near to Him in the contrition and humility of a broken heart. For, this is faith in its inner substance; a longing for God and His love, for the sweetness of His salvation, in humility and contrition and godly sorrow, a longing that gives strength to the soul to stir herself, to turn full face toward Him and cry to the LORD from out of the depths.
But, I ask you to see how faith brings to the LORD as the only offering we can claim as truly our own, the offering of our dying, hemorrhaging soul; i.e., our sins and trespasses, our maladies and deformities and diseases of both our body and soul, and finally, the stench of our spiritual corpse.
Beloved faithful, this is the offering we bring to the LORD when we draw near the baptismal font in the sacrament of confession. And, what does the LORD give to us in exchange for this offering of our spiritual death and all its symptoms?
He offers us Himself! He receives our offering, the confession of our sins—for as He says: “Whoever comes to Me, I will in no wise cast out!” (Jn 6:37) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness”—of our death and all its symptoms! (I Jn 1:9) As He raised Jairus’ daughter from death to life, so He raises us in the baptismal font. As He healed the hemorrhaging woman of her slow death, so He heals us in our inner man. And, if this is our salvation, it is also our re-creation; it is our being conceived in the Bridal Chamber, the womb of the Font, as children of God, our being created as a new creation, a gift of God, the gift of His love, our becoming children of light, children of divine love, restored to our original beauty as images of His own eternity.
Ah, but there is more! For, having re-created us in the gift of His love, He now calls out to us to draw near to Him, in faith and in love, that He might give Himself to us as our food and drink, so that our very sustenance, our nourishment is His own divine life. How could we not come to the Chalice in thanksgiving, in praise, in joy! Surely, the soul who sees this goodness of God’s ineffable kindness wants to fall to the ground and worship the LORD—yet, He calls us to stand upright and to draw near not as His servants but as His sons and daughters!
Beloved faithful, let us contemplate this inexpressible kindness of God toward us, this joy of our salvation in Christ’s holy Church, which is in the world, but not of this world, and in the illumination of such divine knowledge, might we review how we want to live our life in this world, and for whom we want to live it? Amen!