1 Timothy 1.15 – 17

Luke 18.35 – 43

If you haven’t been doing so, begin now to pay close attention to the daily lectionary. The Church – the mystery of the risen Christ Jesus incarnate on earth – has come from the Jordan and out of the desert as from the Tomb of His Holy Resurrection out of the valley of the shadow of death, and is now going before us, in His Resurrection, into Galilee, all the way to the outlet of the sea [Eze 47.8] – all the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, the ‘curtain’ of whose sanctuary was ‘split open’ when He was raised from the Jordan, and when He suffered and died on the Cross.

Theologically, your body and soul are the Galilee in which He is going before you in His Resurrection. The risen and ascended and glorified Christ – deified as Man, humanified as God – is going before you in your everyday life to lead you into the Heavens that were opened at His Baptism. Let’s say that the frame of that Gate is His Tomb; the Door of that Gate is His Cross. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him, the Good Shepherd; lose your life for His sake, i.e., in love for Him, and unite yourself to Him in His Tomb – the Church’s baptismal font – and you will come upon the Path of the Gospel’s inner Exodus. It leads from inside the LORD’s Tomb to the top of the Mountain of His Holy Ascension and out into the green pastures of His Heavenly Kingdom.

‘Pay close attention to the daily lectionary,’ I said. The daily lectionary is setting before us the ‘road-signs’ of this path that ascends into the opened heavens. We read on Friday last:

And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, [Jericho in this morning’s Gospel is on the way to Jerusalem], and Jesus was going before (!) them; and they were [literally] so terrified that they were rendered unable to move or to speak; and those who were following were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him. [Mar 10:32]

Why were those following the LORD on His way up to Jerusalem so terrified? They themselves did not understand. The LORD told them that He was going up to Jerusalem to accomplish what He had come to do: to ‘finish the creation’ He had begun long ago. He was descending into the bowels of death and hell. So, it was the dread foreboding of hell and death that was beginning to press upon them, filling them with dread, even though they did not understand it.

Is this not the same dread we are beginning to feel as we begin to make our approach to Great Lent? But, it is a dread suffused with excitement, an excitement suffused with dread. For, in the Church, we know that He is descending into hell – Himself the Resurrection and the Life death cannot hold, the Light the darkness cannot extinguish – to shatter its iron bars and demolish its iron gates as the prophets foretold!

In the Church, we are following the LORD Jesus Christ into the Mystery in which the world came to be – it is the Cross on which He, the Lamb, was slain from the Foundation of the world (Rev 13.8). We are following Him into His Sabbath Rest, into the heart, the root, the center of all things. Dear faithful: we are following Him into the ‘place’ where we burst into being. We are following Him into the bridal chamber, into the mystery of our own heart, into the deep that is beyond all things, the deep where we come upon who we truly are (Jer 178.9 LXX).

And from here, in the Church, the LORD is drawing near to each one of us in Jericho. We are the blind man. He has emptied Himself and He has come to us in our darkness looking for us, as He came looking for Adam and Eve when they hid from Him in the Garden, and He is crying out to us as He cried out to them: ‘Ken, Nancy! Where are you!’ Dear faithful, finding you is the ‘joy’ that was set before Him for the sake of which He endured the shame of the Cross!

But here is a wonder: only the soul who embraces that holy dread knows that it comes from the soul’s longing to become one with Christ in His Tomb, that she may become bone of the bones of Him Who Is the Resurrection, flesh of the flesh of Him Who Is the True Light, spirit of the Spirit of Him Who Is the True Life, that she may become one with the Heavenly Bridegroom, her only true lover, the only Lover of Mankind.

Dear faithful, this is a soul-saving dread, a healing, therapeutic dread – if it is embraced, for this dread shakes and stirs and awakens the soul’s innate longing for God that has been buried by sin; and that longing, in turn, opens the eyes of the soul that were blinded by sin. The soul comes to her senses, she comes to herself, she sees the depths of her impurity. The Spirit of the Church knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart where she is deep, beyond all things, all appearances; and She gives words to the heart to express her deepest cries coming from out of the depths: ‘My life is vile. My character is rendered impure through sins, I am wholly sunk in the passions. I am bound all over by the bonds of mine offenses. I am unable to move toward the paths of repentance!’ [Ode IV, Wed Compline, p. 128]

The eyes of the soul are opened to see that she is the harlot, the unfaithful bride. Suddenly, the Gospel story of Great and Holy Week, of the harlot coming into the house where the LORD is found turns into a mirror reflecting her own soul! With the harlot, she prostrates before the LORD, she begins to weep, she lets down her hair to wash His feet with her tears! Dear faithful: women of antiquity let down their hair only in the presence of their Bridegroom! But the harlot lets down her hair in the presence of the LORD not as a gesture of seduction, but of an inconsolable, visceral grief and shame for betraying Her LORD.

Do we begin to feel the harlot’s longing and grief beginning to stir in our own soul? I can hear already, echoing in my mind, the Hymn of Cassiani from Great and Holy Week. Is not the soulful cry of the harlot in that hymn the longing of the soul that gives the force to the blind man’s cry: ‘LORD, have mercy on me!’ when he learns that the LORD Jesus is passing that way; when he hears that the Heavenly Bridegroom is on His way up to Jerusalem looking for him, His lost sheep lost in the blindness of carnality, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life?

Can we feel the hope, the joy the blind man felt when the Light of the LORD’s voice pierced the blindness of his eyes? We should be able to, for it is the joy our own soul begins to feel when we come to our senses and begin to know, intuitively, that we are not our own. We belong to this LORD Jesus. He it is who made us, not we ourselves. He alone is our LORD and Master, the Heavenly Bridegroom. And so, the blind man gives voice to our soul when, in answer to the LORD who stoops down to him and asks, ‘What would you have me do for you?’ he answers: ‘LORD, I want to look up!’

LORD, I want to look up. What would we see if we looked up in the presence of the LORD? Would we not see the heavens that were opened when He came up from the Jordan and when He suffered and died on the Cross? Do you hear in this vision the hymn of Bridegroom Matins that begin Great and Holy Week, and to sing it, crying out with the blind man and with the harlot? ‘Thy Bridal Chamber I see adorned, O my Savior. And I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul and save me!’

Dear faithful! Can you begin to see that Great Lent is the Cross given to us by the Bridegroom Himself, if we desire to follow Him and to lose our life for His sake that we may find it in the Bridal Chamber of His Tomb? It is the Cross given to us in the form of prayer and fasting, the confession of our sins, of mutual forgiveness in a broken and contrite heart that we may follow Christ into the mystical deeps of our own heart and to be cleansed in the root of our being, that we may ‘put on Christ’, that we may be clothed in the ‘wedding garment’ of our soul’s love for God and be made worthy, fragrant, restored to our original beauty, and made strong enough to enter the Bridal Chamber and become bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, spirit of His Spirit!

Dear faithful, it is in this divinely healing dread that we receive the healing grace of Jesus. It opens our eyes so that we may look up, and follow Him with the blind man in the anticipation of being made beautiful and worthy to enter the Bridal Chamber. As we draw near the Gates of Great Lent – we will see, if we follow the lectionary that the Gates of Great Lent are the door of the LORD’s Tomb! – if we wish our eyes to be opened so that we can ‘see’ Christ in His Resurrection, let’s begin now to prepare ourselves for this most sacred season of the Great Fast and cultivate contrition of heart by an honest confession of our sins, beseeching the LORD for the gift of tears that we may wash his feet with our hair and whisper to Him in our heart: ‘LORD, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ Hope will surely spring from such prayer; and in that hope, we ‘look up’ and set out to follow Jesus to the Tomb of His Resurrection, and into the opened heavens in the fear of God with faith and love, and to become partakers of the divine nature, faithful lovers of Christ. Amen!