21-Two Greatest Commandments, Jan 27, 2013

Colossians 3:4-11

Matthew 22:35-46

To love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and, to love our neighbor as ourselves: why are these the two greatest commandments? The answer may not be as self-evident as you would think, as becomes clear when one looks more closely at what the Lord says next: that all the law and the prophets hang on them: that is to say, they hang suspended on these two commandments as on a cross (krematai).

The cross is the shorthand shape of the Hebrew letter, tau, which was a symbol for the Name of the Lord in ancient Israel. It was in the sign of the cross, or in the Name of the Lord, that the ancient Israelites marked their doors with blood to save themselves from death when the angel of the Lord passed over the homes of the Egyptians, leading up to the Exodus.

So, when the Lord uses this word kremannumi, “to hang suspended as on a cross,” to say how the law and the prophets are related to the two greatest commandments, it seems to me that He is saying, in a cryptic way, that all the law and the prophets hang suspended on His Cross. That means that they are embodied, incarnate in Him, for He is the one who hangs suspended on the Cross; and, hanging on the Cross, the sign of God’s Name, He reveals the inner meaning of the prophetic call: “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord! God is the Lord and has revealed Himself to us!” He reveals Himself to us on the Cross as the God-Man who loves God the Father with all His soul, strength, mind and heart and who is obedient to Him in that love even unto death on the Cross, because of His love for us, His neighbors, that we might have not just life but His divine life, and that our joy might be made full in Him.

This one word is like the Beautiful Gates and the Royal Curtain that veil the inner sanctuary, or like the aers that hide the Holy Gifts on the paten and the chalice. This one word opens to us an otherwise hidden theological vision that lies veiled beneath the words of the Savior in this morning’s Gospel. This word, “To hang, as suspended on a cross,” is used also in the book of Job to describe how God creates the world from nothing. It says: “He stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing. (Job 26:7) I submit that it is implicit that He hangs the world on His Cross; i.e. on the sign of His Name, which is the mystery of His inexpressible and immeasurable love. He raises the world from nothing and makes it to hang, to exist – He establishes the world so that it shall never be moved – on His love. It is from out of His love that the world comes into existence; it is His love that supports the world, that makes it move and gives it its very being.

God creating the world, or rather re-creating it, is at the heart of the mystery of Christ’s Cross. By His death on the Cross, Christ destroyed death. He does so on Great and Holy Friday; i.e. on the sixth day of the week, when Adam and Eve were fashioned from the dust of the ground and made living souls when God breathed into them His Holy Spirit, the breath of life. On the Cross, at about the ninth hour (3 pm), which, according to a “secret” tradition of the Church is about the hour when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, Christ cries out “It is finished!” I hear Christ saying that creation is finished.

In His death on the Cross, Christ returns our human nature to the dust of the ground whence it came. He returns it to the dust of the ground in Himself just as He created man from the dust of the ground in Himself, for Christ is the Image of God in which man was made. So, in the mystery of His death on the Cross, Christ establishes Himself as the Image of God in whom man not only comes to life, but also as the Image of God in whom man dies.

And, by His Holy Resurrection, Christ raises our human nature up from the dust of the ground, even from the lowermost depths of hell, all the way into the heavens, which were opened to Christ at His Baptism in the Jordan, in His Glorious Ascension. By His death on the Cross, in other words, Christ re-creates Adam and makes the world new, so that it is again, in Christ, “very good”, and Adam and Eve are made to pass over from death to eternal life as they were raised from the dust of the ground to life in the beginning.

These two commandments are the greatest commandments, then, because they are the commandments by which the world was created and man became a “living soul.” God is love. His Word is love; and so when He said, “Let there be…and it was so,” the world obeyed and came into existence as an epiphany, an icon, a concrete, existential embodiment of the love of God. In the beginning, the movement of creation, time, was measured in the beginning not by the movement of sun and moon but by the descending and ascending movement of God’s love: God descending in love for Adam and Eve, Adam and Eve ascending in love for God; so that Adam and Eve existed and moved and had their being in the love of God and in love for each other, each loving the other as themselves.

Is this the vision of the Psalmist? He calls out: “Let the angels praise the Lord. Let the sun and moon, the shining stars praise Him, the highest heavens, the waters above the heavens, let them all praise the name of the LORD!” he says. “For He commanded and they were created; He spoke and they came to be.” (Psa 148:5)

The bible reveals that the world exists in obedience to the commandment of God. Obedience is the expression of love. It’s how love is acted out; so the bible reveals that the world was made to exist in the love of God. And, does not our own experience bear witness to the truth of the bible’s theological vision: does not our life become “very good” only when we begin to live in love?

Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself is in effect the command of God given to the dry bones in the vision of Ezekiel: “Live!” or that He gives to Lazarus in the tomb: “Lazarus, come forth!” or that He gives to man who was paralyzed: “Take up your bed and walk,” or that He gives in His commandment to those who would follow Him: “Deny yourself, lose your life for my sake, take up your cross and follow Me!”

This, brothers and sisters, is the very essence of the Christian Faith: drawing near to the heavens that have been opened to us in Christ in the fear of God, with faith and in love. It is the essence of the ascetic disciplines given to us by the Church, by which we take up our cross and follow Christ in obedience to His command: it is the work of faith, working to crucify the old man in us that is in love with itself, and to unite ourselves to Christ in the love of God, that He would create in us a clean heart and put a new and right Spirit within us, the Spirit of divine love.

Let’s stir ourselves from our self-love, and take up our cross to follow Christ. We take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as our cross, by which we carry out the work of faith, to lose our life – our worldly life that is spiritually dead – for the sake of Christ, in love for Christ who by His Cross, creates in us a clean heart and puts in us a new and right Spirit so that we can live in the love of God, loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves. That is when we truly begin to live, for it is no longer the death of this world that lives in us, but Christ who lives in us in the love of His Father and in the joy of His Holy Spirit. Amen!