|24 - Sunday of the Prodigal, Feb 16 2020|
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1 Corinthians 6.12-20
St Paul teaches that Christ is the Icon, the exact Form of God, in whom all things were made and in whom all things ‘hold together’ (Col 1.15-17). St John teaches that outside of Him nothing exists (Jn 1.1-2).
If the world is held together and has its existence in the LORD Jesus Christ, how, then, could the world continue to have any real existence, how could it not scatter and disperse into nothingness if it puts to death Him who sustains it and holds it together? In God’s death on the Cross and in the burial of God’s corpse in the Tomb, how has the world not destroyed itself? How is this not the end of the world?
Was it mere happenstance, then, that the theme of our daily Scripture readings this last week was the end of the world and the LORD’s judgment of it? What means this coming together in the Church’s lectionary of the world’s end, the LORD’s judgment against it, the LORD’s own judgment by the world and His death on the Cross and the approach of Great Lent?
Then we came to Friday’s reading, and the winds shifted. On Friday, we were with the LORD in Bethany. Bethany is near the Mount of Olives (where Great and Holy Week begins) just east of Jerusalem (the light of the Resurrection is already beginning to shine (Lk 23.34?). Bethany is where Lazarus lived, whom the LORD had just raised from the dead (Jn 12.1). It says that the LORD was in the home of a certain Simon the leper, surely one of the many lepers whom He had healed. A ‘woman’ comes to Him, weeping. She lets down her hair and pours costly perfume on His head (Mk 14.3-8). This was Mary Magdalene from whom the LORD had cast out seven devils. The letting down of her hair was an act of intimate love, like that of a woman before her husband. Early Syriac Christianity saw Mary Magdalene as a Gospel image of Eve, the ‘woman’ God ‘built’ from Adam’s rib, as the Church was fashioned from the LORD’s rib on the Cross. This explains Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus. He is her LORD, her New Adam who, when He cast out the demons from her in His great love for her, delivered her from hell and restored her to her original beauty, her original virginity, her original calling as the ‘Mother of all living’. Note how her tears and the fragrant perfume she pours over the Savior’s head mirror each other. The LORD receives her fragrant tears of love as the fitting preparation for His impending burial, when He will find her again in the Garden on the other side of the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb (Jn 20.11-18; cf. Song of Songs!).
With Friday’s reading, we have drawn near Jerusalem. The LORD’s Passion and burial and the beginning of Great Lent, the New Exodus, are at hand.
Our reading tomorrow will take us with the Savior on His Triumphal Entry into the Temple of Jerusalem, but, only for a moment. (Eze 11.22-23?) Almost immediately, we will leave the Temple and begin to follow Him to His trial, when the world judges Him and condemns Him to death on the Cross. Then, we will stand before His Tomb with the myrrhbearers; and, there, with them, we will begin Great Lent. What, then, is the meaning of our readings this last week on the Last Day and the LORD coming to judge the earth?
The world ended with the LORD’s death on the Cross. How could it continue to exist if it puts to death Him who sustains it and holds it together? That means that the Terrible Day of Judgment has begun. Can you see that the Cross is the LORD’s Judgment Seat and that His judgment is handed down from His Cross? But, ‘hiding’ in our readings from last week is the ‘Gospel’ that the judgment of the Last Day is the creation of a new heaven and a new earth when righteousness will dwell in it; that is, when the LORD will dwell in it (2 Pt 3.13).
From the Judgment Seat of His Cross, God subjects Himself to the punishment of death. He who is sinless becomes sin for us and voluntarily dies as though He were the first of all sinners! This is why the world continues to exist, why the world still lives. This is why the Psalmist can sing: “He has established the world so that it shall never be shaken!” The world is established on the God who has destroyed death by His death. The Cross He has transfigured into our weapon of victory by which we can put to death all that is earthly in us, all that separates us from God. By being laid in the tomb, He has transfigured our heart, where we were dead in our sins and trespasses, into the Bridal Chamber where we can become one with Him and be made a new creation, born from above as children of God.
If, then, we are drawing near Great Lent, we are drawing near the Last Day. If we are drawing near the LORD’s Cross, then we are drawing near the LORD’s Judgment of us.
Who of us can stand at that Judgment? Who of us, in our secret heart, is not the Prodigal? Who of us has not squandered the riches of our inheritance—our having been made in the image and likeness of God—in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life? Or, again, who of us Prodigals has not fallen into the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Elder Brother? Who of us could stand, literally? Who of us would not fall prostrate to the ground and worship before His Holy Cross, before this ineffable act, this Mighty Work of His mercy and compassion?
It says that the Prodigal “came to himself”. It does not say that of the Elder Brother. The Prodigal ‘came to himself’ in the pig-sty. He came to himself in his heart (Jer 17.9 LXX), which he discovered was now a tomb from the idolatry of his lust and greed. But, if he came to ‘himself’, did he not discern the image of God that he is in the deep of his heart, by which he is open to the God who is beyond all things? But, is it not into the pig-sty that the LORD Jesus Christ, the Image of God in whom he was made and who holds him together, descended when He ascended the Cross?
Look closely and see if you can see the hard heart of the Prodigal dissolving and becoming like Mary Magdalene letting down her hair and weeping with tears now growing fragrant as he descends into his heart and comes upon his love for the Father that is deep, beyond all things, deeper even than the stench of his prodigality.
Last Thursday, we read from St John’s first epistle: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1.9). Can you see? This is the LORD’s Judgment ‘against us’ when we descend into the tomb of our heart at the end of the world and stand before the Judgment Seat of the Savior’s Cross as the Publican, as Mary Magdalene, as the Prodigal.
When we begin to weep the fragrant tears of contrition in the love that rises spontaneously from the heart when we behold how He ‘judges us from His Cross, as though He and not we were the first of all sinners, the holy fathers of the Church tell us, it’s as though the LORD cannot help Himself. His love for us, His lost children, overwhelms Him and impels Him to rush out to meet us and to embrace us not as servants but as His beloved children who were lost but now are found.
In the fearsome, the terrible, the glorious mystery of the New Exodus, the substance of Great Lent, we ‘return’ with the myrrhbearing women into the secret closet of our soul (Mt 6.6). This is where we prepare the fragrance and myrrh of contrite tears. Here, we retreat into the stillness of prayer, according to the commandment, in the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, His death and burial in the Tomb. Here is where we find ourselves beneath all the masks of our conceit and greed, here is where we ‘let down our hair’ to stand before the Judgment Seat of the LORD’s Cross on the Last Day. Receive His judgment and find yourself embracing the LORD Himself in secret closet, the bridal chamber of your heart. By His death and burial, He became sin for us so that He could cleanse us from all that is ungodly, all that is unrighteous, all that is of death, and our heart a sanctuary, a bridal chamber that can receive Him and become one with Him in love. This, dear faithful: to find the LORD in our deep heart and to embrace His Judgment that we may be cleansed and become one with Him, restored to our original beauty, this is the very substance of Great Lent, our destination on this New Exodus of the Gospel. Amen!