|24 Adam's Expulsion From Paradise - February 18, 2007|
Romans 13:11 – 14:4
Matthew 6:14 – 21
It clearly is not by chance that last Sunday, the Church brought us into the future, to the judgment seat of God on the Last Day of the world; and this Sunday she takes us back to the beginning of the world and to Adam’s expulsion from Paradise. By virtue of his incarnation, God the Word, having clothed himself with creation as with a garment, has united the past and the future in his eternal present. In the Church, which is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, the past and the future are present to us here in the Church’s liturgical Today. In Christ, we stand at the beginning, expelled with Adam from Paradise; and we stand with the goats at the Judgment Seat of God on the Last Day. One should ask why the Church, the body of Christ and so the very Christ himself, is so insistent that we face the judgment of God against us, that we acknowledge that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, that none of us is righteous, no not one. The answer has been given in the Scripture lessons we have been reading Mon – Fri for the last two weeks. They have set before us the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. On Thursday last, we read from the Gospel of Luke who brought us with the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee to the tomb of the crucified God, to observe how his body was laid. Then they returned, St Luke says, and prepared spices and fragrant oils. And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment. The answer is that we cannot come to the tomb of Christ to behold his ineffable mercy until we accept God’s judgment against us. Our basic sin is imagining a path to the kingdom that circumvents God’s judgment and our own death. That’s why the book of the Gospels that is on the altar is bound with an icon of the cross on one side and the resurrection on the other: the holy Scriptures set before us the path to the kingdom. The only path to the Kingdom of God is from the cross to the tomb of Christ. It is only by coming to Christ’s tomb that we enter into his resurrection. In the biblical revelation, there must be a Golgotha; and until we literally die, we are stuck with the command of the young man sitting by the tomb. He directs us back to the first chapter of Mark, back into Galilee, back into daily life. Thus, the life of the Christian moves constantly from the cross to the tomb; from the cross to the tomb, over and over again, year after year, until we finally do truly die and face our actual cross and the judgment itself in our death.
For St Paul, to accept God’s judgment against us is to die figuratively; it is to take up the cross Christ commands us to take up. For, to accept God’s judgment against us is to give up any stake we may have in defending our own human or fleshly identity. This is what the Pharisee’s quest is really about: I am a Jew, I am a son of Abraham, I am an Orthodox Christian, I am an American, I am this, I am that. The intent of this Pharisaical quest is to stake out a claim about our place in the world on our own human terms. To take up our cross for the sake of Christ and his Gospel is about giving up our place in the world for the sake of the neighbor on God’s terms. How can one argue with a God who destroys his own city, his own temple, and finally his own son, in order to spare his enemies?
Thursday’s Gospel reading, which brought us to the tomb of Christ, was the last time we read from the Gospel, except on Saturday and Sunday, until we pick it up again on Holy Thursday. Until then, we will be reading from the OT during the week. On Holy Thursday, we will pick up the Gospel story again from the point of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, leading to his burial, and then to the Midnight of Pascha, to the moment of Christ’s holy resurrection, when the old passes away and gives way to the new. These weeks of Great Lent, then, are taking place liturgically in the heart of the mystery of Christ’s Passion, at the point where he is laid in the tomb.
But I think we miss the spiritual meaning of Great Lent if we view it as a period of 40 days according to the calendar. Great Lent is a season of the Church. It is therefore a season of the body of Christ, for the Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of him who is all in all. Great Lent takes place in worldly time, but it is not of worldly time. Its passing is marked not by the movements of sun and moon but by the movement of Christ’s Passion. To discover the spiritual meaning of Great Lent, then, we must view its period of 40 days not according to the days of the calendar but according to the biblical days of Genesis when God’s Spirit moved over the surface of the waters and when space-time was still good, when creation was still deified, still in God, when sun and moon and their movements were still illumined by that primordial Light that God caused to shine out of the darkness when he said in his first creative act: “Let there be light.”
The Friday on which the Savior dies is Friday according to the calendar; but according to the liturgical calendar it is “Great and Holy Friday.” It is in the calendar of the fallen world, but it is not of the calendar of the fallen world. It is the biblical day that transcends the space-time of the fallen world; it is specifically the Sixth Day of Creation. On this Great and Holy Friday, God created man in his image and according to his likeness. On that day, he gave to man rule over all the earth. It is to this biblical Friday, the Sixth Day of Creation, the Great and Holy Friday, that we look to find the meaning of Christ’s death on the Cross. His death on Great and Holy Friday is a creative act: it is a recreation of the world. He calls it out from the nothingness of corruption and death into which it had fallen because of sin and into the Light, the primordial Light, of God’s Heavenly Kingdom. It is the act by which God the Word, who called the world into being, wrestles rule of the earth away from Satan who held the world in bondage to death and restores it to Adam and Eve in his own Person as the Second Adam and the Person of his Church, the Second Eve. Therefore, the Friday on which the women prepare spices and fragrant oils is this Great and Holy Friday. One wonders if there isn’t a veiled allusion here to the Church as the Bride of Christ, preparing herself for the coming of the Bridegroom at Midnight – not the ordinary midnight of the calendar, but the Midnight of Pascha, when the Sabbath that is the Last Day of creation passes over into Sunday, the Day of the Lord, the First Day of the New Creation in Christ’s holy resurrection. The Sabbath on which the women rest, then, is not the ordinary Saturday of the weekly calendar; it is the Sabbath that is the Seventh Day of Creation on which God rested from all his work, the Day that God specifically blessed and sanctified because on this Day he rested from completing his work of creation.
We interpret these days of Great Lent in this way because Great Lent is in the space-time of the Church, and therefore its spatial and temporal movement is of Christ’s body. Christ’s body is now – not literally of course but truly and really somehow in the mystery of the Holy Spirit, in the mystery of the sanctified and deified space-time of the Church – lying in the tomb, resting from the work of recreating the world and refashioning man that he completed in his death on the Cross on Great and Holy Friday. This means that the next six weeks of Great Lent, while they cover a period of forty two days in all according to the earthly calendar governed by the movements of sun and moon, in the Church they are but one day in the biblical calendar of creation governed by the movement of the Holy Spirit over the waters of creation (the waters of the Jordan, the waters of our baptism). Over the course of the next six weeks of Great Lent, then, when we enter into the Lenten Fast of the Church, the body of Christ, we are passing from the Great and Holy Friday that is the Sixth Day of Creation into the Seventh and Last Day of Creation, the Day of God’s Judgment of the world in order to make ready to receive the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, to pass over with him into the Third Day, the First Day of the New Creation, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Day of his Resurrection, and into the New Heavens and the New Earth in the Father’s Kingdom of Light.
This gives to us the meaning and purpose of the Church’s Lenten ascetic disciplines. Through these disciplines, we are acting out our baptism and extending its spiritual reality into our everyday life. Through the ascetic disciplines of the Church, centered as they are on the sacrament of confession, we are placing ourselves before the Judgment Seat of God and laying aside every excuse; confessing to God our sins, even confessing to God our hardness of heart, our lack of contrition, and beseeching him to create in us a clean heart and to put in us a new and right spirit. The Lenten disciplines are a concrete way by which we take up our Cross to unite ourselves to Christ in a death like his. We fast not only from food. We fast also with our eyes, our ears, our tongue, all of our senses. Through the fast, we renounce the things of the world that belong to anger, greed and conceit and we die figuratively in Christ. In prayer, we unite our mind, our soul, our will, and all of our physical senses, with the body of Christ that is now lying in the tomb. The world looks on the tomb from within the space-time of the weekly calendar and sees a dead body. The women, his acquaintances who had followed from Galilee, observe the tomb and see how his body is laid in the deified space-time of the biblical creation, and they go home to prepare spices and fragrant oils as though they are preparing themselves for a wedding. The believer looks on the tomb of Christ not from the weekly calendar but from the calendar of Genesis chptr 1 and sees the mystery of the Sixth Day of Creation and understands, through the illuminating movement of the Holy Spirit, that the death of Christ is the witness to the great mystery of God recreating the world and refashioning man in his image and according to his likeness. It is from standing in the fearsome joy of this vision and in the grace that is given in Christ, that the believer is able to lay aside all anger and in the resurrection of Christ to forgive all things. And so the believer in Christ goes home at the beginning of Great Lent and anoints his face with oil as he begins the Great Fast, just as the Lord commands us to do when we fast, for the believer knows from the doctrines of the Church that the Last Day is at hand, the Bridegroom is near, at the door: and through the ascetic disciplines of the Fast, we understand, having observed the tomb of the Lord of Glory and having seen how his body was laid, that even as we are dying to the world through the Lenten disciplines in a death like Christ’s, we are being refashioned, reshaped by those very disciplines into children of God.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. And so we submit to the Lenten Fast of the Church as to Christ himself. Through the fast, if we execute it in mindfulness, laying aside every excuse, if we renounce every effort to create our own piety, if we simply listen to the prayers of the Church and do the ascetic disciplines Christ enjoins us to do, we may hope that it is the Lord who himself will create in us a clean heart and put in us a new and right Spirit.
And so the Fast is for us as Zechariah the prophet says: a fast of joy and of gladness, teaching us to love truth and peace. Let us pray God that he will give us understanding and love for his goodness, that we may discover the joy and gladness that fills these Lenten disciplines of his holy Church; and that we may give ourselves to this blessed season as a time to anoint our faces with the oil of gladness, to prepare spices and fragrant oils in spiritual preparation for the coming of the Bridegroom at Midnight and enter with him in his holy resurrection into the Kingdom of the Father on the Third Day, the First Day of the New Creation.