|25 - Door of Paradise, March 10, 2019|
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Following the Church’s lectionary from this last week ending on Thursday last (Lk 23:2-56), we are given to know that, in the Liturgical Today of the Church, we stand mystically this morning before the Tomb of Our LORD, God and Savior, Jesus Christ; or rather, we stand before the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest. The setting of our theme for this morning (Adam’s expulsion from Paradise), shows that the LORD’s Tomb, His Sabbath Rest, is the Door that opens onto Paradise. This, in turn, gives us to understand that the six weeks of Great Lent are the invisible path of the inner Exodus of the Gospel that lead to the Doors of Paradise, or to the LORD’s Tomb not out or over there or then, but hidden in the deep of our heart.
But, in our heart we come upon an opening that is blocked, closed off by the thick dividing wall of hostility, formed brick by brick, layer by layer, by the fruits of our egotism and self-righteousness (cf. St Isaiah the Solitary, Phil I, p. 24). Standing here in the Church’s Liturgical Today before the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, we see suddenly that we are not the friends of God we thought we were. We do not love God as we fancied we did. We love ourselves, not God; we love sensual pleasure. We discover that we are the thief. We have taken our bodies that God gave us to make into holy temples of His Holy Spirit, and we claim them as our own, doing with our bodies as we please. In this light, we suddenly see that, even as His “disciples”, even though we may not be crucifying the LORD of Glory outright again and again in our heart, we are betraying Him or denying Him or fleeing from His Cross, seeking to save our soul in the pleasures and glories of the world’s darkness.
I am bold to say that the evidence that we have, in fact, entered, prayerfully, into the Liturgical Today of the Church and are standing mystically before the LORD’s Tomb, before His Sabbath Rest, is that we suddenly do not just see it in our mind’s eye. We feel it in the fear that suddenly seizes our gut, that we are cut off from God, shut out of the Light. We are exiles in a strange land, shut out of Paradise.
But, we are not far away in a strange land this morning. The Door of Paradise is right in front of us. Yes, we are on this side of it. Paradise is on the other side of it. But the Door is right here; it is the Tomb of the Savior. In fact; it is in us, in our heart, in our death. In our death is where we behold the dread mystery of God laid out as a corpse to rest in His Tomb. It is the incomprehensible mystery of God making Himself one with me at that point where I am but dust and ashes, where I am dead in my sins and trespasses, in my heart where I begin and end, that point at which I burst into being when God made me in His Image and Likeness; and, where it may be that I will return when I die.
Do you suddenly see that the Tomb of the LORD is itself the dividing wall of hostility? But the LORD Himself is in it, as a corpse, and precisely as a corpse, He has made that dividing wall of hostility to become the Door that opens onto Paradise. Oh, if we could but get inside that Tomb! But, to do so, it would seem to follow that we must first make our way to our own heart and into the dividing wall of hostility that separates us from God. And, the only way we can do that is by denying ourselves, losing our life for the sake of Christ, and taking up our Cross not just to follow Him but to become one with Him in His Tomb, where He alone, in the life-creating power of His death, has the power to destroy that dividing wall of hostility and transfigure it into the Door that opens our heart once again out into Paradise and beyond!
Standing mystically in the Liturgical Today of the Church before the Tomb of the LORD, the Sabbath Rest of God, we stand in the fulfillment of all the Law and the prophets? That is, we now understand what the WORD of the LORD is saying to us through the prophets in the mystery of the LORD lying dead in His Tomb. This is the Great and Holy Sabbath Moses spoke of, on which God rests from all His works of creation. It is the mystery hidden from all eternity of “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”
Let us take but one example. Our reading on Friday was in Zechariah (8:7-23). Listen to the WORD of the LORD to Zechariah now as you stand in your soul before the LORD’s Tomb:
“Thus saith the LORD!” What? The LORD is dead. How can He speak? Because it is the LORD who is dead; and the word that He is speaking is the mighty deed of His death on the Cross. He is speaking it to us from within His Tomb, from inside our own death!
“Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country.” He will save His people in the mystery of His death on the Cross, when He stretches out His arms east and west to embrace all of creation.
“And, I will bring them to dwell in the middle of Jerusalem.” Not the spatial middle, like First Avenue and First Street,” but the spiritual middle, the spiritual heart, which is the sanctuary of the Temple; not the earthly temple made of stone, but the Temple of His Body, His Holy Church built from the Stone of the LORD’s crucified and risen Body, the Stone that was rejected by the builders and buried in the ground to become the cornerstone of the Temple not made with hands (Heb 10:1) that rises from the depths of hell to the height of Heaven.
“And, they shall be My people, and I will be to them a God in Truth and in Righteousness”—because He has purchased us with His own blood. He is our Master, even our own flesh and blood, and we are His own Spirit. He is our food and our drink, the air that we breathe. We live and are nourished in Him, we move and have our very being in Him. If we unite ourselves to Him who has united Himself to us, nothing, not even the gates of hell can destroy us because we dwell in Him who has destroyed our death by His death.
How do we dwell in Him? By descending with Him into His death and His burial in the Tomb. How do we do that? Listen!
It says in Luke (23:53): “It was the Day of Preparation, and the Sabbath (the beginning of the New Creation!) was beginning to grow light, to dawn (epifosken).” The Day of the New Creation was dawning from the Tomb of the LORD. It says at the Matins of Cheesefare Friday: “Behold, the time of Light has come [the time of Great Lent], the holy day shines upon us!” “Today, the grace of the Fast shines upon all of us with the light of the Sun, cleansing us from the gloom of sin!” (Odes 8 &9)
Do you see! Take up the Lenten Fast. It is the “flower of abstinence that grows from the Tree.” It is the Cross! Take up the Cross of the Fast and come into the Light of the Grace of God that shines from His Tomb, His Sabbath Rest! It is the Light of the Dawning of the Savior God’s Resurrection from the dead! Lent is a season of Light. It is the dawning of the LORD’s Resurrection. It is the “season of abstinence that reveals to us the Light of salvation” (Ode 7, Cheesefare Friday) already dawning from the LORD’s Blessed Sabbath, His Tomb! Let us understand that the Fast is the Cross. Its spiritual substance is the power of Christ’s life-creating death. Through the Fast, our faith in Christ becomes more than a religious assertion. The Fast, the physical extension of Christ’s Holy Cross into space-time, makes our faith concrete. The Cross becomes incarnate in us. Through the Fast, we descend into the mystery of the LORD’s Empty Tomb and come into the reality of His Holy Resurrection in the mystery of His Holy Pascha. We step into the Cross and into the Light of the New Creation already beginning to dawn from His Holy Tomb. In that light, we are cleansed and purified to become body and soul holy temples of God, God’s own people in the heart of Jerusalem. Amen!