|25 - The Prodigal. Where Great Lent Truly Begins In Us, Feb 28, 2021|
This archived sermon should be uploaded and accessible for viewing on our St Herman's YouTube Channel.
1 Corinthians 6.12-20
We stepped inside the Lenten Triodion last Sunday. The spires of Great Lent are rising on the skyline before us as we draw near the Gate of Great Lent. These spires, again, are the three crosses on Golgotha, glowing in that mysterious light already shining forth from the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest (Lk 23.54). Our ascetical discipline now is to dwell in the Church’s biblical lectionary. It is mapping out that better and changeless Path, the River of Joy, we’ve been following since He rose up from the Jordan, and His Face is now set to go up to Jerusalem (Mk 10.32) and to bring us to the Gate of Great Lent. He told us about this Gate last Wednesday. After instructing us in our Gospel readings over the last week on the signs of the Last Days—which we are now in—Our LORD gave us this instruction: “When you see these things happening (and one can see these things happening with increasing frequency and intensity), know that the End is near and that you are at the Gate. (Mk 13.29)
That Gate is the LORD Jesus Christ (Jn 10.7&9). When we come to the Gate of Great Lent two Thursdays from now (Mar 11), we may catch our breath when it dawns on us (I’m playing on the Greek of Lk 23.54, epephosken) that the Gate opening onto Great Lent is in the Tomb. The Gate that opens onto the Last Day is in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest (Lk 23.53-56).
We may catch our breath again when it dawns on us that this means Great Lent begins in the Light shining forth from the Tomb (Lk 23.54). It is the same Light before which the sun had hid its rays earlier in the afternoon! We enter Great Lent in the Light of a Theophany, the supreme Theophany of God taken down as a corpse from the Cross and laid in a “rock-hewn tomb, where no one had been laid before.” (Lk 23.53)
Ah, but we may catch our breath a third time. This should make us fall downward (upostrepho, Lk 23.56) with the myrrhbearing women first to the ground in worship, and then inward into our soul to prostrate in fear and trembling before the Tomb of our LORD God and Savior Jesus Christ, afraid to draw near but wanting in no way to turn away from it; for, it may dawn on us, as we will sing out in the joy of Great and Holy Saturday, that we have come to the Seventh day, the Last Day that Moses mystically prefigured (LT 656) when, in the Theophany of Mt Sinai (Ex 25), he saw in his vision of the WORD of God the mystery of creation and wrote it down in the book we call Genesis.
Great Lent begins with this Theophany, the supreme Theophany, of God in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. Moses was in the Theophany of Mt Sinai forty days and forty nights (Ex 24.18). Great Lent is a period of forty days. Forty days is a ‘copy’ of the time of gestation, which is forty weeks. The connection of the Theophany on Mt Sinai and creation revealed in the worship of biblical Israel (which was but a copy of the heavenly Pattern, which is Christ Ex 25.9&40), tells us that the season of Great Lent is the mystery of creation—of God finishing the creation He had begun (Gn 2.4 LXX) in each of us. It is the season prefigured by Moses when he records the mystery of Adam being raised from the dust of the ground and made a living soul within the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest (Gn 2.1-7). And, we see this in our parable this morning. The Prodigal undergoes a recreation, a regeneration; for, he was dead, says the Father, and now he lives. He was lost and now is found.
Having led us to the supreme Theophany on the mount (Golgotha) that reveals God in the heart of creation, at that point where everything ends, in the tomb of death, the Path of the Church directs us to turn with the myrrhbearers to go downward into our soul. This is the same Path taken by the Publican when he went down to his house. It is the Path of prayer (hesychusan, Lk 23.56), of the mind descending into the heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses. But note that we descend in that Light resting on the LORD’s Tomb (epephosken Lk 23.54). That Light clearly is the Light of Christ who illumines all. It is the Light of Christ’s Holy Spirit who is the Life of men, the Light and Life of the Spirit of God moving over the face of the waters (Gn 1.3, Jn 1.3).
In this living Light of Christ, Himself the Path, the Way that alone leads to the Father, we descend with our mind in prayer into our soul and we come before our heart that has become a stony wall of enmity where we are cut off from God. Here is where we begin Great Lent. Here, we wait in the stillness of the prayer of the heart for the LORD to come to us on Lazarus Saturday, and to call out to us: ‘Come forth!” And to raise us from our grave as children of God, born from above, even as He raised Adam from the ground as a new creation, a son of God (Lk 3.38). We wait for that moment full of joy when He will call out to us now to rise up from our grave and follow Him that we may lose our life (our soul, it says in the Greek) to this world destined to pass away, that we may find our life, our soul in His Tomb that now opens onto the Garden of His Resurrection and onto the Path that goes up the Mountain of His Ascension into Heaven (Eze 37.12-14, Mat 28.16).
We enter Great Lent having beheld the supreme riddle of creation [Eze 17.2, Ps 49.4]; for its solution, revealed in the Church’s worship (this is the music of the lyre, Ps 49.4), is the mystery of Christ God in which creation, both the outward and visible creation (Gen 1) and the “inner universe” of the human soul (Gen 2) begins and ends. Is this not to say that the solution is found in the deep, beyond all things, that is, inside our heart inside the LORD’s Tomb? (Not outside of it, on this side of the grave. This is where all the religious philosophies of the world run around in circles, in the vacuous wisdom of their own opinions!)
The Theophany revealed in the bible is not reserved only for those who have access to inscrutable tomes of academic theology. We need only to open the bible in love for God, and the heavens begin to open to us. And, by participating prayerfully in the worship of the Church, we enter into the Theophany of the bible. We are granted, sinners that we are, to hear the voice of the Father and to behold His Spirit descending as a dove to rest on His beloved Son, Our LORD Jesus Christ. It is in this supreme Theophany of the LORD’s Tomb, where Great Lent begins, that I contemplate this morning’s parable.
Not just the prodigal but both sons are estranged from their Father by the same sin: self-centeredness. In his conceit, each son goes about “as though” he was a god (Gen 3.23); the one by indulging the greed of his lust, the other the pitiless anger of his self-righteousness. At the parable’s end, we find only the prodigal in the Father’s House. He’s the one who “came to himself.” Here is the spiritual substance of the publican going down to his house, and of the myrrhbearers turning downward into the stillness of their soul. It is within himself, in his heart, that the prodigal comes upon the better and changeless Path that ascends to the House of his Father.
Meanwhile, we are anxious to know how the elder brother, still out in the field at the parable’s end, will answer his Father, but the parable ends before we hear the elder brother’s reply. Might this mean that the parable ends in our own heart, in what we will say to the Father? That is, whether or not we will be found in the Father’s House on Pascha Night, not to mention in that moment when our soul is parted from our body—or again, how the creation will be finished in us, one way or the other—depends on how we answer, each one of us, the Father’s plea to his eldest son.
We have only begun to etch the Icon of the supreme Theophany of creation on the gesso board of our mind. But, perhaps it is enough for now. For the WORD of God whose Image we are etching is the living and active WORD of God, sharper than any two-edged sword. It pierces deep down to the division of soul and spirit, all the way into the heart to discern our inmost thoughts and intentions. And it is only this WORD of God that can penetrate our stony heart to touch our true ‘self’ buried inside; and if we catch even a glimpse of the LORD’s Beauty revealed to us in the Supreme Theophany of His Cross and Burial, then we, too, may “come to ourselves.” And then we will know how to answer the Father’s pleas to us. The WORD of the LORD comes to us at Midnight. He comes to us at the root of our being, and illumined by His Light shining forth from His Tomb, we can see a choice of two paths we may follow: the broad path that opens out onto the abyss of nothingness or the narrow Path that leads into the House of the Father, the luminous “Abyss” of the LORD’s Compassion.
Our parable this morning pierces to that hidden place where Great Lent truly begins in each of us. And if we are drawn to the Beauty of that divine WORD, if we come to ourselves, the parable of the prodigal will no more be a story but the image of the longing of our own heart to find the Path back to the Father’s House. And, Great Lent is the Path that will take us there! Amen!