|26 - THE LENTEN EXODUS, Feb 26, 2023|
Romans 13.11 – 14.4
Matthew 6.14 – 21
Great Lent is not just a six week period of fasting, extra prayers and services. It is time transfigured into an icon, a mirror, of Christ’s Holy Passion working our salvation within us. To the degree that we participate in the services and disciplines of Great Lent, to that degree we step into this icon, this ‘mirror,’ and begin to live in it – or rather, we begin to live in the spiritual reality transpiring within us that the icon or mirror of Great Lent is reflecting back at us.
To say it another way, Great Lent is not a six week period of religious obligations satisfied perfunctorily. Great Lent is the spiritual reality of the mystery of the Gospel, of Christ’s Holy Pascha, made visible and concretely present to us that we strive to live in our everyday life.
By incorporating the rhythm of our daily life into Lent’s liturgical rhythm of prayer and fasting, and by weaving the Lenten rhythm of prayer and fasting into the fabric of our daily life, we enter the mystical reality of the Gospel. We don’t just think about it or talk about it or speculate on it; we are doing it, actively, visibly and invisibly, in our daily life.
Again to say it another way, by taking up the Fast, and by participating in the prayers and services of Great Lent, we step into the icon of Great Lent. That is, through the Lenten icon, the Church directs us inward, into the ‘hidden man of the heart’ that the mirror of the icon is reflecting. She opens the invisible door of our soul – she rolls away the stone at the entrance of the LORD’s Tomb – to bring us into the inner Exodus of the Gospel, the Second or New Exodus that the prophets foresaw and spoke of repeatedly.
For, this New Exodus begins where the old Exodus of Israel ended: in the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, that is, in our mortality in which the LORD, the Resurrection and the Life, has clothed Himself to make Himself one with us. It is therefore a hidden Exodus, an invisible journey into the depths of our soul, into our heart at that point where, following the prophet Jeremiah as given in the Septuagint, we open out onto the deep, beyond all things, and come into the mystery of our true self (Jer 17.9 LXX).
The liturgical rhythm of Great Lent together with the ascetical disciplines of Great Lent bring our soul and body together in a “concretely conscious” prayer that is both hidden and visible, both ‘spiritual’ and physical; and the prayer becomes, because of the Fast, ‘unceasing.’ It's in this ‘unceasing prayer,’ that we set out on the Lenten journey, the New Exodus of the prophetic vision that has come ‘down’ from the heavens and has come to be in our flesh and blood in the mystery of the Virgin Birth, the death and burial of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
That is, the New Exodus of the prophetic vision is no more a vision, no more a hope yet to come: it is concretely real in the Incarnation of God the WORD, Our LORD Jesus Christ. The New Exodus is here and now, but it is hidden because it transpires in our spirit, in the hidden man of our heart.
Our initial Lenten destination is the tomb of Lazarus, the evangelical icon of the tomb of our heart. In our heart is where we hear the LORD calling us, as He called out to Lazarus, to ‘come forth’ that He may raise us up from our graves and lead us into the Land of our inheritance, which is Christ Himself in the Kingdom of Heaven.
If our Lenten journey through the next six weeks is to the tomb of Lazarus, and then inside the LORD’s Tomb on Great and Holy Saturday, then you can see that Great Lent is the visible shape, in time, of prayer in the way of the Church: descending with the mind into the heart to come into the presence of the LORD inside His Tomb. Great Lent, then, is the Church, like an attentive Mother, holding our hand and walking us in prayer in the way of the Church, the way of descending with our mind into our heart and into the presence of the LORD.
But now, the LORD’s Tomb is filled with Light, the uncreated Light of God. St Luke tells us this in our reading from St Luke on Thursday last: ‘It was the Day of Preparation [when they placed His corpse into the Tomb], and the Sabbath [the mystical Sabbath of God, prefigured by Moses in Gen 2.1-4] was beginning to dawn.’ (Lk 23.54) Understand, this was Friday evening. The sun had set, although it already had been darkened from the sixth hour from the brilliance of the LORD’s uncreated Light shining from the supreme Theophany of His Cross. This Light shining forth from the LORD’s corpse from inside His Tomb, is not an earthly light; it is the uncreated brilliance of Christ’s divinity that now suffuses even His corpse, an image of the Light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot extinguish. It is the visible manifestation of the truth of St Peter’s words in his first sermon on Pentecost: Death could not hold Him, the LORD of Glory. Even in the LORD’s death, the Tomb could not hold the brilliance of His divine energies. Even in His death, the LORD Himself is streaming forth from His Tomb in the Light of His uncreated energies. The Light streaming forth from the LORD’s Tomb is Christ Himself who has now dawned in space and time here in this world, even on this side of the grave, as the True Light coming into the world in whom is the Life of men (Jn 1.4).
In this Light pouring forth from the LORD’s Tomb, we walk the Lenten Path of the New Exodus. Even as we are descending into the darkness of our mortality, into the tomb of our heart through the prayers and fasting of Great Lent, the Light of Christ is shining in us and the darkness of our mortality and corruption cannot extinguish it.
Where can we see this uncreated and living Light of Christ shining on us? In the prayers of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship. The prayers of the Church are suffused with the Light of Christ, the Wisdom of God. In the icon that their words draw in our mind, in the way their musical melodies elevate our souls, the Light of Christ shines in our darkness. It reveals hidden things in our soul that perhaps we can feel, but that we cannot articulate because they are too subtle, too deep and our scientific, philosophical minds are too clumsy, too full of the conceit of our own opinions, to see them.
The scars and sores of wounds inflicted on our souls from the past, wounds we have inflicted on ourselves by our own choice, wounds that have been inflicted on us by others, are softly illumined, defined, and identified through in the medicinal words of the Church’s prayers. The prayers of the services during the week, morning and evening, are the Light of Christ shining softly on our soul, helping us to see, to identify and to define our deepest sins, our fears, our sorrows; the Divine Liturgy on Sunday administers the Medicine of Immortality that takes away our sins and removes our iniquities and heals our soul and body.
We are darkened. We cannot see into the grave. We cannot see into our death on our own wisdom. On our own, we may believe that we are penetrating the depths of our soul; but in reality, we are simply following another path into darkness. The light we think is shining on us is not the Light of Christ, but another light, a light of deception, even of a hidden malice.
That’s why we need to give ourselves to the Church, to Her prayers, to Her doctrines, to Her disciplines. She alone holds in Her womb the Path that is Christ, the Snow-Melt River that flows through the Galilee of our inner man and our daily life, healing us and giving life to everything it touches. The Path of Christ alone, this Snow-Melt River pouring forth from the East Gate of the Temple – His Mother’s Virginal Womb, His Tomb – is alone mighty enough to raise us from our graves and to carry us all the way to the ‘outlet of the sea’ into the deep beyond all things and up to the Land of our inheritance, the Kingdom of Heaven, because this Path, this River is Christ God Himself who alone has destroyed death and is strong and mighty to raise us who are fallen to life.
I therefore urge you to make Great Lent and Holy Week your priority these next seven weeks. Lent is not entertaining; it can get arduous, but this is absolutely serious business. And if we will walk this Lenten Path of prayer and fasting as best we can, we may indeed find ourselves on Pascha Night beholding the resurrection of Christ in a joy and wonder that our soul will know are not of this world! Amen!