|26 - The Day of the LORD, Mar 1, 2020
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March 1, 2020
Romans 13:11 – 14:4
Matthew 6:14 – 21
“Now is the time to wake from sleep,” says St Paul this morning. “Our salvation is near. The day is at hand. Cast off the works of darkness. Put on the armor of light and let us walk as in the day.” Reading this on Cheesefare Sunday, we know that the Church means for us to take the Day St Paul speaks of as the Day of Great Lent. And, from our reading in the prophet Joel at last Wednesday Vespers, we are given to know that St Paul’s ‘Day that is at hand’ is the ‘Day of the LORD’ that is near in the valley of Judgment where the LORD ‘sits to judge all the nations!’
This Day is not a 24-hour day; nor is it just the first day of Great Lent. It is the full 50 days of Great Lent, Holy Week and Pascha; or rather, it is the Day of the LORD we are about to enter mystically in the ‘invisible Church of the heart.’
For, we read from St Luke on Thursday last that when the LORD was crucified, the sun was darkened (Lk 23.44-45), as the prophet Joel said it would happen on the Day of the LORD. (Joel 3.12-15) So, from the Church lectionary, we are given to know that the day on which Christ was crucified is the Last Day, the Day of the LORD, the Day of Judgment.
All the Gospels say that the sun was darkened on that Day. That means theologically that this was the Day the world came to an end in its invisible, spiritual root; for, the sun, moon and stars ceased to rule day and night or the seasons (Gn 1.14-18). In its invisible, spiritual root, as at the beginning, the world now moves not in the 24-hour days of the sun (for the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day), but in the uncreated Light of God the WORD who, in His love for mankind, descended into the world’s spiritual root. Now, in the flesh, He works His ‘salvation in the midst of the earth’ (Ps 74.12), that is, in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. The Day of the LORD is now the Day in which the world moves; and, ‘time’ in this Day is measured not by the movement of sun and moon but by the movement of God the WORD, the uncreated Light who illumines all. In love for His Bride, the human soul, He emptied Himself and came into the world (Jn 1.9). He became flesh (Jn 1.14) and was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross (Phil 2.6-11) in order to become absolutely one with us (Heb 2.14-15) in the bridal chamber (Joel 2.16), the secret chamber of the heart (Mt 6.6). This ‘Day of the LORD’ now at hand is the mystery of Great Lent we are about to enter.
This Day is the mystery of the Blessed Sabbath Rest of God. In the Tomb, He is re-fashioning the old Adam from the dust of the ground to which He, the New Adam, returned. From the blood that poured from His rib when His side was pierced (Grk: pleuran, Gn 2.21-22 & Jn 19.34), He is bringing forth the New Eve, the Church, the Eucharistic mystery of His Body and Blood, the Light of immortality.
For, listen! We came to Vespers on Wednesday evening and we sang out: “The springtime of the Fast has dawned, the flower of repentance has begun to open!” [LTS 35] Then on Thursday, from St Luke, after reading of the LORD’s death and burial, we read, ‘It was the Day of Preparation, and the Sabbath (Friday evening; it’s dark, for the sun was darkened, remember!) was beginning to dawn (epiphosken).” (Lk 23.52-54)
Worldly eyes see us about to begin an unnecessarily gloomy seven-week period (50 days) and they turn away, preferring the light of the sun. But, we who ‘turn to ‘go down’ with the myrrhbearing women to the Valley of Judgment in the secret closet (Mt 6.6) of prayer are startled, we are shaken, our heart trembles like stony ground about to break open, for in the darkness of the Last Day, the eyes of our soul see a Light that is not the sun dawning from the LORD’s Tomb like a seed sending forth new shoots and breaking through stony ground! Anointed by this Light, our soul quivers, seized by a wonder of fear and hope, for we behold the fearful Judge Himself suffering the injustice of the Cross, and it dawns on us that the terrible Day of the LORD is the Day of our salvation; for, the Light that dawns is the Light of divine forgiveness.
As long as it is still ‘Today’ (Heb 3.13) the Great Fast opens onto the Day of the LORD’s Judgment as ‘the arena’ of repentance that God gives to us, the arena in which God ‘confers salvation on those who gladly accept the sweat and labor of the ascetic struggle.’ Hearing this, do not our souls want to ‘enter with haste? For, we know that ‘we are in need of mercy.’ Are we not quickened with hope and longing when we hear Our Mother, the Church, crying to us that her Son and our God, in His compassion, Himself ‘thirsts for our salvation and longs to grant forgiveness to those who seek Him with sincerity and serve Him with love’?(LTS, pp. 37&38)
The season of the Fast, the Church tells us, leads to cleansing and deliverance from the passions. Through abstinence, so we hear, the apostles became ‘shining lights upon the earth,’ shining not with the light of the sun but with the uncreated Light of Christ that has dawned on this, the Last Day. If we are awake at all to the true longing of our heart, do we not want to ‘draw near,’ to ‘run to the Master, to enter the Gateway of the Fast, that we, too, may be clothed by the Son of God ‘with the shining raiment of regeneration,’ (LTS 37) the baptismal Robe of Light that is Christ Himself who washes away all unrighteousness and illumines all?
It is in this Lenten and Paschal hope and joy that I believe we hear the Gospel of the LORD’s word to us this morning: Forgive, and your heavenly Father will forgive you. Fast in secret, so that only your heavenly Father sees it. Let the treasure your heart loves be the treasure that is in heaven.
How could this beloved treasure not be the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes at Midnight who, in the injustice of His Cross, has put to death every injustice. To forgive, and to seek forgiveness of those we have wronged for the sake of Christ is to nail ourselves not to our anger over the injustice, but to the victory of the LORD’s Cross. We do this concretely by taking up the Cross given to us in the concrete form of the Fast. To forgive as the LORD commands doesn’t mean that we deny or pretend an injustice didn’t happen or that the evil in the world doesn’t really matter; it means we acknowledge it and we confess the anger that goes with it. But, we do not ‘turn and go down’ into our anger; we ‘turn and go down’ with our anger into the LORD’s Tomb. We do this with the help of Christ’s Cross that becomes embodied in us, its power becomes active in us when we take up the Cross in the form of the Church’s ascetical disciplines of prayer and fasting. That’s where our heart is delivered and cleansed of the anger that enslaves us and debilitates us. For, the LORD’s Tomb is empty of every injustice. In His Tomb, evil and Injustice have ceased to exist. Only beauty, joy and life are raised and come forth from the Tomb with the Heavenly Bridegroom.
Is all this not to say that being able to ask forgiveness and to forgive from the heart is a gift from God given to those who unite themselves to Him in the likeness of His death? How can such a gift be given if we do not seek it? How can we believe we are seeking it if we do not set out to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Christ to His Cross and into His Tomb?
So, today, we pass through the Gateway of the Fast, we come into the ‘Valley of Judgment’ to discover we have entered ‘the arena of repentance.’ Mystically, we are ‘turning to go down’ into the presence of the fearful Judge who ‘thirsts’ from His Judgment Seat, the Cross, ‘to grant forgiveness to those who seek Him with sincerity and serve Him with love.’ (LTS 38) We enter the Fast seeking this gift of forgiveness not in theory, but by actually doing it in a concrete way: in the Rite of Forgiveness. I’m thinking this mutual forgiveness is the ‘armor of light,’ or another concrete form of the Cross that St Paul calls us to put on that we may ‘walk as in the Day,’ the Day of our salvation that is now at hand.
The Light of Salvation shining from the LORD’s Tomb on the Last Day in Great Lent is the gift of divine forgiveness shining on all of us. Any of us can receive it. We need only to ‘turn’ toward it in repentance and begin walking in it, begin ‘going down’ toward it in the tomb of our heart where the fearful Judge Himself has become one with us that He may shine the healing and life-giving Light of His forgiveness on us. In this Light, do we not behold the supreme Theophany—and the supreme epiphany of what it is to become truly human, raised from the dust in the image and likeness of God? LORD, have mercy on us! Amen!