|28 - Sunday of the Cross, March 31, 2019|
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Hebrews 4:14 – 5:6
Mark 8:34 – 9:1
We have come to the exact middle, the heart of Great Lent. Here in the heart of Great Lent, we venerate the Cross. Might we open our ears this morning to hear the unspoken WORD of the Church that is being proclaimed by this liturgical structure of Lent? Here’s what I hear, which I offer to your prayerful discernment.
By His death on the Cross, in the flesh, God finished His Incarnation. In His death on the Cross, He became absolutely one with us; for, as we read from Hebrews: Since His children shared blood and flesh in common, He, too, drew near alongside and shared in the same, so that by His death He might destroy the devil who ruled over us with the power of death. (2:14)
Before the Cross this morning, we find ourselves again where we were on Cheesefare Thursday. As we prepared to enter Great Lent, the Church brought us in her lectionary to the Tomb of the LORD: “It was the “Day of preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning to grow Light” (Lk 23:54). Then, on the first day of the Fast, the Church’s lectionary took us to Genesis 1:1. In this, I hear the Church teaching us that the LORD’s Tomb is the Beginning. The Light that was already beginning to dawn from His Tomb was the uncreated Light of Christ’s Resurrection, the prototype of which the light in Gen 1:4 was the copy. In that uncreated Light shining from the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest, the LORD God was finishing His creation and re-fashioning Man in His own Image and in the Likeness of His Holy Spirit.
In this, the Gospel of the Christian Faith reveals the death and resurrection of Christ not as a religious concept we believe or not, nor even as a mere historical datum now a memory of the past. It is the really real, the Icon of which the creation is a copy. The creation itself is a prophecy, an image of the mystery of God hidden from the ages unknown even to the angels until it was made manifest in the LORD Jesus Christ in the mystery of His Tomb, revealed to be the Sabbath Rest of God of which Moses and the prophets spoke. It is because the creation is founded on the death of God on the Cross by which He destroyed death and gave life to those in the tombs that the Psalmist can sing: “He has established the world so that it shall never be moved!” The risen LORD Himself echoes the Psalmist: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against my Church.” The Church, i.e., is the New Creation that shall never be moved.
This morning, in the heart of Great Lent, we behold again with the myrrh-bearing women God clothed in the flesh and blood He took from the Beloved Virgin Mother, flesh and blood which is now a corpse. This reveals how completely and absolutely God has shared in our flesh and blood. He has made our flesh and blood and our death His own.
But, if I read the liturgical indications aright, and understand correctly that in Great Lent we are pondering, through prayer and fasting, the mystery of the LORD’s death on the Cross and His burial in the Tomb, then it’s like this Sunday of the Cross has led us into the heart of the ineffable, cosmic mystery of the death of God. The death of God is the death we all share in common; and so, we are being granted to see already that in the heart of our death is the death of God. Nihilists and atheists talk of the death of God, too; but we mean something “completely different” by it—to draw from the immortal words of Monty Python! The death of God is the very principle of creation by which He has destroyed death and conquered the devil. His burial in the Tomb is the Font of our Resurrection in Christ God, by which He has established the world so that it shall never be moved.
What is this mystery of Holy Pascha if it is not a Theophany, a manifestation of the love of God as the Beginning, the principle, the root, the arche of creation? For it was out of His ineffable love for mankind that He emptied Himself, He denied Himself, and was obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. He lost His life for our sake, that He might find His life in us and that we might find our life in Him.
The Cross is the Ladder of divine ascent. But, if it is the LORD’s Cross, then its substance is mercy, compassion, goodness, humility, holiness. The LORD makes His divine ascent by first descending down to us where we are, even piercing to the division of soul and spirit where we are dead in our sins and trespasses, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of our heart—judging us not to condemn us but to diagnose our sickness, illumining us not to shame us in wrath, but to reveal the fig leaves we are wearing, the excuses we are making, so that we can truly and voluntarily lay them aside in the sacrament of holy confession for the cleansing of our sins and for the healing of our soul and body.
Perhaps now we begin to see why we must deny ourselves and lose our life for the sake of Christ if we are to become who we really are. We are turning away from ourselves as little gods alongside God, in competition with God, at enmity with God, in order to draw near and receive the Image of God, Jesus Christ, into our souls and bodies so that we may be refashioned in the love of God to become like God and thereby become truly human in becoming one with God.
Here, I think we must say, we begin to see the substance of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. It is the love of God that defines us. In the Resurrection, we each one become “offerer and offered, receiver and received” in Him Who is the Offerer and the Offered, the Receiver and the Received. We become sharers of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4) as the Image of God, Our LORD Jesus Christ, shared in our human nature (Phil 2:5-11).
Now, if the Cross is the perfect and complete Theophany of the God who is love, it is so on this side of the grave for all to see. But, the Resurrection of Christ now comes into view as the truly final and definitive Theophany of the God who is Love revealed in the Tomb, in the bridal chamber of the heart, where those who love Him become one with Him, having denied themselves for His sake as He denied Himself for ours, having taken up their cross to lose their life in Him, as He took up His Cross to lose His life in us.
So then, if the substance, let’s say the wood of the Cross is the Resurrection, the finished definitive manifestation of the compassion of God, the principle of creation, the root of our humanity; and if the Fast is the Flower that grows from the Tree of the Cross for all the world, then is it not clear that the substance of the Fast of the Church, which makes it a holy Fast and not just a religious diet, is the joy of the Resurrection that reveals the mercy and compassion of God made incarnate in each one of us through the taking up of the Fast as our Cross? The Fast of the Church, then, has no living substance—it is empty not of death but of the Resurrection—if it is not taken up in the prayer of a broken and contrite heart that the LORD does not despise, a heart that longs to come away from herself in order to become a sharer in the divine nature, a partaker of the divine mercy and compassion of God made victorious and perfect in the Glory of His Holy Resurrection.
It’s as though the Church has led us already on this Third Sunday of the Fast to the Midnight hour of Pascha. Here before the unspeakable mystery of the Cross, the perfect Theophany of the God who is love, the Church would set us before that mystical point in our own soul where we can go no further without either turning back into the night of the world in the delusion of saving our life, placing our life again under the rule of the spirit of the anti-Christ, or stay here at the foot of the Cross, transfixed before the Tomb of God’s Sabbath Rest as we behold the finished revelation of the unspeakable abyss of divine compassion out of which the world and all that is in it was made, and in whose Image we were made, revealing to us the wonder, the marvel of our kinship with God.
So, let us hold to the Fast! It is the Cross by which we clothe ourselves in the Resurrection of Christ. Let us take up the Fast, our Cross, and follow Our LORD into the Joy of His Holy Pascha. Amen!