29 - Fifth Sunday of Lent, Apr 17, 2016 (with audio)

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Galatians 3:23-29 (Saint)

Hebrews 9:11-14

Luke 7:36-50 (Saint)

Mark 10:32-45

The Savior this morning is going before His disciples up to Jerusalem. The disciples, it says, were amazed and afraid. These are the same words St Mark uses to describe the experience of the myrrh-bearing women at the tomb of the risen LORD (Mk 16:5&8). The Greek word, amazed, is from a root that is spelled and pronounced exactly like another word, taphos, which means a burial. There are other words St Mark could have used to say the disciples were “astonished”. That he uses this word, and says that they were amazed and afraid, makes me suspect that St Mark wants to say that their amazement was that of fear, a kind of dread that renders one unable to speak as when one is in the presence of death or a ghost.

On the way to Jerusalem, the LORD, it says, drew the disciples near to Him and began to teach them that the “Son of Man” would be delivered to the chief priests and condemned to death, then delivered over to the Gentiles. He would be mocked, scourged, spat upon, and killed; but, on the third day He would rise again. This gives us to understand that the dread the disciples could feel but did not, even could not understand was because they were drawing near the mystery of the LORD’s death on the Cross. But, this is the mystery of the Church, the Body of Christ. This is what the faithful feel always today in the mystery of the Church’s liturgical rites as we draw near to Holy Week. The liturgical rites of the Orthodox Faith carry Christ; in those liturgical rites, Great Lent, as it draws near to an end in calendar time, opens onto the Great and Holy Sabbath of biblical time, theLast Day of the world, which, St Paul tells us, is Today (cf. Heb 3:13). In calendar time, the sacred ground Jesus and His disciples were drawing near to was Golgotha and the Garden of the LORD’s Tomb (Jn 19:41). In biblical time, we are drawing near to the tomb of our heart and to the great mystery of Christ in you!

From Genesis, we read this last week of the sacrificial rite Abram performed to seal his covenant with God (Gn 15:1-15). According to the covenant, God promised that He would raise up from Abram’s loins (Gen 15:4-5), which were as good as dead (Rom 4:19; Heb 11:12), a Seed to whom He would give the land as an inheritance in that Day (Gen 15:18). It says that the sun was setting when he performed the sacrificial rite (as it was setting when they laid the Savior in the New Tomb – Lk 23:54). And, it says that a great fear and darkness fell upon Abram (Gn 15:12). The LORD then told Abram how his seed would be enslaved in Egypt, and of the seed’s deliverance – referring to the Exodus – and of the seed inheriting the land. I.e., the history of Israel is itself a “prophetic icon” – we call it a “type”, St Paul calls it the “shadow” of the Icon (Heb 10:1) – of the LORD’s death and Resurrection when He would destroy the devil who held us captive in the fear of death (cf., e.g., Heb 2:14), raise Israel from the grave and lead him into the land of his inheritance, as will be acted out in a profoundly prophetic way this Saturday in the raising of Lazarus that will set in motion the LORD “going before us on the way up to Jerusalem” and to Golgotha and into the New Tomb, even as we will read from Ezekiel at the Matins for Great and Holy Saturday (on Great and Holy Friday evening – Eze 37:12). In the setting of the lectionary, then, the fear of the disciples on the road to Jerusalem this morning is from the Light of Life and Resurrection – which is Christ (Jn 1:4 & 11:25) – already beginning to dawn as the Sun of Righteousness, Christ our God, begins to set in the Sacrificial Rite of the LORD’s death on the Cross. The “shadow” of the Law  already is giving way to the Reality, the Icon of Christ (Col 1:15; Heb 10:1), fulfilling in that Day the inner prophetic meaning of the covenant the LORD, Jesus Christ, made with Abram.

But, it also says in the same place that an ekstasis fell upon Abram (Gn 15:12) here when the LORD was creating him into a nation. So also, the LORD threw an ekstasis on Adam when He created Eve from his rib. What, then, are we to make of, the myrrhbearing women being seized with ekstasis as they ran from the Tomb with fear at the angelic proclamation of the LORD’s Resurrection?

Listen to what we read from Isaiah this last week in the Sabbath Light beginning to dawn from the Tomb of the Savior (Lk 23:54): “The everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary…Those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength…’You, O Israel, are my servant whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham, my friend. Fear not, I will help you,’ says the LORD and your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel…Thus says the LORD God who created the heavens and who spread forth the earth…I will bring…those who sit in darkness from the prison house’…The LORD shall go forth like a man of war. He shall cry out, yea, shout aloud (and the LORD on the Cross cried out with a loud voice), He shall prevail against His enemies. ‘I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once. I will bring the blind by a way they did not know. I will lead them in paths they have not known (And they were on the road going up to Jerusalem. And, Jesus was going before them, and they were amazed, and those following were afraid – Mk 10:32.) I will make darkness light before them (Isa 40:18 – 42:16). (It was the Day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning to grow light – Lk 23:54).

Do you see? The sacred ground, Holy Week, that we are drawing near to with the disciples this morning is the Tomb of the LORD where the old has passed away and the new has come, where those who receive Christ and who unite themselves to Him in the likeness of His death become children of God and are made perfectly one with Him in His Holy Resurrection, a new creation (II Cor 5:17). They are raised from the tomb of their heart and led on a new path they did not know – how could they? For, it leads into the tomb of the LORD and out intothe Kingdom of Heaven, the inheritance of Israel  (Eze 37:12) that inspires fear and amazement, numinous dread, because it is not of this world (Jn 18:36).

The LORD says in Isaiah: “These things I will do for them, and not forsake them!’” Again, He says in Isaiah: “Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me. My LORD has forgotten me!’” (Isa 49:14) On the Cross, it says that the LORD “cried out,” as Isaiah foretold, “Yea, He shouted aloud: ‘My God, My God!’ (He is addressing the Father and the Spirit) ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me!’” Precisely in His being forsaken on the Cross, the LORD does not forsake Israel, for He makes His own their feeling forsaken by the LORD. Let none of us believe that we are forsaken by God; for, on the Cross, He has united Himself to us precisely in our feeling forsaken. It is the testimony of the prophets and the Gospel: it is not the LORD who forsakes us; it is we who forsake the LORD.

The amazement of fear, then, this holy dread that settles on the faithful as we draw near to Holy Week, is because the veil of our ordinary worldly life is opening onto the mystery of the Last Day when God becomes perfectly one with us in His death on the Cross. In these sacred rites, we behold the Divine Logos standing underneath the injustices of the world and the grief of death, destroying them from within by His voluntary death and burial, healing us in our inner man and raising us to life with Himself in the Glory He has with the Father from the beginning.

Drawing near to Holy Week and to the end of the Fast, let’s not do a James and John and draw back from the inner work of the Fast by allowing our eyes to look ahead, past the Cross and the Tomb, to Pascha. Then, we’ll still be in the world and Pascha will be but a temporary respite from the emptiness of our worldly life. Let’s stay with the myrrhbearing women and rest on the Sabbath. Let’s stay inthe prayers and inner vigilance of the Fast. May Pascha then be for us the Royal Gate that opens onto the mystery of the New Day taking root in our inner man, and the Easter baskets an icon of the joy of feasting without end in the Kingdom of Heaven not of this world.