29 - Palm Sunday, April 5, 2015

Philippians 4:4-9

John 12:1-18

Great Lent ends with an empty tomb, the tomb of Lazarus who is raised from the dead. Great and Holy Week ends with an empty tomb, Christ’s. And, the tomb of Christ, bearing life and more fruitful than Paradise, has become the fontof our resurrection, the inner mystery of our baptism.

See how the Church’s worship is centered on the tomb. But, says St Macarius (b. 300 AD), “When you hear of tombs, do not think only of visible ones. Your own heart is a tomb.” (Homily 11:11)

The tomb of Lazarus and the tomb of the LORD, then, have an inner mystery: the tomb of our heart. Here in the tomb of our heart we experience the mystery of our baptism, which is the mystery of God that was hidden before the ages, Christ in you! The Kingdom of Heaven is in you! Christ the Resurrection and the Life is in you!

The liturgical rites of Lent and of Great and Holy Week, then, in making the events of the Gospel present Today, carry within them this inner baptismal mystery of our heart. That the Great Fast brings us at the end to the empty tomb of Lazarus, and that Great and Holy Week brings us at the end to the empty tomb of Christ tells us that the ascetic disciplines of the Fast open onto our inner man; and, that it is through engaging the liturgical rites of the Church ascetically that the stone of sentimental piety is rolled away from our heart and we enter the mystery of “Christ in you” as a living experience.

At the Matins for Great and Holy Saturday, sung on the evening of Great and Holy Friday, we hear the prophecy of Ezekiel: “Thus says the LORD God, ‘Behold, I will open your graves, and I will lead you up from your graves and I will lead you into the land of Israel... And, I will give My Spirit into you, and you will live and I will establish you on your land and you will know that I the LORD have spoken and have acted!” (Eze 37:12-14)

The raising of Lazarus as the crown of Great Lent, so the festal hymn would give us to understand, means that the goal of the Great Fast is to confirm the universal resurrection. It is confirmed to the faithful inwardly, in the inner man. During the Fast, we take up our cross to put to death what is earthly in us. We fight to attain to rest in the true activity of inner stillness and to descend into the tomb of our heart, to be buried as Lazarus in the repose of the true Sabbath (St Isaac of Nineveh Homily 29), which is the grave of our heart. Our prayer at the end of Great Lent, as given us by the Church, is that Christ, “by His dread authority, would call our spiritual understanding back from the tomb to life, like another dead Lazarus.” (Lenten Triodion Supplement, p. 292).

The services of Great and Holy Week have a much different feel about them from those of Great Lent. The focus of Great Lent is on us and on the suffering we endure as we struggle with our resolve to keep the Fast and take up our cross. The focus of Great and Holy Week is wholly on Christ and the suffering He endured taking up the Cross. But, having worked for six weeks to put to death what is earthly in us so that to some degree we have descended into the tomb of our heart with Lazarus, I think we experience the “calling of our spiritual understanding back to life” in that we follow Christ into Holy Week with a heart that has become more sensitive to the dread pathos of Christ’s Passion. I think that from the Fast, to the degree that we have kept it, we experience Holy Week on a much deeper plane than what we experienced Great Lent. In Holy Week, we really do leave the world not outwardly but inwardly. We really do descend in some way into our inner man and our inner senses have been made more alert, more acute, more “alive” to the spiritual reality that is carried in the liturgical rites and prayers of the Church.

The LORD enters Jerusalem triumphantly, as the conquering King of Israel. At Theophany, He was crowned the King of Israel not by a prophet anointing Him with oil but directly by the Holy Spirit. His “christening” was confirmed not by the word of the prophet but by the Father Himself. JnBapt “merely” witnessed to the unique manner of Jesus’ coronation as the King of Israel.

At His coronation, when He came out of the waters, the heavens opened, as though to reveal where the “land of Israel” was where He would lead His people after raising them from their graves.

By the time of the LORD’s coronation as King of Israel, Israel no longer existed as a kingdom. Her kingdom had been destroyed as punishment from God for her idolatry. What kind of King, then, could the LORD be? How can there be a king where there is no kingdom? My Kingdom, said the LORD, is not of this world. The Kingdom of Heaven, He said, is within you.

The prophets said: “The idols have eyes but they do not see, they have ears but they do not hear, they have mouths but they do not speak, they have hands but they do not feel, they have feet but they do not walk. Those who trust in them are like them.” In other words, they are dead. Their hearts are tombs.

The LORD came from the Jordan teaching in their synagogues with a word that had the power to heal. And what was His healing all about? He gave sight to the blind, He gave hearing to the deaf, He opened the mouths of the dumb so that they could speak, He healed hands that had withered, He made the lame and the crippled so they could walk. He raised the dead to life, He cast out demons and expelled unclean spirits.

He was healing Israel of her idolatry. This is why He comes into Jerusalem triumphantly. But, His Kingdom is not of this world, and so He does not set up His Kingdom in Jerusalem. And, when He returns to Jerusalem this week, He will be led outside the walls of Jerusalem to Golgotha.

For centuries, the Church of Jerusalem has upheld the ancient tradition that Christ was crucified on the spot where Adam fell. Golgotha, then, was the Garden of Eden. But, the Garden of Eden opens onto the heart, also. Golgotha, then, shows what the heart of man has become. On Golgotha, the soldiers planted the Cross, not knowing that they were raising, as it were, the Tree of Life from the midst of the earth, from deep within the heart of man. And, when they crucified the King of Glory, they did not know that they had re-established the Fruit of the Tree of Life for the life of the world.

Nor did they know that they were unwitting instruments of the will of God. The Cross was the LORD’s Holy Sword, great and strong (Isa 27:1) by which He crushed the head of the serpent even as the serpent bruised His heel (Gn 3:15). The prophecy to Eve was fulfilled, and the curse, “From the dust you came, to the dust you shall return” was revealed in fact to be the way back to Eden, the “land of Israel.”

But, Eden is not of this world, if it is the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the Garden where the tomb of the LORD was, very near to where the LORD was crucified. The Eden that is the “land of Israel” that the LORD would bring those He had raised from the graves back to is the Garden that is entered through the Tomb of the LORD so that one comes out onto the Garden in the Resurrection of the LORD – i.e., in the Garden, the Kingdom that is in the world but not of it.

And, the tomb is empty. It is empty because there is no death there, and because the Kingdom of Heaven that the LORD is King of is not a Kingdom of the dead but of the Living. And so, the tomb of our heart becomes empty when the LORD calls us to “Come forth!” It has become the bridal chamber, the door that is deep within us, at the point where we began to be, that opens beyond us into God the Holy Trinity.

And that, liturgically, is where we are going this week, beloved faithful, as we come forth from the Fast of Great Lent to follow our King, the LORD Jesus Christ into Great and Holy Week as into Jerusalem: to the empty tomb and into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us, the Kingdom of Light and Life. That’s what the Church will become inwardly on Pascha Night! Amen!