|29 - THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT. THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD REVEALED, Apr 4, 2021|
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Hebrews 4.14 – 5.6
Mark 8.34 – 9.1
Though He was in the form of God, the LORD emptied Himself (He denied Himself) taking the form of a servant, and He came to be in the likeness of men. [There is profound theology here! It follows from this that if we deny ourselves for His sake, then we take the form of deity and are found to be in the likeness of God!] And being found in the schema, the clothing of man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. [Phl 2:6-8] He lost His life that He might find it in us, in the “tomb of our heart.”
This self-emptying of the Savior to the point of losing His life on the Cross for our sake is the supreme Theophany of Holy Scripture, and of creation. Who is the God it manifests?
“God is eros and agapè,” writes St Maximos. “In His erotic love, He is impelled to come out of Himself to His creation, and in the erotic desire He gave birth to in them [the ‘breath of life’?] He draws His creatures out of themselves to Him. In His eros and love, He thirsts to be thirsted for, He longs to be longed for, and He loves to be loved.” [St Maximus, 5th Cent. Theo. Txts, §§83-85]
“Jesus,” it says, “knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, I thirst.” [Jhn 19:28]
The God who manifests Himself on the Cross is the Creator of all things. What is revealed on His Cross, and in His Tomb, is how all things came to be. They came to be out of the extreme humility of His erotic love, in which He desired to empty Himself, to deny Himself, in order to lose His life on the Cross so that He would find it in His Tomb with us, so that we could become “one flesh, one spirit” with Him. (Eph 4.4) “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself became a partaker of their nature, so that through death, He might destroy the devil who held us, through fear, in the power of death,” [Heb 2:14] and destroy the wall of enmity that separated us from Him, so that we, His children, “might become partakers of His own divine nature.” (2 Pt 1.4)
Who teaches us that the supreme Theophany of the Savior’s Passion is the revelation of how the world was created? It’s King David, for one, in that Psalm of his I’ve shared with you before, a Psalm bursting with evangelical theology, in which King David sings to us the Theophany of the LORD’s Passion he was granted to see even in his day. From out of the darkness that covered the LORD’s feet, the Psalmist says [cf. Lk 23.44], from the Tabernacle [skene] that encircled Him [what would that be but the tent [skene] of His Body (Jn 2.19-21), even the New Wineskin of His New Tomb?], Fire and Lightning flashed forth, and in their Light, the Fountains of the waters were seen, the Foundation of the inhabited earth appeared! [Ps 17.6-15 LXX]
That is, we see in the supreme Theophany of the LORD’s Passion the Source and the Foundation of creation. Creation springs forth like waters from the fountains of the LORD’s extreme humility and unfathomable compassion that loves even those who hate Him and seeks forgiveness of those crucifying Him. And, if we were made in His image and likeness, this is what we look like when we come to be and begin truly to exist! And, if we don’t look like this, can we say that we truly exist?
Does this not reveal the spiritual substance of Great Lent to be the mystery of God finishing His creation in each of us? The 40 days of Great Lent reflect the 40 weeks of gestation. Great Lent is entered through the Rite of Forgiveness in the vision of the LORD’s Passion and Burial that was drawn in our mind by the pre-Lenten lectionary. All of this reveals the spiritual substance of Great Lent to be the mystery of our being re-created in Christ, the Image and Likeness of God, by working out our baptismal oath to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, through the ascetical disciplines of putting to death all that is dead in us, all that is not of Christ in us, that we may become one with Him in the Glory of His Resurrection.
The Cross that has been processed to the middle of the nave is mystically one with the Cross of the Savior on Golgotha. If you want to say it is in the likeness of His Cross on Golgotha, then what you are saying, biblically, is that it partakes of the Cross of the Savior. Standing before this likeness of the Savior’s Cross, prostrating before it, we truly bow down in worship before the mystery in which God became one with us in the root of our being, in the tomb of our heart. We bow down in worship of the mystery of God finishing His creation in each of us through His Son, Jesus Christ, Our LORD, God and Savior.
From the tree of the Cross there grows for all the world the flower of abstinence. Let us then accept the Fast with love and take pleasure in the fruit of Christ’s divine commandments. [Compline, First Wednesday of Lent, LT 230]
Can you hear the Church teaching us that the Fast is the ascetical form of the Cross? When we take up the Fast we take up the Cross as an external discipline for the purpose of effecting in us an internal transformation. “Cleanse me by the fire of Thy fear, O Christ. Kindle Thy divine Love in my soul, and fence me about with Thy Cross, for the deceiver that caused man’s fall of old has craftily beguiled me and darkened my understanding with lust.” [Matins, Third Wednesday of Lent, LTS 145]
If the Cross of Christ is the supreme epiphany of His divine eros, then the prayer means: Fence me about with Thy divine eros and love, O Christ!” If we take up the Fast as our Cross in the ‘erotic’ desire to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, then we are uniting ourselves to Christ not through pious sentimental feeling—feelings are deceptive—but in the concrete reality of our flesh. We are making our baptismal oath to unite ourselves to Christ incarnate. And, in a concrete, physical way, not just in sentimental feeling, we are stepping inside the fence of the Savior’s love.
Through the Fast, if we are working to put to death all that is earthly in us at our root, in our heart—our friendship with the world, our egotism and greed, our anger, and every sin—then we should begin to feel deeper than our feelings the love of Christ in our soul, transfiguring us inside. We should begin to see with our heart the supreme Theophany of the LORD’s extreme humility and compassion, and the spiritual beauty of that Theophany should enkindle the erotic love of our heart with divine love for Christ. If it doesn’t, then we are still dead in our sins and trespasses. “O my soul, thou hast not cleansed thyself from evil nor avoided the lusts that corrupt thee. Why art thou filled, then, with unjustified rejoicing because thou hast observed the Fast? For such is not the fast the LORD has chosen, who desires our true amendment.” [Matins, Third Thursday of Lent, Ode 9 LTS 154]
But if it does enkindle in our soul love for Christ, a desire to become like Christ in His humility and compassion, that is the evidence that we are coming to be, that we are beginning truly to exist, that we are being raised from our grave as a new creation.
If the catechism is the period we learn to see and to desire with all our heart the love of God revealed to us in the supreme Theophany of His Cross and Burial, and how to walk in that vision so that we can be restored to our original beauty in the image and likeness of God, well, how many of us have in fact been catechized?
Stepping inside the fence of God’s love as into the “dazzling grace of the Fast!” (LTS 137), let us be resolved to take up our Cross in love for Christ who first loved us. Our work is to wake up our soul’s natural longing for the God who thirsted on the Cross for us to thirst for Him, who longed in the Tomb to become one with us who long to become one with Him by taking up our Cross to unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death that we may shine as lightning in the Savior’s Glory and be raised from our grave, a new creation, as partakers of His divine nature. Amen!