|30 - Palm Sunday, Apr 24, 2016|
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Our dogmatic theology governs how we experience Pascha. I feel it is important enough to understand our doctrine that it is worth focusing our attention on it this morning as we enter Holy Week.
If we believe that our destiny is to live in heaven with God, but that the sin of Adam and Eve made it necessary for Jesus to die on the Cross to satisfy God’s wrath, so that we could enter heaven if we just believe that Christ died for our sins, then Pascha is but the celebration of that event, on a bit higher note than normal; and, its emphasis will be on the atoning death of Christ by which our sins are forgiven so that we can live with God in heaven. We’ll throw in a note about the resurrection so that we can have our happy ending; and we’ll leave the Easter service for another year and eat our sumptuous Sunday roast beef dinner in the happy remembrance that we are saved and bound for heaven just as we are because, well, Christ died on the Cross so that we could.
But, that’s not what we believe. To begin with, we believe that the Image of God in whom we were created is not a what but a who, Jesus Christ. We cannot be identified with or reduced to what we are, but that we are each one of us a who that cannot be known except in the love of communion with a loving-beloved. I.e., we cannot find ourselves by finding what we are – whether gay or straight, e.g., hetero or homo, carbon 14, the “force”, or whatever – but by finding who we are in the Who in whom we were created.
Further, we believe that this Who in whom we were created and in whom we find our true selves, Jesus Christ, is the Word – the absolute principle, the divine meaning – who was with God in the Beginning; and, that He is the Son of God, and so of the very stuff or nature or essencethat God is –through whom the Father created all things in the Holy Spirit. Yet, though He was the eternal Son of the eternal God, He did not hold onto His equality with God (Phil 2:5). Rather, He emptied or denied Himself and became flesh, and then He died on the Cross in order to become perfectly one with us so that we could become “perfectly one”, or rather, completely and thoroughly (teteleiomenoi) one with Him (Jn 17:23) and become gods, children of the Most High (Ps 81:6 LXX), born not of the flesh but of His Holy Spirit and become partakers of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4).
We become perfectly one with Him as who’s, not as what. That means that Christ lives in us in such a manner that we are not dissolved into God but we become perfectlyand completelyand absolutely who we really are in God. We become like the bush that burned but was not consumed. We become all fire, all light, all “God”. We become all “love”, for that’s what God is (I Jn 4:16). We become lovers of God and beloved of God in the Love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever because in the perfect oneness of the Holy Trinity, lover and beloved never dissolve into each other. We become, in Christ, offerer and offered, receiver and received, lover and beloved, giving and receiving each other and knowing each other truly as who, not as what we are in the “bridal chamber” of an intimacy that is “deep beyond all things” (cf. Jer 17:5/9 LXX).
What Adam and Eve lost wasn’t just the chance to live in heaven alongside God. They fell away from the chance to become perfectly one with God as “sons of the Most High”, living in Christ and Christ living in them. They were created to become “gods, sons of the Most High”. (cf. Lk 3:38) But they turned away from God and from their true destiny, and now in Adam, we all “die like men and fall like any prince” (Ps 81:6 LXX).
I wonder if with this we may have come to the spiritual meaning of what God says as He expels Adam and Eve from the Garden? “’Behold, man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil. Now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’ – therefore, the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken, and he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Gen 3:22-24).
God didn’t make us to become like one of Him, i.e., existing alongside Him in a knowledge of good and evil – i.e., of what – that isolates us from each other so that we no longer know who we are. The Savior prays: “That they may be in us,” (Jn 17:21) not like one of us. I.e., we were made to exist in the Tree of Life, which is Wisdom (Prov 3:18), which is Christ (I Cor 1:24) in the Glory, the Holy Spirit, that He had with the Father from before the beginning (Jn 17:5), in the ceaseless self-emptying and “other-receiving” of the Holy Trinity in which we each one come to know who we really are in the other in the love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever (cf. Jn 17:22-26).
And so, I hear our doctrine teaching us that the LORD God expels us from the garden precisely so that we can die – that is, so that we can put to death, if we want to, what cuts us off from becoming perfectly one with God: viz., the disobedience of our idolatry, which is our self-love and our self-will. But, how can we become perfectly one with God if we are dead in our sins and trespasses? (Eph 2:1)
Beloved faithful, Holy Week and Pascha for us is not a memorial celebration. It is the Icon that mirrors back to us the great mystery of God that is within us; the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” What we are seeing is the supreme Theophany, the supreme Mighty Work of God. It is the mystery of Christ God first loving us by denying Himself even to the point of death on the Cross in the flesh – in our flesh – to become perfectly one with us in the tomb of our heart that is deep beyond all things (Jer 17:5/9 LXX); or, as it is given on Great and Holy Friday, outside Jerusalem, that we can, if we want to, become perfectly one with Him by denying ourselves and putting to death what is earthly in us that we may unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death and become perfectly one with Him in the tomb of our heart that is deep beyond all things, outside the city. That is to say, Pascha is not recalling some mighty act of God back when He died on the Cross and was buried in the tomb. It is setting before us the great mystery of God that was consummated back then, and is now in His Holy Spirit everywhere present filling all things so that it is present today. It is the mystery of the Life of God rising from the death of God in the flesh, Our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ, in the tomb of our heart, which He has transfigured into the bridal chamber, the Fountain of our Resurrection – which we experience even now as a living reality in the healing of soul and body that mysteriously takes place when this great mystery of God becomes our food and drink. The liturgical rites of Holy Week and Pascha lift the veil of our worldly life, they open the curtain of calendar time to set this great mystery of God rising from the death of God in the flesh before our eyes as the living realitythat is the inner life of the faithful not just on Pascha night but 24/7.
But, I believe also that the liturgical and sacramental rites of Great Lent and of Passion Week are revealing to us how we go about finding and entering this great mystery of God. It is by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and putting to death what is earthly in us not just during Lent but every day, every hour, every moment of our life.
It says, that in the place where Christ was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden there was a new tomb, where no one had ever been laid. Beloved faithful: as we deny ourselves and take up our cross to lose our life for the sake of Christ, if we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, do we not find ourselves in the Garden? Beloved faithful: I think that “new tomb” is the entrance to Eden. No one had been laid in it because no one had found the way back to Eden. It is the path that was not known, as Isaiah foretold (Isa 42:16). I think Holy Week reveals the path that is Christ guiding us from the tomb of Lazarus – the tomb of our heart – into the New Tomb as the entrance into Eden, into the light of Wisdom, the Light of Christ, and to the perfection of our true nature and destiny. Amen!