|31 - PALM SUNDAY. ENTERING THE MYSTERIOUS FRONTIER. Apr 17, 2022|
On the Thursday before Great Lent, St Luke had brought us to stand with the Myrrhbearers outside the LORD’s Tomb, shut out by the very large stone, cut off from Christ, the Tree of Life, whose corpse was within. We stood with the Myrrhbearers like Adam and Eve outside the Gate of Eden, shut out by the flaming sword from the Tree of Life in the Garden. But, St Luke says, when the LORD’s Body was placed in the tomb: ‘the Light of the Sabbath was dawning.’ (Lk 23.54) Who is the Light of the Sabbath if it isn’t the Christ whose Body is in the Tomb, His Resurrection from the dead already ‘dawning’ to illumine all? And so, it was in the Light of the Savior’s Sabbath Rest already dawning on us from His Tomb that we observed the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness on Sunday four days later, and Great Lent began. Four days later: not unlike the raising of Lazarus, who was raised on the fourth day, when Great Lent ends—as though the Rite of Mutual Forgiveness is the dawn of our being raised from the dead as was Lazarus!
And now, in that Light, we have come to the end of Great Lent with the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the LORD’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. A beautiful liturgical image: we are still, liturgically and mystically, in the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. The LORD Jesus Christ is dead, His Body in the Tomb. Who, then, is this Jesus who, following the biblical lectionary, is before us at the tomb of Lazarus, and who is now going before us up to Jerusalem? Is it not the same Jesus whose Body is in the Tomb who is leading us up to Jerusalem in the Light shining from His Tomb even as His Body was placed in the Tomb? In how many Lenten texts is the Fast described, in one way or another, as a brilliant, dazzling light that has dawned on us, in whose light we ‘purify our senses,’ drive out the demons from our souls, and are healed of the wounds inflicted on our soul by the passions?
Do you begin to understand the spiritual substance of the Fast and why we take it up? The Fast is the Cross given to us for ‘purifying our senses that we may behold Christ in the unapproachable light of His Resurrection.’ Taking up the Fast, we take up the Cross of Christ as our weapon of victory. Taking up the Fast, we take up the Light that illumines and heals all, and we begin weaving it as it were into the fabric of our soul and body! Taking up the Fast, we already have been weaving, invisibly, palms and pussy willows into the emblems of Christ’s victory that we now hold in our hands, visibly, like the children crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the LORD!’
Another beautiful liturgical image, critically important: the whole of Great Lent, with all its ascetical disciplines and prayers, has exactly the same shape as the ascetical discipline of striving to descend with the mind into the heart to stand before God—like the myrrhbearers standing before the LORD in His Tomb—seeking an ‘immediate and personal encounter with God.’ (Art of Prayer 20) Drawing from Kallistos Ware’s introduction to the Art of Prayer: ‘So long as the ascetic prays with the mind in the head, he will still be working solely with the resources of the human intellect, and on this level he will never attain to an immediate and personal encounter with God. At best, he will know about God, but he will not know God. For there can be no direct knowledge of God without an exceedingly great love, and such love must come, not from the brain alone, but from the whole man, that is, from the heart.’ (ibid)
‘Into the heart, then, he descends—into his natural heart first, and from there into the ‘deep’ heart—into that ‘inner closet’ of the heart which is no longer of the flesh. Here, in the depths of the heart, he discovers first the ‘godlike spirit’ which the Holy Trinity implanted in man at creation, and with this spirit, he comes to know the Spirit of God who dwells within every Christian from the moment of baptism, even though most of us are unaware of His presence.’ (ibid)
Do you see how the heart that is the goal of the ascetic’s prayer corresponds exactly to the tomb of Lazarus, and to the Font of baptism? For, it was in the tomb that Lazarus attained to an immediate and personal encounter with God. For the LORD came to him when he was in the tomb—and his whole being, not just his ‘brain’, was in the tomb!—and with a great voice the Resurrection and the Life called out to Lazarus by name: ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ This is an image of our baptism when the LORD called each one of us by name and commanded: ‘Come forth!’ and when we came forth from the Font, what happened? We were clothed in the Robe of Light. We put on Christ. We came forth into the Light of Him Who Is the Resurrection and the Life.
‘From one point of view,’ Kallistos goes on, ‘the whole aim of the ascetic and mystical life [and of the ascetical disciplines of Great Lent] is the rediscovery of the Grace of Baptism. The man who would advance along the path of inner prayer [who would take up the Fast of Great Lent] must in this way ‘return into himself’, finding the kingdom of heaven that is within, and so passing across the mysterious frontier between the created and the uncreated.’ (ibid)
Here is the hidden, mystical movement from Lazarus Saturday to Great and Holy Saturday that is made visible in the liturgical rites of Great and Holy Week. The visible movement of Holy Week corresponds exactly to the movement from the baptismal font to the Chalice, and from the tomb of Lazarus to the LORD’s Tomb—which we enter, mystically, at the end of the Matins for Great and Holy Saturday. For in the raising of Lazarus, the stone is rolled away from the tomb at the LORD’s command. Should we say that our stony heart is dissolved by our tears of contrition; and with these tears, we unite ourselves to Jesus Christ who wept at the tomb of Lazarus, the image of our heart! When the LORD raises Lazarus from the tomb, He brings him out, invisibly, into the ‘mysterious frontier of the created.’ He has brought him into the heart, for the heart is this ‘mysterious frontier,’ for the heart is deep, beyond all things! (Jer 17.9) He has led Lazarus ‘into himself’, into his deep heart ‘heart that is the man.’ He has led Lazarus to see the kingdom of heaven that is within him, for Lazarus is given to see the King of the kingdom of heaven standing visibly before him.
In these visible rites of the raising of Lazarus, then, the Lenten Fast has brought us, invisibly, to an immediate and personal encounter with the LORD in the ‘mysterious frontier’ of our heart. And now, beholding the King of Glory before us, invisibly, in the raising of Lazarus, we turn to follow Him, invisibly, by means of the visible rites of Holy Week, into Jerusalem, and beyond: to Golgotha, to His Cross, and to His Tomb that was in the Garden nearby. That is, we follow Him now in the mysterious frontier of our heart to the Gate of the uncreated, the gate of the kingdom of heaven that is within us, the kingdom of the uncreated that is our own land!
For what is the troparion for the raising of Lazarus teaching us? ‘By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy Passion, Thou didst proclaim the universal resurrection, O Christ God! Like the children with the palms of victory, we cry out to Thee, O vanquisher of death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the LORD!’
It is teaching us that the prophecy of Ezekiel is now fulfilled, the prophecy that we will hear at the end of Matins for Great and Holy Saturday, when we have returned from our procession around the Church outside into the Church, passing under the epitaphion (the rod prophesied by Ezekiel?) to come, mystically, inside the LORD’s Tomb. The prophecy of Ezekiel ends with this:
‘Behold, I will bring you up out of your tombs and will bring you into the land of Israel. I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live. And I will place you upon your own land, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’ [Eze 37.12-14]
Our ‘own land’ is the kingdom of heaven in the ‘mysterious frontier of the uncreated!’
Perhaps we now begin to see the LORD’s Entry into Jerusalem in a new light? He enters Jerusalem and the Temple; and then He promptly leaves. The earthly Jerusalem is not His destination. His destination is the Heavenly Jerusalem. Having raised Lazarus from the dead, having raised us from the baptismal Font, He leads us now beyond Jerusalem, to Golgotha and to His Tomb, the Gate of Heaven, and into ‘our own land’ in the kingdom of heaven that is within us!
See how the Church is leading us to an ‘immediate and personal encounter’ with that Light of the Sabbath that has been illumining us, mystically, throughout the whole of Great Lent, the Light we have been eating and drinking from the Living Cup in Holy Eucharist, the Light Who Is Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, Himself, Whose Grace shines in the ‘mysterious frontier’ of our deep heart, to lead us to the uncreated, from our grave to His Tomb as to the Gate of Heaven and out into the Garden of His Resurrection and up to the Heavenly Jerusalem in the kingdom of heaven that is within you!
And if, we are like the children with the palms of victory, it’s because we have been raised from the Font as children of God, and the palms we hold are emblems of the cross, our weapon of victory; and if we are crying out, ‘Hosanna! it’s because we giving our love to Jesus our King, and His death and resurrection are now the Law we obey in our mortal bodies, and no more the carnal desires of sin. For we are no longer dead. Christ lives in us. We are no longer under the Law but under Grace. We are no longer under condemnation but under the only-Begotten God Who is the Love of God, Our LORD Jesus Christ. Amen!