|32 - PALM SUNDAY. HAVING BEHELD...|
As one would expect on the Sunday that marks the transition from the Great Fast of 40 days into ‘Passion’ Week, the ‘Sabbath week’ [seventh week] of the Great Fast when the God-Man suffers the Cross and Burial, there is a lot happening! You might say, everything is happening! For we are coming to the heart of creation. By that, I mean we’re coming to the beginning, the origin and the perfection of all things. For us, if you will, the mystery of Christ is not measured by time; time is measured by the mystery of Christ.
This next week, we come into the true Sabbath Rest of God of which Moses spoke in Gen 2.1-4. We are coming to the mystery of God hidden from the ages now being revealed to the saints—as we heard this morning at the Little Entrance: ‘Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD. God is the LORD and has revealed Himself to us.’ The Cross, Burial and Resurrection of Christ, drawing from St Ephraim of Syria (4th cent.) and St Maximus the Confessor (7th cent.), are together the keys that open onto the origin, the end and the purpose of all creation.
In the midst of all the theology flashing like lightning bolts in all directions, I am drawn again to St Luke’s account of the myrrhbearers at the LORD’s Tomb, which is how we entered Great Lent. St Luke says: ‘Having beheld the Tomb and how His Body was laid….’ [Lk 23.55-56]
‘Having beheld the Passion of Christ,’ we entered the Great Fast. But this corresponds exactly to what we will sing on Pascha Night: ‘Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ, let us worship the Holy LORD Jesus!’ We entered Great Lent having beheld the Passion of Christ; so we will enter the Paschal season of eight weeks having beheld the Resurrection of Christ. Then, on Pentecost, we leave Pascha-tide and return to the routine of our earthly lives having received the Heavenly Spirit of the risen Christ.
Let’s ponder this. On Pascha Night, we behold the Resurrection of Christ in the sights and sounds of the Church’s visible liturgical movements and prayers. But do we enter the Resurrection? I don’t see that we do. We enter the LORD’s empty Tomb!
The Paschal rites correspond exactly to the mystery of our being baptized into Christ. Following St Paul: “We who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. We were buried with Him,’ St Paul says (Rm 6.4). On the evening of Holy Friday, we process around the Church. We come in and pass under the shroud. Now we are inside the LORD’s Tomb, but the LORD’s Body is still there. On Pascha Night, we gather again inside the LORD’s Tomb, and we behold the image of His Resurrection, when the priest processes with the Shroud into the altar. But when we come back into the Church after the Paschal procession, where are we? I don’t know for sure! Are we with the myrrhbearers, with St John and St Peter in the LORD’s empty Tomb? Whatever: He’s not there. He is risen!
Returning to St Paul: ‘As Christ was raised from the dead,’ he says. I would expect him to go on now and say something about our entering the resurrection. But, he doesn’t. He says: ‘so also we may now walk in newness of life’ (Rm 6.4). For, I don’t see that we have yet entered Christ’s Resurrection. We are still in these earthly, corruptible bodies. Even so, Christ’s Resurrection has entered into us through the sacramental mysteries of His Holy Church. And through our baptism, the root of our life, now, is no longer the clay of our flesh that is from the ground and returns to the ground. So, is the root of our life now the LORD’s empty Tomb? I say, no; it is the risen Body of Christ! The root of our life now is not our body in this world. We are not of the earth anymore; for, through our baptism, we have been washed in Christ’s death, and if we have been washed in Christ’s death, that means that our body is like the LORD’s Tomb that is now empty: like the LORD’s Tomb, our body is no more the place of the dead but of the living.
And so we are fools if we live our present life on this earth for our body and for the things of this world. Apart from Christ, our life in this world is like a race track. We come out of the starting gate at our birth only to return at the end of the race to the finish line, which is but the same place we started, back in the dust. But now, having been baptized into Christ’s death, our life in this world has become an ascent, an exodus out of the tomb and into Christ’s Resurrection. This is the hope our future in this life now holds, and the person who cultivates through prayer, through conscientious reflection, through the practice of the LORD’s commandments that remembrance in order to live in it, or to walk in it as St Paul says, and no more in the desires of the flesh or in the values of this world, that person is the wise one.
So, I don’t hear the Church teaching us that we have entered the Resurrection of Christ. In fact, the Church gives us to understand that we don’t enter the Resurrection until the Last Judgment when those who have done evil enter the resurrection of judgment, those who have done good into the resurrection of eternal life. For now, we have entered the LORD’s Tomb and we have seen that it is empty of death. I believe we can say that we behold the Resurrection of Christ when we experience the joy of Christ’s Resurrection working within us as we conduct ourselves in this present life according to His commandments and we experience the old man in us and the body of sin that holds us in its grip beginning to wither away and a real inner transformation begins to rise in their place through the power of the Savior’s Cross.
And so, in this life, we behold the Resurrection of Christ not in imagination but in the inner reality of the joy and the hope that begins to illumine the hidden man of our heart, and begins even to heal us, even to deliver us from passions that before enslaved us. Even in tribulations, the soul is in deep peace and joy because she is rooted no more in her own opinions or religious ideas or in the wisdom of the world that are easily blown away like smoke when troubles come, but she is rooted in the Body of Christ whose death has destroyed death and has emptied the Tombs.
In the visible rites of baptism and Passion Week, we are entering invisibly into the LORD’s empty Tomb. But how does one lay hold of that invisible reality of entering, invisibly, into the LORD’s empty Tomb? By living according to the commandments of Christ: denying oneself, and losing one’s life for His sake. One must die to the ways of the world, the philosophies, the ideologies of the world, the wisdom of one’s own opinions. In all of these, one is still outside the Tomb, running around in circles busily with all one’s programs and strategies, seminars and conferences and grand schemes. One must break out of that rat-race by dying to the sweetness of one’s own wisdom or entrusting oneself to the wisdom of the world and put one’s trust in the LORD, and seek to live to God in Christ.
The prayers of the Church teach us that this is the spiritual meaning of Lazarus’ tomb. Our Lenten effort has been precisely to die to ourselves so that we may hear the LORD calling out to us, ‘Come forth!’ and follow Him now into Jerusalem, into the Temple, and then outside the city, outside the camp, beyond the Temple of this world, to Golgotha and into the mystery of His death by which He destroys our death, and into His empty Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection, the Gate that opens onto the reality of God that is something completely different!
It comes to me that this is another meaning we can see in the Psalm: ‘In Thy Light shall we see Light!’ We must die to ourselves in order to see the Resurrection of Christ in its true, invisible reality. In the illumination of our baptism, our dying with Christ, we see Light, we behold the Resurrection of Christ.
I see this giving to us the structure and the purpose of our life on earth. We are dying daily to ourselves, ever seeking to put to death what’s earthly in us. Thus, on our final day, when finally we ‘die’, our death will be but the final outpouring of our love to God. It will be the last step of our response to the LORD when He called out to us as to Lazarus to Come Forth into the joy of His Resurrection.
This is to say that the mystery of Christ is about the inner and real movement of creation. We do not rehearse the Passion and resurrection of Christ to excite pious feelings but to enter, through the visible rites, into the invisible reality of our soul, into the purpose of our life. In this life, we behold the Resurrection of Christ within us as we follow His commandment to deny ourselves and to follow Him. We behold the Resurrection not as an idea but as the experience of our souls actually being transfigured in the joy of Christ’s resurrection. This, if you will, is the proof that our hope is real, that our faith is rooted in reality and not in religious imagination.
In the reality of Christ’s Holy resurrection, the Church calls out: ‘Receive thy King, O Zion. For see, He comes to thee now in meekness, to raise up Lazarus and to destroy the bitter kingdom of death. Summoned by God, let all the multitude of holy monks and laypeople assemble, to welcome Christ with palms and cry: ‘Blessed is He who comes to save mortal men through the Passion of the Cross, and to grant in His love freedom from the passions unto all.’ [LTS 299]