32 Palm Sunday - April 12, 2009

Palm Sunday 

In his Incarnation, God the Word did not join himself to a man. He himself became man. He became one with our humanity and made our humanity personally his own.

Now, the Church is the body of Christ.[1] Therefore, the liturgical worship of the Church is not loosely connected to Christ by some kind of pious memory of what happened to Him. The worship of the Church is one with the crucified and risen body of Christ so that when we participate prayerfully in the services of Holy Week, we participate in the spiritual reality of His Passion.

The objective of Christ’s Passion is to destroy our death by His death. That, then, is our objective when we participate in Christ’s Passion through the services of Holy Week. This is to say we don’t come to Holy Week to embark on a sentimental journey, recalling piously what happened to Our Savior in order to titillate our emotions in some pious way. The services of Holy Week have as their purpose the very serious business of destroying our death by uniting us to Christ in a death like his. A death like his: this means that we die in Christ not by literally killing ourselves, but by dying to the old Adam in us by voluntarily taking up the cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines for the sake of Christ and participating prayerfully in the sacramental worship of the Church.

When joined to prayer, the fast brings us mystically into the spiritual reality of Christ’s Passion: this is the reality in which he destroys death by his death and gives life to those in the tombs. As we participate prayerfully in the Holy Week services, we enter the Holy City with Christ; we descend with Christ into our soul and we come to an inner path that leads to the tomb of our soul. This is our heart, our personal center. The Church calls it the Bridal Chamber because there Christ became so one with us that he partook of our death so that he could destroy the devil who held us in the power of death and deliver us from the fear of death so that we could become partakers of his Resurrection.[2]

For, we no longer live in our heart in union with God. We live outside in the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. And so our heart has become a tomb because we have separated ourselves from God. The life we now live in the flesh is full of maladies and anxieties of all kinds. These are the weeds and thistles sprung up from the seeds of disobedience and death that fell to the dry ground of our soul made barren and hard by the departure of the Holy Spirit when we were expelled from the garden of our heart because of our transgression. And, now, we are closed off from our heart. Its entrance has been sealed by a stone made thick and hard by our sins and transgressions. Like Pilate, the ruler of this age has set a guard of soldiers in front of it, to keep us from drawing near to it lest we should seek God and live. The soldiers guarding our heart are the passions of fear and shame. They are under the command of vanity; and they rise up against us whenever we get too close to our heart.

But it is precisely to the tomb of our heart that the Lord is leading us in these services of Holy Week. Through prayer and fasting, we break the hold of gluttony and lust on our bodies; we break the hold that the lust of the eyes and the pride of life have on our mind. Breaking that hold, we break through the crust of worldly desires that separate us from God to follow Christ into our soul and into the spiritual reality of his Passion. United to him through prayer and fasting, we ascend the cross with him to put to death the old Adam in us with all its lusts, its vanity and pride. Each Lenten season that we give ourselves to these ascetic disciplines of the cross, our body and our mind are united to his crucified body a bit more; the old Adam in us dies a bit more, and little by little, we are laid with him spiritually in the tomb of our heart. Thus, even before our physical death, we are granted to enter the tomb of our heart as into a bridal chamber, there to unite ourselves to Christ in a death like his and so be united to him in a resurrection like his.

In the service of Bridegroom Matins, the crucified Christ calls out to us from his holy Resurrection to take up our cross and unite ourselves to him on the Cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines that we may be united to him in the tomb of our heart as in a bridal chamber.

Apart from prayer and fasting, I dare say, we will see nothing more than a pious commemoration of a long ago event that we may or may not find credible. Through the disciplines of prayer and fasting, however, we step beyond the veil of the Church’s sacramental worship and into the spiritual reality her worship makes visible to the eyes of faith.

If you have kept the fast, then by now your body should have acquired an inner quietude that facilitates prayer. Your mind should be sharper, able to watch and listen more acutely to the services of Holy Week and to absorb into the ground of your soul, now broken up by weeks of fasting and prayer, the spiritual substance of Holy Week so that you can stand at spiritual attention in your soul, watching and waiting for the Heavenly Bridegroom to come at Midnight to open the doors of your heart and lead you out of the world, even as you stand here in the world, into the joy and the grace of his Resurrection.

Have you not kept the fast? Then take up your cross and begin to keep it even now in the short time that remains. For, God is good and gracious, and he will receive those who come to him at the eleventh hour as at the first. And then we can all of us together, in the communion of the saints, draw near to the services of Holy Week in the fear of God, in faith and love, waiting attentively for the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, in the expectant hope that we may be united to him in his resurrection and be granted to become communicants of life eternal. Amen.

[1] Eph 1:32

[2] Heb 2:14-15