|33 - Holy Myrrhbearers, April 22, 2018|
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Acts 6:1 – 7
Mark 15:43 – 16:8
“You seek Jesus who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here!” The whole Gospel is contained in this angel’s Noel of the empty tomb, the true principle and meaning of creation, the nature and destiny of man. We know from the other Gospels that when the women finally were able to tell the other disciples that the LORD was risen, they were dismissed as having gone crazy, even though they were all telling the same story! But, how was it unreasonable to doubt their story? Why, then, does the LORD rebuke His disciples for their unbelief and hardness of heart? (Mk 16:14) How is not believing that Jesus was risen from the dead the sin of hardness of heart?
I have been asked to teach Church History to some students of our Diocesan St Macrina Institute. To introduce the subject, I may ask the students to consider: what is the principle that governs and drives history? How does the history of the Church fit into that? My intention would be to shake the students out of their present mind, in which I’ll bet they think without thinking – as do most all of us – in the hardness of heart of the scientific or political world view, in which understanding of the world and solutions to societal ills were entrusted to scientific methods rooted in and governed and delimited by an intentional agnosticism – whether one believes in God or not. I want to challenge the students to think according to the theological world view of the Church, which is centered not on mathematics and physics but on the Logos of God and His Cross – which, I’ll bet, they’ll want to dismiss as “moonstruck”, like the disciples dismissing the eyewitness account of the myrrh-bearers.
On Pascha Night, we read from the Acts of the Apostles: “… It is not given to you,” the risen LORD says to His disciples, “to know the times and the seasons which the Father has placed in His own authority, and you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you shall be my witnesses” (martyrs. Acs 1:7-8). What catches me is how history – times and seasons – moves according to the will of God the Father, and that the goal of its movement is the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the LORD’s disciples – not just the eleven, but all throughout history who follow the LORD Jesus Christ as the Way to the Father.
And, who is this LORD Jesus Christ, this Way to the Father? On Pascha Night, we read from St John’s Gospel: “In the beginning …” (Jn 1:1-17) This directs us back to Genesis 1:1. The Theologian is teaching us that this LORD Jesus Christ is the WORD of God in whom all things were made. His death and resurrection, then, are the “Beginning”, the Arche, the Root, the Logos, the principle or meaning of creation, its telos, its perfected end (Jn 19:30). The root and principle of creation is not physical as in some impersonal cosmic process. It is theological; it is the mystery of the Person of Jesus Christ, the Logos tou Theou, the WORD of God (theological). That means that what governs the movement, or history, of creation is the will of God the Father. That “principle” or logos was made manifest in the mystery of the Cross as the finished or perfected (Jn 19:30) demonstration of the love of God. That means that the really real is the inexpressible love of God. Creation and its movements, or history, is not rooted in and governed by impersonal laws of physics that can be expressed in cold, impersonal mathematical formulae; it is rooted in and governed by the will of God, expressed in the mystery of the Cross, or in the incomprehensible love of God. That means that the principle of creation is not death and meaninglessness, but life and life more abundantly. For, by the Cross, God destroyed death by His death and gave life to those in the tombs.
How can Faith rejoice over a Gospel that proclaims that God died on the Cross? It’s because by His voluntary suffering and death on the Cross, God became absolutely one with us in the very heart of our sin, in our conscience (Heb), and precisely because He Himself was without sin, He cleansed us – in our core, our heart – of our death which is the very essence of our sin. In the flesh – in our flesh – He destroyed death by His death. Evil and death, and their cause, sin, are not the first or last word. They are not the really real nor can they sabotage the really real. For, the really real is Christ’s Cross by which He destroyed death and everything that goes with it.
This Gospel is proclaimed wordlessly in every Orthodox Temple built from the ground up under the governance of the Church’s theological vision of the world. You enter the Church and look up to see, at the top of the dome, in the center, over all things, the icon of Christ Pantocrator. Everything comes from Him, everything returns to Him. He is the Christ, the One in whom the Holy Spirit of God dwells, the Holy Spirit who is the Light and Life of the world, the meaning, the purpose, the destiny, the goal of the world that the darkness could not overcome. He is an all-consuming fire. In Him, all that is dark is filled with light, all that is of death and evil is burned up and destroyed, and the world and the man whom God created is cleansed and refined as in the smelter’s fire and raised up as holy gold (cf. I Pt 1:7), a partaker of the holy fire of the divine nature (II Pt 1:4).
At the Matins for this morning, we heard: “The Holy Spirit governs and moves creation.” And, in the Acts of the Apostle, we read on Thursday last the prayer of the disciples: “[O Father of Our LORD Jesus Christ], the rulers of Israel and the nations gathered together against Thy Holy Child, Jesus (cf. Ps 2), to do whatsoever Thy Hand (or, Thy Son, Our LORD Jesus Christ) and Thy will (the Holy Spirit) determined before to be done” (Acs 4:28). Can you hear in these prayers the theological vision of the apostolic Church? What governs creation and its movement is the love of God, perfectly revealed in the mystery of the Cross and His Sabbath Rest in which He has destroyed death by His death and given life to those in the tombs.
The Church does not fit into the history of the world because she is not one of many historical events, she is the Body of Christ in whom all things were made. She is the Bride of Christ, the Mother of God who holds in herself the principle of creation, the mystery of the LORD’s Pascha. In the LORD’s Holy Pascha, in His Church, sin, death, and evil are swallowed up; creation is healed and finished, restored to its original beauty, meaning and purpose: to serve as God’s Holy Temple in which as many as receive Him may become children of God, partakers of the divine nature, in whom God dwells as in His Holy Temple.
Might we say that the disciples did not believe the myrrh-bearing women because they were not seeking Jesus of Nazareth, as the women were? Might we say that Christians today are increasingly falling away from belief in the Noel of the empty tomb because they, too, are not seeking Jesus of Nazareth, the really real? They do not live or think theologically; they are not rooted in the vision of the prophets or in the mystery of the Church, the LORD’s Pascha. They live and think scientifically, according to the blindness of human reason. They are rooted in the world and in the darkness of this age that the world considers to be enlightenment – and so they dismiss the Noel of the Empty Tomb as crazy.
Christ is risen! In this the Church proclaims the really real! Christ’s Holy Pascha is the dynamic principle of creation, dynamic because it moves from death to life to theosis in the Holy Spirit. This is the deeper Law beneath the laws of nature – such that when God wills, the laws of nature are overruled.
But, if Christ’s Pascha is the really real, then the really real is verified not by thinking but by doing the LORD’s commandments. These are the very shape of the really real, of the Cross of Christ that illumines, heals and raises to life. To pursue humility, to love our neighbor, to forgive, to do as we would have done to us: not one of the LORD’s commandments traumatize, pollute, maim or wound. Rather, they put all that to death and lead us to our heart as to the LORD’s Tomb with the myrrh-bearing women. There, they heal us and raise us to life in the LORD’s Resurrection. Doing them, we unite ourselves to Christ so that with Him, we, too are found no longer among the dead. In the Tomb of the LORD, we find ourselves in the joy of His Resurrection, and we are made to become martyrs of Christ proclaiming to the world: Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!