34 Palm Sunday - April 20, 2008

Philippians 4:4-9

John 12:1-18

In the Canon of this morning’s Matins service, I was caught by this verse in the Eighth Ode: “See how the Lord weds the New Zion, for she is chaste, and rejects the synagogue that is condemned.”[1] It is true that the “shadow of the Law passed when Grace came;” but the synagogue wasn’t rejected because it was a religion of Law compared to Christianity as a religion of grace. To characterize OT Judaism in this way is, I think, a misrepresentation of OT Judaism and leads to a failure to appreciate the true nature of the Christian Faith. I think the sin of the synagogue is the self-righteousness of its leaders, the Scribes and the Pharisees.

Now, the Scribes and Pharisees knew the Scriptures very, very well. They were very, very religious. And yet they hated Christ; and in the end, they crucified Christ as Cain murdered Abel.

Beloved, let us look to ourselves. Are we self-righteous Scribes and Pharisees? We fancy ourselves lovers of Christ. Who is the Christ we love? Is it truly the Christ, or is it the projection of our own ego? We read the Scriptures and form conclusions about their meaning and we think we know God and his Christ. What is the religious truth that we know so well? Is it the religious truth of God or is it the truth fashioned from the wisdom of our own opinions?

“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you,” says the Savior. But you see, if we are to eat Christ’s flesh and drink his blood, it means that we must crucify our own understanding, our own ideas, the wisdom of our own opinions and make our way to our heart. We don’t want to go there because our heart has become a tomb, filled with the stench of anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, loneliness and boredom. And yet, that is where Christ is going. And if we wish to meet him, even to become one with him, we must make our way to the tomb of our heart.

We enter Holy Week with the story of Lazarus being called forth from the tomb. The Church sets before us the scribes and the Pharisees on the one hand, and Lazarus on the other. The Scribes and the Pharisees reflect our self-righteousness. If we take that lesson to heart, we can become like Lazarus – broken and contrite in spirit, descending from self-righteous arrogance, which the Lord despises, to the brokenness of a contrite heart, which the Lord will not despise. If we persist in our self-righteousness as scribes and Pharisees, we will be the ones crucifying the Lord of glory, all the while smugly pleased with our piety. If we become like Lazarus, broken and contrite in spirit, humble of heart, we will discover the tomb of our heart as the bridal chamber, and we will hear the voice of the Bridegroom calling out to us at Midnight as he called to Lazarus in the tomb: “Come forth”.

The Church herself will help us to become like Lazarus. We need simply to participate in her divine services of Holy Week, absorb all we see and hear, and take it to heart. Through her liturgical worship, the Church herself comes to us and, if we let her, she will carry us to the tomb of our heart – so that when you come to the Church on Pascha night, you won’t just be standing in the temple. You’ll be standing in the tomb of your heart. And when you douse your candle at the stroke of Midnight, you won’t just be blowing out your candle for dramatic effect. You’ll be dying in the arms of Christ, his body the Church. And when your candle is lit again from the candle on the altar, it will be a type of your resurrection in Christ in which it is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you. And when you march with that lighted candle around the Church at Midnight, you won’t just be marching around the Church with a lighted candle. You’ll be climbing the ladder of the Cross from hell to the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven, illumined by the living fire of Christ’s Holy Spirit. And when you hear the priest calling out, Christ is risen, as the doors to the temple are open, you won’t just be hearing the voice of the priest. It will be the voice of the Bridegroom who has come to you at Midnight, calling out to you to come forth and enter into the joy of the resurrection. And when you enter into the temple, illumined by scores of candles, you won’t just be coming back into the Church you left a few moments ago. You’ll be entering mystically into the reality of Christ’s holy resurrection – and you will know it because of the ineffable joy that will suddenly burn in your heart that was once a tomb, but is now the bridal chamber where the Christ became one with you in your death that you might become one with him in his holy Resurrection unto eternal life.

Beloved, take this lesson to heart. Confront your self-righteousness; confess it and laying aside every excuse stand before the Savior in humility and meekness.  With bowed head and humble heart, seek to know Christ not as you think he is according to the wisdom of your own opinions, but as he truly is in his death and resurrection. Come to the Church, the body of Christ. Take in all that you see and hear; for what you will see and hear will be the crucified and risen Lord, clothing himself and making himself visible and audible in the sights and sounds of the Church’s liturgical worship. Let the Spirit of Christ that lives in his Church carry you away from a self-righteous mind and into the tomb of your heart, from which Christ goes forth as a bridegroom in procession, carrying you with him into the joy of his holy resurrection. Amen. 

[1] LT 501