36 - All Saints, June 26, 2016 (with audio)

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Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2

Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38, 19:27-30

It may not surprise you to hear that I see the LORD’s hard saying in this morning’s Gospel as a veil covering the mystery of God, which is “Christ in you!” (Col 1:27) “He who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” shows our family life to be the veil that covers the mystery of “Christ in you!” (Col 1:27) The LORD is saying that the mystery of God hides beneath this veil of our family life, and that this veil must be removed and laid aside if we are to get to it. It is clear from the LORD’s word that follows immediately – “He who does not take up his cross and follow after Me Is not worthy of Me” – that my relationship to my family goes to the heart of how I take up my cross to follow Christ. My family is that extension of myself that I must “deny” in order to follow the LORD.  When the LORD answers Peter, He shows just how comprehensive this self-denial must be: I must as well leave house, brother and sister, children and lands for the sake of the LORD if I want to receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life. I.e., I must lose my life in order to gain it (cf. Mk 8:34-38).

But, let’s look more closely at the veil of the LORD’s hard saying. I dare say that it is not a hard saying at all. In fact, it touches us at the point of our inmost longing. Contemplating this saying, there comes into view a certain “psychological” development that is natural to my maturation into an adult. I think this is what we grasp in order to lift the veil and discover the mystery of God underneath it.

The saying calls into view that point in my development when I want to leave my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, my home and all my family; and, I want to leave them for the sake of my beloved, who I want to take to myself as my wife and become intimately one with her and her alone. To be sure, my love and desire for my wife blossoms into a desire to have children with her, whom we can love and nurture. But there then comes a point when we will want our children to leave us, not because we don’t love them anymore, but because we do. We want them to become adults, capable, independent, free, healthy and happy with their own beloved and with children of their own.

And, I think it interesting that even when I was single and had not yet found my beloved, I still wanted to leave my father, mother, brother and sister for the sake of my beloved whom I hoped to find someday.

So, when the LORD says that I must deny myself and take up my cross for His sake, He is not at all telling me to do something hard because I already want to deny myself for the sake of my beloved, and I do it already with gusto. (What, e.g., is watching my diet and working out in the gym to make myself attractive to my beloved if it isn’t a form of self-denial?) I don’t need science to tell me; I know from my own experience that the desire to deny myself for the sake of my beloved (whom I may or may not have found yet) is an absolutely compelling and irresistible drive. If I were to squelch it, I’d fall into depression and go crazy. This desire compels me to come out of myself for the sake of my beloved. From the core of my being I want to unite myself to her and become intimately one with her.

But, more than that: when the LORD says that I must deny myself and take up my cross for His sake, the LORD is telling me that He is the true Beloved. He is the Heavenly Bridegroom with whom our soul yearns to become intimately one in the inmost chamber of our heart – and He yearns to become intimately one with His bride, the soul (cf. Philokalia II, 5th Cent. Various Texts, §§84-90).

This means that the mystery of marriage, in all its tenderness and beauty, is not our final destiny in which we live happily ever after, so that, if we didn’t marry, we would somehow be shortchanged. Rather, it is an icon pointing beyond itself to the deep mystery of God, which is “Christ in you,” Christ united in love and altogether one with His Bride, the Church. It is this iconic character of marriage, by which it is able to receive and to participate in the love of Christ and His Bride, that gives to it its potential to be so profoundly beautiful and tender that man and wife can actually taste and experience in their love for one another the divine, uncreated love and joy that are in God the Holy Trinity.

But, that the LORD Jesus Christ is the true Beloved also means that those who are “single”, whose “blessing” in this life is to live in virginity, are in no way deprived; but, are blessed, as St Paul says, to pursue without the distractions of family life in the world the fullness of joy and love of Christ that penetrates all the way into the “bridal chamber” of the heart, immersing them in the Spirit such that even their “carnal desire” (epithumia) is completely satisfied, as it says in several places in Holy Scripture, for their Beloved is the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ Himself in all the vibrant warmth of His humanity and in the inexpressible goodness and love of His divinity.

Whether married or virgin, where does Christ lead those who deny themselves for His sake to follow Him? He leads them into the inmost chamber of their heart and He becomes altogether one with them in the mystery of His incarnation, death and burial. This Lover of Mankind, this Greatly Compassionate One who so loves me that He becomes one with me even in my death is Himself the Resurrection and the Life – which tells us that true Life is not an impersonal “force” but the personal mystery of persons, each one revealed as a beloved lover both receiving the other into oneself and giving oneself to the beloved in a union of love and joy, which, in God the Holy Trinity, abides forever. Our beloved Heavenly Bridegroom is the Word of God by whom all things were made – that means that I was made in Him so that He is the principle, the definition, the logos or meaning of who and what I am. He is the “Christ” who bears the Holy Spirit, a mighty river of living water who cleanses and washes away every sin and trespass, all stain of death and corruption to make us clean, alive, whole and even divine, children of God born of the Spirit from above! So, when this Savior LORD Jesus Christ, the Son of God, becomes one with me as the Son of Man in the inmost chamber of my heart, He cleanses me and enlivens me at the core of my being where I begin and where I end. He transfigures my heart to become a bridal chamber, a living temple, a sanctuary of the Most High God. He rolls away the stone of my heart and opens me onto the Garden (of Eden) in his Holy Resurrection, so that my “end” is made to become the “beginning” of my ascent from glory to glory, i.e., an ascent that is always descending to an ever deeper intimacy, so that the joy He has with the Father is fulfilled in me in the descending and cleansing operation of His All Holy, good and life-giving Spirit.

He leads me, i.e., not away from but into the heart of my family life so that the life of my family is no more rooted in death and corruption, but in the tomb of the Savior, where all the sins, the peccadilloes, the self-centered irritabilities and bad moods of family life that can make it a “nice place to visit but I don’t want to live there” are made to die as I deny myself for the sake of my beloved, the LORD Jesus Christ. And now, the family, in the love and joy of Christ who is now its life-principle, becomes a “little church”, an icon of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This hard saying of the LORD, then, which isn’t hard at all but easy and light, is the call of the Spirit and His Bride to come and drink the waters of life in the bridal chamber of our heart. It is the recipe for becoming saints, brides of the Spirit, those in whose mind, soul, body and heart the Heavenly Bridegroom, the LORD Jesus Christ, rests in the love and joy of the Heavenly Father. Amen!