39 - Joy in Tribulations, June 25, 2017

For audio, click here

Romans 5:1-10

Matthew 6:22-33

St Paul says: “We have joy in our tribulations as we have joy from standing on the Hope that is of the Glory of God.” I believe all of us here this morning would desire to know how to stand on this hope in a way that is real so that we could rejoice like St Paul even in our daily tribulations. So, let’s look to this morning’s Scripture lesson as students look to their teacher for instruction.

St Paul writes: “Through Our LORD Jesus Christ, we have access by faith into this Grace in which we have been made to stand.” I understand this Grace to be the Light of the Glory of Christ in His Holy Resurrection. Moreover, I would see this as the Light that illumines the eye the LORD says is the lamp of the body. We were made to stand in this Grace – i.e., we were raised from death to life – in our baptism and we were illumined in the Light of Christ’s Resurrection.

If this Grace is the Light of Christ’s Resurrection, then the access into this Grace is the death of Christ, or His Cross. Is it not clear, then, that the Hope on which St Paul’s joy stands is of Christ’s Resurrection – or even of Christ’s death? For, by His death He has shattered death; He makes even the evil to be good by His Goodness; He restores those who receive Him to the salvation, the freedom and the eternal life in well-being, in which He created the world in the beginning (cf. Wisd. Sol 1:13-15).

Once we see that the access into this Grace is the death of Christ, then the faith by which we gain access to this Grace immediately comes into view as our uniting ourselves to Christ in His death, which gives birth in us to the hope of becoming one with Him in His Resurrection. See how we have uncovered the beginning of St Paul’s triad of faith, hope and love (I Cor 13:13). Might this be a clue to St Paul’s deepest meaning here? But let me first finish what I hear this telling us about faith.

We see clearly that faith is not simply “believing”. Faith is the heart oriented towards Christ so that faith governs everything I think, say and do. To believe in Christ is to unite myself to Him in His death so that losing my life for the sake of Christ becomes the shape of my life both inwardly and outwardly.

No one can serve two masters, says the LORD. I cannot live for worldly riches at the same time I am living for union with Christ in His death because I can’t be alive and dead at the same time. Either I’m alive or I’m dead. The Gospel teaches us that the life of the world is really death, because the world is passing away together with all its riches. But, the death of Christ is really life because the death of Christ is the death of death, and so it conquers all the tribulations the world’s spiritual death produces in our daily life. Therefore, to live for life in the riches of the world is in fact to live for eternal death. To live for death in Christ is in fact to live for eternal life. This is what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness – i.e., the resurrection to eternal life (cf. Wisd of Sol 1:15) the death of Christ opens to us.

So, if I say Jesus Christ is my master, yet I’m living for the riches of the world – money, fame, beauty – I am not in fact living by faith; and I do not have access to the Grace of Christ’s Resurrection for the simple reason that in my heart, I’m walking away from that access, the Cross. And, I will not find the divine joy St Paul speaks of even in my most minor tribulations because that divine joy is found in the death or in the Cross of Christ, not in the riches of the world.

So, faith, again, is not some noetic twitch darting back and forth at some religious proposition I hold as fact in my head while I sit on the couch watching TV eating potato chips. Faith is the love of my heart that wants to become one with Christ in His death and Resurrection, which shapes my inner life and governs all I think, say and do.

Let us note that the joy St Paul speaks of rests not on some kind of self-hypnosis, a sentiment or feeling. It rests on a real, concrete event God Himself accomplished concretely somewhere in some place: viz., His taking a flesh and blood body of the Virgin Panagia, which He fashioned into His Holy Temple (Jn 2:19f.) in which the fullness of God the Creator Himself dwelt bodily (Col 2:9), in which He suffered and rose again on the Third Day. But, St Paul says we stand in this Grace as though it is a present reality. This Grace of the Glory of God’s Cross cannot be a religious memory of a long-gone event floating down to us through the ages in the vapors of some memetic gas if it is to be substantive enough to sustain us even in our tribulations. It must be at least as concrete and real as our tribulations, and this it can be only if belongs to the concrete and real flesh and blood not of a man but of God incarnate.

I would therefore proclaim that the concrete and real place where this joy is found as a substantive, concrete reality is the Church, specifically that Church which is in truth the Body of Christ, the Temple of God, in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily (Col 2:9); i.e., concretely and really.

Listen to St Paul: “The love of God,” he says, “is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to us.” Note the present tense. But, note that the Holy Spirit is poured out on us in a concrete, substantive way in the Church, in the waters of our baptism, and in the consecrated gifts of Holy Eucharist. For, what do we sing out at the conclusion of Holy Communion? “We have received the Heavenly Spirit!”

From this, it seems clear to me that this Hope St Paul speaks of, on which his joy rests and in which he rejoices even in his tribulations, is the Holy Spirit, by whom Christ conquered the world on His Cross, and all our tribulations both small and great, so that if in my heart I am living by faith in this Holy Spirit who has been poured out in me, not theoretically but concretely in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, my joy will be concrete, substantive and real even in my tribulations because it is of the Holy Spirit.

But now, let’s return to the beginning of that triad we uncovered: faith and hope, and see if we might find “love” and with that, the deeper meaning in this morning’s Scripture lesson.

We do see a triad in St Paul’s epistle: faith, hope and glory. I think this Glory might be the “love” of that triad. For, we saw this Glory to be of Christ in His Resurrection; and so, it is the Glory of His Cross. And, the Cross is that by which, as St Paul says, God demonstrates His great love for us, in that while we were yet sinners and enemies of God, He died for us that we might be reconciled with Him (5:8-10). But, this word reconciled also carries the sense of effecting an exchange and this is what St Maximos the Confessor (d. 662) will say God does in His love for us: He exchanges Himself with us so that He becomes the Son of Man so that we can become children of God. He becomes not just like us, flesh and blood, but even one with us in His death on the Cross that we might become one with Him in the eternal life of His Resurrection.

So, if access by faith into this Grace of God means to become one with Christ in His death and resurrection, then access into this Grace of God means that we taste and see why the Grace of God is so glorious: He loved me even when I was – and maybe still am – His enemy. How could such a vision not fill us with such inexpressible joy that we would not feel our hearts bursting, as the saints themselves have borne witness (I think of St Silouan and St Porphryius, e.g.)!

It would seem to follow, then, that the measure of my becoming one with God is the measure of my love for my enemy. And, if this is the source of the joy we can have even in our tribulations, it seems to follow that this joy would become ever more concrete and substantive as I enter ever deeper into the love of God so that I am able to love even my enemy from my heart.

This hope, says St Paul, works in me patience and character: qualities of the love of God? And, is this not what the LORD says, that God would clothe us even more gloriously than was Solomon? For, the glory of Solomon was of the world. The Glory in which God would clothe us is of the Grace, the Light of His Holy Resurrection. O LORD, glory to Thee! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!