|41 - THE SACRED FAMILY OF THE CHURCH, June 14, 2020|
Matthew 10.32-33, 37-38; 19.27-30
We have pointed out before that the word, ‘to confess,’ means, literally, to speak one and the same word. Now, the words that Jesus speaks are one with the works that the Father does (Jn 14.10). The works of the Father are of salvation: creating, healing of soul and body, delivering from death and corruption, even raising the dead to life. The Father does all of His saving works through His WORD, the LORD Jesus Christ. To confess Christ before men, then, is to speak the same word with Christ, and that, in turn is to ‘partake of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 1.4) and to participate in the works of the Father that the WORD of God, Jesus, ‘speaks’ wordlessly when He pours out His life for our salvation on the Cross.
Our Gospel reading this morning suggests that to ‘confess’ Christ before men is connected to leaving father, mother, brother and sister, wife, children and lands for His sake. What does it look like to leave everything for the LORD’s sake if that is how we confess Christ?
We need to be very careful how we read this morning’s Gospel; because, think about it, the bible reveals that the family is most sacred. It is the heart of God’s creation and the means by which He saves the world. Perhaps that’s why the power of darkness has, from the beginning, sought to destroy the family. So, how do we leave our family in the biblical way of confessing Christ before men?
Pondering this, it comes to me that it means we stop living for the biological life of this world that comes from the dust and returns to the dust in order to live in the Life of Christ’s Holy Spirit that destroys the death that tears families apart through the weeds of sin that grow from death. To live in the Life of Christ’s Holy Spirit means, then, to live not in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes or the pride of life (1 Jn 2.16) that are of the world that is passing away; it means to live in the love of God embodied in Christ who emptied Himself and became flesh like us to the point of becoming one with us in His death on the Cross.
In this light, when the LORD says, ‘Everyone who has left father, mother, brother and sister, wife, children and lands for My sake, will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life,’ I hear Him saying that everyone who lives in the love of Christ will never be separated from his family and loved ones even in death, for in Christ, death has been destroyed and those in the tombs have been given life.
I find concrete confirmation of this in my observation that to the degree a person begins to live by the words of Christ, to that degree whatever ‘issues’ he may have with his family begin to heal. In other words, when one leaves family for the sake of Christ, one begins to ‘confess’ the love of Christ in one’s thoughts and actions; and this ‘confession’ of Christ produces a softening in one’s soul. One begins to deny oneself and to let go, to ‘forgive’ all things in the strength that the love of Christ’s Holy Spirit gives to one’s ‘inner man’. Self-righteous entitlement and stubborn anger begin to dissolve in the light shining from the LORD’s Tomb that dawns in the tomb of one’s heart, and there rises up in their place tears of contrition, an unpretentious humility and a sober joy the world cannot take away.
I said that the bible reveals the family to be most sacred. It is the heart of God’s creation and the means by which He saves the world. In the beginning, God created man as male and female. He blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful, to multiply, and to fill the earth. He created man as family: as husband, wife, children, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, cousins. And, if the family is Man in the image and likeness of God, then for man to fill the earth and subdue it with the family of man is for him to fill the earth and subdue with the love of God, and to tame the world with the warm, flesh and blood joy of familial love that invigorates and nourishes the soul, and makes the world want to sing and dance in the praise and worship of her Creator; for, it is in the flesh and blood love of the family, living in the image and likeness of God, that gives to the world the capacity to ‘partake of the divine nature’ as a ‘communicant’ of life eternal.
St Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Adam, the ‘son of God,’ and so, in the mystery of Jesus, we learn that God is our Father. The Virgin Mary is the Bride and Mother of God. St Gregory Palamas observes how the ancestry of Christ can be traced, through His Mother, all the way back to Adam. Born of the woman (Gal 4.4), the Son of God became the Son of Man with a human ancestry, with a mother, cousins, grandparents, uncles and aunts. This reveals the essence of the Church to be the love of family: the love of the Father for His Bride and His Son, the love of the Son for His Father and Mother, the love of the Bride for her husband, the love of the Mother for her Son.
I would understand from this that the father, mother, brother and sister, wife, children and lands we are called to leave for the sake of Christ is that family life governed by the ways of this world that passes away. We are called to leave that family life in order to live in the Family of the Church that came forth in the form of Christ’s own blood and water, the Church’s sacramental mysteries of eternal life, from His side on the Cross and in which we are born from above as children of God, a New Creation, in the love of God our Father, and in the Grace of Our LORD Jesus Christ, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. In the Family of the Church, we have God as our Father, the Blessed Virgin as our mother, and all the saints as our brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. In the Church, in the Family of God, all the generations of all our different ancestries, which before returned to the dust, are now knit together into the Body of Christ as one spiritual Family.
For, dear faithful, listen: to each one of us, through our flesh and blood, is joined all of our ancestors. We are not so many independent atoms. We exist in our ancestors and our ancestors exist in us. Apart from our ancestors, we would not exist. Through the sacramental mysteries of the Church there has been poured over us and into us the blood and water that came forth from the side of Christ’s body on the Cross, and in that blood and water of Christ, we have been raised from death to life. But, if you who are constituted of all your ancestors and family, are infused with the eternal Life of Christ, how could they not also share with you in that eternal Life of Christ? How could Christ be in you and not, somehow, in them?
And so, in the Church, in the Body of Christ, we pray for our loved ones both living and departed. Our prayers are a tangible expression of our love for them in the love of Christ, and in the love for them that fills our prayers, I believe that the love of Christ and His Holy Mother also is poured out onto them. And, in the love of God, the saints in heaven are praying for us and for our loved ones both living and departed. This, I think is at least part of what it means to ‘confess Christ’, to speak the same word with Christ before men: it is to pray for their salvation in the love of Christ our God.
This love of God makes the Church the most sacred Family of God. In and through the divine-human, the spiritual, the flesh and blood familial love of the Church, we are saved and made well, raised to eternal life in the love and joy of the Church. We are raised up into the fellowship of the saints that is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 1.3) This is the mystery of the Jerusalem above, our Mother the Virgin Theotokos (cf. Gal 4.26).
When mom and dad, sons and daughters ‘confess’ Christ, when they ‘speak one and the same word’ with Christ, they are embodying the WORD of God, they are ‘doing’ the image and likeness of God. Through such a family, saints are made, and the world is saved. We who are in the world, if our desire is to become like God, that means to become loving in the image and likeness of God; and the foundation of that love, so that we are shaped and molded in that love, is a loving family that lives not in the way of the world but in the image and likeness of God. The primary work of the man, then, is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her; the primary work of the woman is to respect her husband. The primary work of the son and daughter is to honor mom and dad. I think it is a beautiful thing to watch how those who cultivate these biblical virtues of the family grow up, naturally, into men and women who, precisely in their humanity, ‘confess Christ’; they make manifest in every way the Image and Likeness of God, that Christ is. Amen!