Holy Tuesday (2018)

 

Eschatology” is the name given to the understanding by religion of the ultimate destiny of the world and of man, the doctrine of the so-called “last things.” Everyone agrees that the early Church was eschatological par excellance. Her whole faith, her whole life, was shaped by her joyful and confident expectation of Christ’s return in glory, her anticipation of the common resurrection, and the consummation of all things in God. “Come, Lord Jesus: Maranatha!” This is the ultimate expression of her faith and worship in the liturgy, in prayer. This eschatology can be termed “cosmic,” for it is distinct, as such, from the individual or personal one.

To put it differently, and in somewhat over simplified terms, eschatology’s interest lies not in what happens to me when I come to the end of my life and die; rather, it is concerned with what will happen to the entire creation when Christ returns in glory and, according to Saint Paul, “All things shall be subjected unto him, and he himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28).  (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, The Liturgy of Death, 120-121)

Holy Tuesday (2017)

The events of Christ’s life some 2000 years ago are remembered in order to make Christ alive for us today. The events are history, but their importance lies not so much in being ancient history, but because they are alive in the Church today and help orient all believers to the coming Kingdom of God.   Our Gospel proclamation is: “Christ is risen!”  We don’t celebrate that He was risen but rather that He is risen and is alive right now, as of this moment.  His life means the power of death is overthrown. We remember the life of Christ to seek Christ, because Christ is alive now, and because He seeks us.

In the days of Holy Week we remember Christ coming again, as a Bridegroom seeking His beloved – seeking us! – inviting us into His Paschal Banquet.  Our orientation is toward the eschaton, and life in the world to come, far more so than toward past events.  The past has happened and can’t be changed, but the present and future are becoming reality, and in our interactions with God, we are shaping that reality.

“In a series of marvelous images, St. Makarios told us why Christ was born, lived on earth, suffered, died, was buried, and rose. Why? In order to stand and knock at the door of our heart (Rev. 3.20). The fact that he knocks is a sign the He does nothing without our consent: He cannot enter unless I want Him to. Christ seeks us out and knocks on our door, waiting patiently outside like a stranger seeking warmth and shelter. In so doing, He creates within us the sense and experience of His kenosis, His self-emptying (Phil 2.7).

Why does the God of the universe stand outside in the cold, day after day, knocking on our door? Because He can’t do without us. Just as a married woman can’t do without her husband, or a married man without his wife–because each partner is integral to the identity of the other–so too has Christ arranged things so that He can’t do without us. Without us, He is naked, hungry thirsty, and has no place to rest his head (Mt 8.20). He has made us His food and drink, His clothing and shelter: He has made our hearts His only place of repose. And when we open the door and welcome Him in, He fills us with His life and light. But make no mistake: without Him we are dead; a dark, empty place, designating only His absence.”  (Archimandrite Aimillianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit: Reflections on Life in God, p. 249)

Christ is our food – we eat His Body and drink His blood. We are today His hands and feet and eyes and ears in the world. We carry out His work and ministry. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, visit the sick and imprisoned, we are doing this to and for Christ.  The practice of Lenten self-denial has the goal of freeing ourselves from enslavement to the self so that we can serve others.  Abstinence and asceticism have the goal of freeing us from enslavement to the self so that instead of being self oriented and engaging in constant self-love, we can become like Christ and live to love and serve others.

 

Holy Tuesday 2016

There were two spiritually significant trees mentioned in Genesis 2 standing in the middle of the Garden of Eden – the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of Life was not off limits to Adam and Eve, yet they did not eat the fruit of that Tree, but rather grasped the forbidden fruit.  Thus they rejected life and the Giver of Life – they rejected what was rightfully theirs, grasping instead after something not given to them.  By following their own self wills, they rejected what God willed for them.  The tree of life reemerges, at least in Orthodox Holy Week Hymns, in the Tree of the Cross upon which Christ is crucified.  The Tree of the Cross seemingly brings about death, but turns out to be life-giving.

“If animals have no consciousness of death, they experience life. In this light, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden is the universal experience of life. The tree of life, after being introduced at Genesis 2:9, almost vanishes from the Paradise account, and the tree of knowledge occupies center stage. God refers again to the tree of life at the end of the Paradise account, implying that the fruit of the tree of life grants eternal life (Gen. 3:22). For this reason, some Fathers, such as Ephrem the Syrian, attach considerable importance to the tree of life, since it imparts the acquisition of an essential divine quality, immortality, for which Adam and Eve were unprepared.”    (Paul Ladouceur in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Vol. 57: Number 2, p 165)

The Tree of Life – the Tree of the Cross – is the giver of immortality.

Previous: Holy Monday 2016

Next: Holy Wednesday 2016

 

Great and Holy Tuesday (2012)

“‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). By means of Christ who is man you proceed to Christ who is God. God is indeed beyond us. But he has become man. What was far from us has become, by the meditation of a man, very near. He is the God in whom you shall dwell. He is the man by way of whom you must reach him. Christ is at once the way you must follow and the goal you must reach. He is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. He put on what he was not, without losing what he was. In him humanity was revealed and God was hidden. Humanity was murdered, and God despised. But God disclosed himself and humanity rose again…Christ is himself both man and God…The whole of the Law depends on these commandments: ‘You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ and ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 23:37-39). But in Christ you have everything. Do you wish to love your God? You have him in Christ….Do you wish to love your neighbor? You have him in Christ.” (Augustine of Hippo in The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Oliver Clement, pgs. 55-56)

The Prophet Moses

Christ and Moses

Through Great Lent and Holy Week, excerpts from two books of Moses from the Torah are read: Genesis during the week days of Great Lent and Exodus during Holy Week.  Moses is portrayed in the Scriptures as God’s chosen servant, but He also serves as an intercessor for the chosen people before the Lord God.  He advocates for the people – despite their rebellious sinfulness, Moses intercedes with God that He will not judge and destroy them in His wrath but rather that He will save them from evil.  Even when God is wrathfully angry with the people, Moses intercedes for them.   Moses prefigures Christ, and is an advocate on earth for Israel.  Christ ascended into heaven as high priest and is once and for all our heavenly intercessor.  Christ reconciles us to God eternally.  So Christ indeed not only fulfills the prophecy that God will raise up for His people a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15; Acts 3:22), but one who exceeds what Moses was able to do.   Christ leads us not to an earthly promised land as Moses led the people, but as we sing at Pascha Christ leads us “from death to life and from earth to heaven.”

“Moses clearly perceives the seriousness of the situation, both the gravity of Israel’s sin and the burning rage of divine wrath. Yet as God’s chosen prophet he does no simply acquiesce to the script that lies before him. He does not kneel in obedience to the whims of the deity. He stands in the breach between God and his people and attempts to make amends. “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people,” he begins, echoing the words of God himself, “whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?” These are not my people, Moses counters, they are yours, those you led out of Egypt. Moses does not stop there; this is not a matter of linguistic precision about the status of the elected nation. He launches a frontal attack on the very character of God. “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains…’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind,…Remember Abraham, Issac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land I have promised I will give to your descendants and they shall inherit it forever.’” With this Moses rests his case. And the verdict? “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”” (Gary A. Anderson, In Dominco Eloquio – In Lordly Eloquence, pg.22)  

Moses refuses to be saved apart from God’s people.  He does not want to be saved himself if God is not going to save all of His people.  In identifying himself so closely with the people, Moses wins God’s favor for the people because God is not willing to destroy His chosen servant Moses.  If Moses is choosing to identify himself with the people of God, then God will save the people in order to save Moses.

Christ too though He is God identifies with God’s people for our salvation.   Christ descends from heaven and becomes incarnate as a human to completely identify Himself with us in order to save us from sin and death.  He identifies Himself with us to save us from any impending judgment against us – through His life, death, resurrection and intercession, He cancels all of our debt to God and all the righteous judgment which could have been visited upon us.  He restores us to God, ending all enmity between us and making us again an object of God’s love by canceling the debt of our sin.


Great & Holy Tuesday (2010)

THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD

The images in these passages is that of an eminently patient God who has again and again gone beyond what justice would require; God bears the sins of the  people rather than exacting judgment. Yet there comes a time when God’s patience is at an end.

            But Joshua said to the people,

                “You cannot serve the Lord [and other gods];

                For he is a holy God; he is a jealous God;

                He will not forgive [bear] your transgression or your sins.

                                              (Josh. 24:19)

While difficult, this passage makes the point that God will not bear the people’s sins perpetually…

                I have not burdened you with offerings or wearied you with frankincense,

                But you have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your   

                iniquities. (Isa. 43:23-24)

God is said not to have laid a heavy burden of expectations upon his people. The people, however, have laid a heavy burden upon God by their sins.  (Terence E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective)

Holy Tuesday: The Talent Given to Us

From the Bridegroom Matins for Great and Holy Tuesday

bridegroom2Referring to Christ’s Parable in Matthew 25:14-30, the hymn reminds us not to hide the Word of God! For God’s Word is a talent given to each of us to help us proclaim God’s wonderous deeds to the world. As the Great Lenten catechetical season ends, we are reminded to put to good use the Gospel lessons which have been entrusted to us. The Word of God is a seed implanted in our soul for the purpose of bearing fruit for God.

YOU HAVE HEARD THE CONDEMNATION, MY SOUL
OF THE MAN WHO HID HIS TALENT.
DO NOT HIDE THE WORD OF GOD.
PROCLAIM HIS WONDERS,
THAT INCREASING THE GIFT OF GRACE,//
YOU MAY ENTER INTO THE JOY OF YOUR LORD.

God abundantly bestows His gifts – including His Word – to us. We are to be stewards of God’s Word – we are to use the Word given to us for the good of others, for the good of the world. Part of the joy of Pascha is not simply proclaiming the Resurrection, but sharing in the Master’s joy in richly giving in love to others.

COME, FAITHFUL,
LET US WORK ZEALOUSLY FOR THE MASTER,
FOR HE DISTRIBUTES WEALTH TO HIS SERVANTS.
LET EACH OF US ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY
INCREASE HIS TALENT OF GRACE:
LET ONE BE ADORNED IN WISDOM THROUGH GOOD WORKS;
LET ANOTHER CELEBRATE A SERVICE IN SPLENDOR.
THE ONE DISTRIBUTES HIS WEALTH TO THE POOR;
THE OTHER COMMUNICATES THE WORD TO THOSE UNTAUGHT.
THUS WE SHALL INCREASE WHAT HAS BEEN ENTRUSTED TO US,
AND, AS FAITHFUL STEWARDS OF GRACE,
WE SHALL BE ACCOUNTED WORTHY OF THE MASTER’S JOY.
MAKE US WORTHY OF THIS, CHRIST OUR GOD,//
IN YOUR LOVE FOR MANKIND.

Before Great Lent began we were told by Christ that we would be judged for what we did for Him in this world. Pascha is the day to enter into the Master’s joy as we reap the benefits of His love for us and our generosity to Him through the poor and needy.

BEHOLD, THE MASTER HAS ENTRUSTED YOU WITH THE TALENT, MY SOUL.
RECEIVE THE GIFT WITH FEAR.
REPAY THE ONE WHO GAVE BY GIVING TO THE POOR,
AND GAIN THE LORD AS YOUR FRIEND,
SO THAT WHEN HE COMES IN GLORY,
YOU MAY STAND AT HIS RIGHT HAND AND HEAR HIS BLESSED VOICE:
ENTER, MY SERVANT, INTO THE JOY OF YOUR LORD!
EVEN THOUGH I HAVE GONE ASTRAY, MAKE ME WORTHY OF THIS, SAVIOR,//
THROUGH YOUR GREAT MERCY.

The Kingdom of God Begins by Transfiguring our Hearts

xcenthroned1Great and Holy Tuesday

Jesus told numerous Parables about the Kingdom of God.  In each one He gave us a glimpse into that Kingdom – a kingdom whose values are quite different than our own – where the first are last and the last first, where due to the master’s generosity all workers get the same pay no matter how long they worked, where judgment is not based upon sin but upon goodness, where human power and authority are excluded as belonging to the pagan and fallen world.

Jesus spoke to us about the Kingdom of Heaven while ministering on earth, and He used earthly images to help us get a sense of what God’s Kingdom is.  As Russian Orthodox Theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote:

In the  domain of Caesar, we are ordered to seek and therefore to find what is not found there – the Kingdom of God. This command signifies that we must transform the world, change it into the icon of the Kingdom. To change the world means to pass from what the world does not yet possess – for this reason it is still this world – to that in which it is transfigured, thus becoming something else-the Kingdom.

While Jesus spoke to us about the Kingdom of Heaven – and in His teachings as well as His life revealed the Kingdom to us – one temptation we have is to project onto the Kingdom of Heaven what we think it will be like.  We project onto the Kingdom all that we want in this world, and imagine that everything we dislike in this world will be absent in the Kingdom.  The disciples James and John clearly did this when asking Jesus if they could sit next to Him at his right and left sides (see also my Kingdom People) – and Jesus rejects their thinking entirely.

Instead of us shaping the Kingdom of Heaven into our ideas of what it will be like, we are to allow the images of the Kingdom of God to shape our thinking, our imagination, but more importantly how we live day by day.   It is not what we imagine the Kingdom of Heaven to be like which is important, but how we allow it to shape our daily lives – our taking up the cross daily to follow Christ.  Our vocation as Christians is not to form and shape what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like, but rather to allow the images of the Kingdom and the thinking of the Kingdom to shape and form our hearts and lives.   The Kingdom of God is not a mere abstraction, pie in the sky, future place to which we will go. 

In the Incarnation, Christ made the Kingdom of God present on earth and in our lives.  We are to bring that Kingdom into our hearts – for that is where the transfiguration of the world begins.   The Kingdom of God takes root in our lives today, this side of the grave, not just in the life after death.

Jesus said, “for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:21)

 See also my The Non-Hierarchical Power of the Church