This last Friday, I did not place my accustomed posting on this blog. Ria and I were in Houston for the forty day blessing of our newest grandson, Peter. It was a great honour for us to be present as a new child of God made his entrance into the temple of Our Lord. I hope you all excuse me for being a proud Papou and skipping the last entry. I promise to make it up, as this conversation continues.
Today, I would like to talk about silence. As I was growing up, my parents always referred to the Friday before the Saturday of Lazarus – as the “Silence (oi koufi)”. I always thought this was because the Akathist had finished and there wasn’t a service that night. Ok, there was silence. Now, I look at this a bit more deeply. If you remember a few years ago, there was this movement to help young people make better decisions by using the question, “What would Jesus do?” As I recall, there were even little rubber bracelets with the letters “WWJD” on them. In this case this is the question that should be asked. The Gospel reading of the Raising of Lazarus, (John 11, 1 – 45) begins with Jesus apparently hesitating to go to his friend’s aid. Well, this supposed hesitation had a real purpose, for all to see the glory of God. How was this to be accomplished? Our Lord seemingly was blasé about Lazarus’s illness and rushing to his side. After staying put for two days, Jesus prepared to go to Bethany informing His disciples that Lazarus was dead. As Jesus encountered Martha and Mary, they expressed thoughts that we all feel at sometime, “if only.” They were sure that if only Jesus had been there Lazarus wouldn’t have died, but Jesus was silent and missing. For us to truly understand Jesus’ hesitation, we need to know a bit about the Jewish teaching concerning death. At day four, in the Jewish understanding, the soul left the body in other words the body was a cadaver, a corpse. So if Lazarus was a corpse, Jesus did not simply resuscitate him. As Jesus called forth Lazarus and Lazarus walked out of his tomb Christ created life from dead matter. The Creator God bestowed life on Lazarus. Christ is God and the silence of Lazarus’ tomb was shattered. To the assembled crowd this silence was deafening.
It seems to me that it is ironic that “March Madness” happens each year during Great Lent. If you’re a sport’s fan, like me, you watch the progress through the brackets; always looking forward to the next weekend. For those readers outside the U.S., what I am talking about is the basketball playoff system that is used by the college and university system here in the states. After playing in their leagues across the land, the top sixty-four teams begin a playoff leading to four teams which are called the Final Four. During that last few days, the tension increases while the last four teams play each other until there is one winner. I think that there is a parallel with the Fast.
We’re constantly pointing to our goal, Pascha. Each service prompts us to remember the final step, the Resurrection. We work our way through the brackets, each Sunday of Great Lent. At each stage there is a victory. The victory enables us to move on to the next. As we progress through these Sundays, we must prepare for the next level. During the week, the Church gives us “practice opportunities;” the Pre-Sanctified Liturgies, the Akathist Hymn. Each, in their own way, not only encourages our progress, but also supports our efforts. Each Sunday gives us a new game strategy, with an almost ESPN-like hall of fame player featured. Each of us is supported by a coach, our father confessor. The final week the excitement grows and by the last few days there is real tension. Like the march to the Final Four, it is much more satisfying if you have been involved from the very beginning of the long progression to the big finish, but you can get into it at the very end and still feel the exhilaration. Here’s where the really moving divergence comes to pass. Unlike the Final Four, there are no losers, when our “big week” is over. Everyone is a winner. We can all cheer, because this triumph is universal and eternal.
I don’t know if you ever ask this question, but as far as I’m concerned I seem to ask this question a lot!Ok, God what do you want from me?It seems that I am always asking the question without expecting an answer.Well, the Gospel for next Sunday, the Gospel of the Last Judgment (Matt 25, 31 – 46) answers this
SEPERATING SHEEP FROM GOATS
question pretty specifically and without equivocation. The entire exhortation can be boiled down to one sentence.Blessed are the merciful!It requires mercy to feed, clothe, heal, visit, give drink, or welcome.St John Chrysostom remarked in a sermon on this passage, that we take pity on a poor stray dog and feed him when we encounter him, but we are most likely to ignore our fellow human if we come upon them by the side of the road.If we care for the physical needs of our fellow man, do we ignore their more basic spiritual needs?Do we welcome strangers to Church or think about clothing them in the garment of incorruption, their baptismal garment?Do we try to feed them with spiritual food, free them from the prison of loneliness or despair?It seems that if we go down to the soup kitchen or meet people’s physical needs out the back door of the community center, we’ve done our good deed.
However, we really don’t want “those kinds of people” in the pew next to us. It is easy to give a loaf of bread, but a much more difficult commitment to share the bread of life, the Holy Eucharist. The banquet of the Kingdom is the wedding feast, and the king wishes all to attend. He desires the room to be full.The servants gathered “the good and the bad” and invited them into the feast.Has the king invited you?Whom shall you bring?
This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the second Sunday of the Triodion in the Orthodox calendar. It seems to me that every year when this week rolls around I tend to play a mind game with myself. Who am I this year? The quick and the safe answer is to say I am the prodigal.
How very humble and fitting. We’re all prodigals at one time or another. After all last Sunday we were reminded that the “good guy” was the Publican; when he realized he had a lot to answer for and admitted it. So, once again the safe bet is to tell ourselves, that’s me. None the less, when we shut the door isn’t it human nature to say, I am really not that bad. So, who do you think you are in this story.? My view is that at times we imagine ourselves to be each of the characters at one time or the other, Maybe that’s the way Christ intended us to look at this parable. At different times of our lives, we are anyone of the characters in the tale. Perhaps we are the prodigal, the owner of the swine, the companions in sin, the brother, the servants who attend to the returning son, the party going friends of the brother, the waiting forgiving father. Or even someone never mentioned, the mother, who may very well waited, worried and quietly rejoiced at her son’s return only to cry again at her elder son’s callousness. The question is: Who am I this year?.