Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 3, 2020 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
A question came up at Subdeacon James' Adult education class last Thursday about remembrance, like when we say, "May her memory be eternal," and "Remember us, O Lord, when you come into your kingdom." That got me thinking. We have done a lot of remembering over the past few weeks and what have we gained from it? If Holy Week and Pascha were simply history lessons, their value is temporary and lasts only as long as we keep remembering. And then, as time passes, our memories fade and we get distracted, and other memories or future anxieties crowd in and we've lost it all again...until next year. That simply can't be it!
I think remembrance in the Church is much deeper than a mere recollection of history or recitation of scripture. There is something very profound in what we do. Something below the surface. Something lasting. Something mysterious. Something eternal. What that is is hard to pinpoint. It is a subject best understood by the mystics, I think. to whom time takes on a different character from what we regular folk normally think. So, I searched and found something most interesting. It is in the writings of perhaps the greatest of all the Western Christian mystics. Allow me to quote now from Meister Eckhart's teaching on time and remembrance.
"The Now in which God created the first man and the Now in which the last man will disappear and the Now in which I am speaking -- all are the same in God and there is only one Now."
The present moment contains all moments, past, present, and future. That is why in the Divine Liturgy we pray as if the Second and Glorious Coming has already occurred. In fact, we give thanks that it has! Now that is a mystery indeed! We are remembering and experiencing the whole of Christ's work at the time.
The reason I gave you that quote this morning is not to answer the question about remembrance fully. I do not think anyone can. I quoted it to give us something to meditate on and think about. There is great potential in this for transforming the mind and understanding the sublime and cosmic truth that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel today is about the Myrrh-bearers going to the tomb to anoint the corpse of Christ. In some extremely mysterious way, that moment is Now. There is only one moment and it is eternal. There is only one present moment, full, complete, pregnant with the Spirit, the life and energy that moves and connects all things. And we are all in it, everyone of us, for there is literally no place else to be, And when Jesus tells us that he will never leave us nor forsake us, this promise is not bound by time or space at all, it overflows time and space itself. Eternity is not a place where time continues to flow forever and ever, but a place where time is no more and not really a place, but rather a Way and a state of Being.
We teach that in the Divine Liturgy we have passed outside of time, outside of this world. That is the feeling I got when I attended my first Divine Liturgy in Tulsa, OK. I felt as if I had left this earth. I felt as if the congregation, Fr. Michael, my first and wonderful spiritual father, the choir, and chanters, and I were standing in Heaven. I sincerely believe we were. And today, even though there are only a few of us, that same kingdom is revealed again as we gather to worship the Trinity in this beautiful place. "Where two or three are gathered…”
One of the most important of the Lord's teachings is that "the kingdom of heaven is within you" and "among you." The Holy Fathers and Mothers of the Church elucidate this truth in some very extraordinary ways. I think of Ss. Gregory of Nyssa, Maximos the Confessor, Symeon the New Theologian, and Seraphim of Sarov to name three.
I love how the Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas speaks about this. Whatever you may think of the Gospel of Thomas, this saying is remarkably in tune with the canonical Gospels. "His disciples said to him, 'When will the kingdom of heaven come?'" Jesus said, "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying, 'Here it is' or 'There it is'. Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it."
The Church in her Divine Liturgy reveals this in sacrament and ritual. The kingdom "which is to come" is present already and coming at the same time, for in the kingdom there is no time. The prayer reads, "We give thanks that you have granted us your kingdom which is to come." Present and coming, coming and present, for there is only one Now and it is eternal.
Patrick Tutella puts out an email letter called "The Vine" each day meant for prisoners, and those who work with and love them. I am often inspired by what he publishes. There is a quote in yesterday's emails that might well apply to the Myrrh-bearing Women and their desperate, courageous, and faithful journey to the Tomb that morning. They were empty, frightened, sorrowful, anxious, determined to give their Master his final anointing and what happened instead simply blew their minds. The Empty Tomb, the angels, the message of the Resurrection. After all their anguish and trials they find themselves looking not into a tomb, but into the abyss of divine mercy.
The quote is from Feofil the Fool for Christ who lived in the 19th Century. It goes like this:
"If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent. If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent. And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will appear, and what energy!"
What the Women encountered at the Empty Tomb was the energy Feofil spoke about. "And what energy" it was! "What energy it Is!" Christ is Risen! The Great and Eternal Now!