Saturday, May 16, 2009
Humility as the Key to the Mystery of the Resurrection
Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers, May 3, 2009
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Christ is risen!
On this third Sunday of Pascha, we continue to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, the most significant event in all of human history. The proclamation that “Christ is risen!” is not a polite seasonal greeting that we share between us, but it is truly a preaching of the Gospel. This is the good news, that He Who was dead is alive again, that when Satan had believed his adversary defeated, He raised Himself from the dead, proving that He is God and opening the way for us to follow Him through death into eternal life, destroying the power of Hell forever.
It’s wonderful when we say “Christ is risen!” for the first couple of days after Pascha, and there is often joy that accompanies it. But within a week or two, it’s a little routine and perfunctory, and it all dies back into “good morning” and “good to see you” within just a few weeks, usually well short of the Feast of the Ascension, when the greeting properly finishes its appointed time.
The Scriptures tell us that if Christ is not risen, then we Christians are the most pitiable of all people—pathetic, really. Our whole faith is a joke. This beautiful building, all the services that happen here, all the programs and activities, everything—it’s all a big sham if Christ is not risen. If He is not risen, then we have no hope. We’re fooling ourselves. We’re wasting our time and money. If Christ is not risen, it’s time to begin looking for a buyer for this property of ours.
But if Christ is risen, well, that changes everything. It means that life has meaning. It means that there is hope beyond the grave. It means that God loves you, that He wants to save you, that He became one of us and suffered and died so that you could be transformed and resurrected with Him. It means that the Creator of the whole universe humbled Himself so that we could be yanked up out of our decay, corruption and complacency into a life filled with joy, filled with depth and beauty, a life which is not subject to the fluctuations of markets, of property values, of whims, of political intrigue, and of crass commercialism. It means that there is a high and noble life possible for each one of us, an experience of the divine reality, a possibility for eternal greatness that is inherent within each of us, if only we will believe and then act on it.
All this is why it is so genuinely disturbing when people’s involvement in church is half-hearted or focused only on the brick and mortar, the administration, the fundraising, the programming, and so forth. It’s so very easy to get consumed with all the busy-ness of church life that we forget why we are here. We are here because Christ is risen, and history will never be the same.
There are many people whose involvement in church life is simply to pay a minimum pledge, to volunteer an hour or two here or there, or even many hours, to being busy for the parish. And yet all of that effort will be found wasted when Christ comes again, if we have not gone about the business of purifying our souls.
Again and again, the Lord woos us from His heart so that we might give Him our own hearts, and yet so many times, we might reply to His passionate calls to us, “Well, I cooked kibbe, I served on the parish council, I sang in the choir, I served as a priest, I taught Sunday School, I gave money to the charity fundraiser—what more do You want?” All of those things have the possibility for deep and eternal meaning, but only if we have filled them up by a life of genuine humility, a life of repentance for our sins, a life in which “Christ is risen!” is our lifelong motto.
How can I tell if my activity in church is enough for me to be saved? How can I tell if it’s the right kind of involvement? It honestly doesn’t matter what one does in the Church—from cleaning out toilet bowls to becoming the Ecumenical Patriarch—but if it is done without humility, it is not only useless, but it is actually damning. One repentant sinner with his elbow up to filth in a toilet shines brightly in Heaven, while the most glorious hierarch with all his shiny vestments who stands up and says, “Well this is what I think!” will find that his considered and valuable opinions will be empty company in Hell.
Today, on this third Sunday of Pascha, we call to mind the myrrh-bearing women who brought spices and ointment to anoint the body of Jesus. This act was one of humility. They had no obligation to go to that tomb. They didn’t even have hope for anything special when they got there. But they went anyway. They went because they loved Jesus. They went because they were so used to ministering to Him that they couldn’t stop, even after His death. Theirs was a faith of the heart, and their hearts’ faith was rewarded by a vision of an angel announcing to them that Jesus Christ is risen.
We also remember today Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who ministered to the Lord in the same kinds of ways. All of these people, both the women and these prominent Jewish men, had something to lose by their actions. They stood to be ridiculed by the Jews, to be rejected by their community. Their devotion to Christ cost them something. But they did it anyway.
The reason that the Church holds these holy people up for our remembrance today is not because we’re looking for supporting cast in this miracle movie about a man coming back to life. Rather, it’s because they show us what it means to be Christian. They show us that a true Christian has courage, devoting himself to Christ no matter what it costs. And believe me, in our times, it’s starting to cost more and more.
They show us that we have to have a developed pattern of devotion and ministry to Christ if we’re going to be partakers of His resurrection. All of these people were serious disciples before Christ’s death, and so they received the experience of His resurrection. They show us that this life of devotion is a faith of the heart, that it comes out of love, a genuine longing for Christ. When people justify themselves and their lack of interest in the very heart of the Church’s life, it is hard to see any kind of genuine longing for Christ in such attitudes. The truth, however, is that a mere “business” relationship with Christ won’t cut it at the Final Judgment.
What these holy people show us most clearly, though, is that Christian life takes humility. Humility is the key that unlocks the gates of Paradise. It’s the only way in, because in being humble, we are opening ourselves up to being transformed by Christ. If we’re not humble, then He’ll respect our wishes and leave us in our corruption and self-involvement.
So what does humility look like? It looks like the myrrh-bearers, who go to be with Christ, to be in the presence even of His body. They expect nothing. They insist on nothing. They take credit for nothing. They’re just there to worship Him, to be with Him, to absorb His holiness and grace. What does humility look like? It looks like Joseph of Arimathea, who with courage and yet quietness asks for the body of Jesus, spends his own money to adorn the body with fine linen, and then gives up his own tomb, his carefully purchased and maintained burial plot, to bury the body of Jesus. What does humility look like? It looks like Nicodemus, who was the prominent Pharisee who came to Jesus at night, wanting to be His disciple, trying to understand just what it means to be born again, to be born from above.
The humble Christian—or should I just say “the Christian”?—never stands up and insists on his own way, never ridicules and belittles someone else, never puts himself first, never focuses on mere busy-ness while neglecting his heart. You see, if we are not looking into our hearts and asking what God would really have us do, not trying to find ways to serve others and put our own opinions and our own desires last, not trying to find more and more ways just to be with Jesus, just to hear His words, just to get closer, just to worship Him as much as we can, to have an authentic spiritual life, then we really have no hope. It is only with humility that “Christ is risen!” has any meaning.
May this holy Paschal season therefore be truly meaningful for each of us, so that when we say that we have seen Him and the power of His resurrection, those words carry the greatness of the eternal and perfect Godhead with them.
To God therefore be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen. Christ is risen!