In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
It is a good thing for us to pay attention to what we just heard in the Gospel reading today, not just in the context of itself, but also in the context of what is coming, and how human beings are. Today, the Saviour is telling the Apostles exactly what was going to come. He is preparing them by telling them that He would be crucified, that He would die, and also that He would rise again from the dead.
In two short weeks, we are going to be hearing about how the disciples, when Jesus Christ rose from the dead, couldn’t comprehend it, didn’t expect it, didn’t know what was happening, and could hardly believe it. Of course, we understand – resurrection was an unheard-of thing. However, it is not as if they hadn’t been told before, and it was not as if they hadn’t been prepared by the Saviour, Himself, that this would happen. Yet, their fallen, human experience was just so limiting that they couldn’t comprehend it. It isn’t even a question of doubting – it’s just plain, simple, not comprehending. They could only comprehend it, in the end, when they encountered Jesus Christ, face-to-face, risen from the dead. Even then they couldn’t really comprehend it, but they began to make a step in that direction anyway. In the rest of their lives, they began to live out exactly what are the implications of this Resurrection.
Two of the Apostles asked the Saviour if they could sit, one on His right, and one on His left, when He comes in glory. He responded that instead they would have to be baptised with the baptism with which He would be baptised, and drink the cup that He would drink. When they said that they would be able to do this, they didn’t know what they were saying. But, nevertheless, it came to be. He said that He, the Saviour, the Son of God, didn’t come to be served. He came to serve. It’s in this way that the Apostles grew up after the Resurrection. They grew up as servants of Jesus Christ, serving together with Him.
This is the way of Christ, to serve. To be the servant of all. This service, being a servant, is not something that is slavish. It is not something that is done out of fear, because nothing for a Christian should be done out of fear. It is done out of love. We Christians serve. We serve Christ. We serve each other. We serve strangers.We serve the needy. We serve whomever the Lord gives us to serve because we love Jesus Christ. His love propels us into serving in our daily life. It is the second nature of the Christian, you could say, to serve, to try to be of service.
All sorts of pop psychologists are going to say that if you’re busy trying to help people all the time, that’s because there’s some sort of interior hurt that comes from your childhood, and needs fixing up. You are always trying to help people because you were bruised yourself in your childhood, or something like that. There are various theories that are applied one way or another in psychology. Well, when it comes down to it, it’s just as well that people might think that we are cracked. I admit it myself, on a regular basis, if you haven’t noticed. When people ask me: How are you? I say: I’m cracked. Well, I hope that I am mostly cracked in Christ, but probably there are some other things as well that the Lord is still working on. It doesn’t matter, though, if the world thinks we are cracked, because the way of the Christian is not the way of the world. The way of the world is all about me. I’m number one; make me comfortable in this world; get as much as you can; fill up my barns with wheat (as in the parable the Lord told), and then die bitter.
That’s not the way of Christ. The way of Christ is all love. It’s all hope. It’s all life. It’s life-giving. It is service, because this service that we do, in Christ, for Christ, in, and with each other, is all the same life-giving work. It’s all life-giving. It’s all out of love, filled with joy. It’s true that we get tired, and sometimes cranky because we get overworked. Still, the fundamental of all of it is that we are loving Jesus Christ. We are in love with Jesus Christ, and in this love we want to serve. We look for every occasion to serve, to be helpful, to encourage, to strengthen people around us.
It’s that sort of love that I have been blessed in my life a number of times to experience just by being near it. I have never been near anyone so fiery as St Seraphim, for instance, and some other saints like him but I have been near several holy persons in the course of my life. Just being next to them gives you this strange combination of a sense of intensity of love for Jesus Christ, a real energy, and at the same time, great peace. Great peace. Peace greater than you encounter anywhere else, except sometimes, maybe, here in the temple of the Lord, together with each other. Maybe once in a while we have this moment, this sense of peace in prayer. But in the presence of such a person, the love of God, the peace, and the joy all together are so intense that it is overwhelming. This is how we are all supposed to be growing up to be. There is still time for all of us to make steps in that direction.
We can’t on this day not mention St Mary of Egypt because she is for us such a great example of what is the meaning of repentance. Repentance means simply to turn about (a 180 degree turn): turn about from darkness, turn to the light; turn about from death, turn to life; turn about from selfishness, turn to love. Mary of Egypt, as we hear in her life, lived an extremely broken life in which with delight she was pulling people down with her into despair. Yet her heart was searching. When she was confronted by the Lord’s love in Jerusalem, in the temple of the Resurrection, she did, in fact, turn about completely. Then she gave herself up one hundred per cent to serving Jesus Christ, in love with Him, so much so that she withdrew into the desert. She was not seen or heard of for who knows how long, until St Zossima came along to prepare her for her death.
All of these things are done, and accomplished by the Lord’s love. The Lord prepares you, and me, too, for the moments of repentance in our lives, like Mary of Egypt. He prepares us for great blessings. He is always there, going ahead before us, ready to meet us with His life-giving love. Our responsibility is to be prepared to accept that life-giving love when He presents Himself to us, and, like Mary of Egypt, to turn about from our self-serving to serving Him in everyone, to turn about from loving ourselves, and only ourselves, to loving Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters. I become my real self in the context of loving Him.
We have two more weeks in which to concentrate ourselves in prayer, in abstaining from too much eating (and eating things that we are better not to eat), and concentrating ourselves on serving Him, and caring for other people. Let us ask the Lord to give us this Grace in the last days of Great Lent, so that when we come to the end of Great Lent, and are celebrating the joy of Pascha, we will be able to face the Resurrection with joy, and love. The Lord has prepared us for this in the same way that He prepared the Apostles for the Resurrection. We will be able to live in the Resurrection during the days after the Resurrection. Through this abstinence, and through the Resurrection, our lives will be straightened to serve Him better in the coming year with more love, more focus, with deeper service, with deeper joy, glorifying Him together with His Father, who is from everlasting, and His all-holy, good, and Life-creating Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.