We are coming to the end of Bright Week during which every day is Pascha. Every day, in monastic practice, we celebrate a Paschal Divine Liturgy. Every day the hymns reflect on the Resurrection of Christ rehearsing what exactly happened on that Day and reflecting on what it means cosmically and personally.
All things are filled with gladness, having received the proof of the Resurrection. For Mary Magdalene came to the tomb; she found an angel in resplendent apparel sitting upon the stone and saying: “Why do you seek the Living among the dead? He is not here, but he is risen, even as he said; he goes on before you to Galilee.
Come, All nations, learn the power of this awesome mystery; for Christ our Saviour, the Word who was in the beginning, was crucified for us and was buried of his own will and rose from the dead that he might save all things. Let us worship him.
“The power of this awesome mystery” is that “all things” are being saved by the voluntary passion and resurrection of Christ. A mystery is something that is hidden, something very real, but not seen, not easily understood, not manifest. Some mysteries can be revealed through study, through science, by paying close attention. Other mysteries require growth and maturity to understand, as parents in their struggle to love and raise their children, sometimes come to understand some of the mystery of why their own parents did and acted the way they did.
So it is with spiritual mysteries. Only as we actually change do we begin to comprehend the mystery. The Church talks about this change from two perspectives. From the perspective of heaven, this change is called transfiguration by Grace. God gives us the ability to become more like Jesus, more like our best self. From the perspective of earth, this change is called repentance, my own desire and my own effort to turn away from what is base and broken and hurtful in me. We can come to understand spiritual mysteries as we become spiritual people by the synergy (the working together) of our repentance and God’s Grace.
And yet very few of us are very good at repentance or at accepting and cooperating with the Grace of God. Which is why we have the Church and the hymns and the Gospel and the teachings and the worship. The Church points the way in the darkness of our own confusion. The Church provides the compass and the map for the way we ourselves must walk. The compass and map are not the way—a confusion commonly held. The way is our actual repentance and transformation. The way is to become like Jesus, for Jesus said, “I am the way.”
One of the main reasons we remain blind to the spiritual mysteries, is that we are afraid to repent. We are afraid that we will lose something. We doubt the love of God. We doubt the power of God to conquer death in our own lives. We are afraid to suffer, as Jesus suffered. And this doubt and fear are central themes of the first Sunday after Pascha.
When they had come together, assembling on Zion, the disciples hid themselves fearing the malice of the people. And though the doors had been fastened shut, you entered, O Good One, bringing joy. You showed them the wounds in your most pure side and in your most pure hands. You said to Thomas in his doubt, “stretch forth your hand and examine me. See that I myself am he that suffered on your account.”
The Disciples were afraid and hid. Thomas and others doubted the eye witnesses of the Resurrection. This cannot be a very good beginning. These first disciples were as cowardly and doubtful as I am, as we are. And yet, doubt itself becomes the means by which the divinity of Christ is clearly known. A spiritual mystery is revealed by means of an honest doubt and a real encounter with the risen Lord.
As the disciples were in doubt, the Saviour came on the eighth day to where they were gathered granting peace and cried to Thomas: “Come O Apostle, and feel the palms in which they fastened the nails.” O good unbelief of Thomas, which has led the hearts of the faithful to knowledge! Hence he cried out with fear: “O my Lord and my God, glory to you.”
In our doubt and fear, may God grant each of us a real encounter with the living God.