It is important to remember the very last words of the Gospel when the Saviour begins to preach saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. People didn’t understand that so well in those days, and I don’t know if we understand it so very well even now after 2,000 years.
When He first said it, people were certainly looking for the establishment of the promised kingdom, and the righting of everything. They were looking for a Messiah who would be a king, and they took from this that that was what the Saviour was talking about – that this kingdom was going to be established quite soon. They were looking for the establishment of this kingdom according to what they understood the prophecies meant to say. They all were expecting an earthly kingdom, that is for certain. Again, when the Saviour was saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, they were quite sure that this meant that very soon this kingdom would be established and the Roman invaders would be gone, and all that Greek-speaking that they had to endure, too, would be gone. They would have a nice theocratic kingdom as they thought they had been promised.
What they didn’t catch (and what most people are still not catching somehow), is that when the Saviour says that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, He is talking about Himself, and not just Himself as some sort of a king. He is saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is in Him. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life (cf. John 14:6). He is, Himself, the Kingdom. We understand this Kingdom in which we are participating (even though we don’t necessarily behave like it) to be the Body of Christ, of which we are all parts. Jesus Christ, Himself, is the Head. All this came to be out of His perfect obedience to the will of the Father. This obedience was not accomplished because God the Father said to God the Son: Do this because I said so, or else. The Son lovingly, and voluntarily offered His obedience to the will of the Father, and always did, always does, and always will because of the nature of His love.
We still have not learned the word “obedience” in its proper meaning, ourselves. We keep behaving as if obedience means that I have to do something someone else says because it’s the law, like a stop sign or a speed limit sign (which we always bend). I do it because it’s the law. It says so, so I have to do it. That’s not what real obedience is about.
Real obedience in Christian life, and in real life is offering voluntarily my obedience out of love. I love someone, and therefore, I will be obedient. However, you see that this obedience is not just doing something that someone says because he/she says so, although sometimes it can be. It is more emulation. I love someone, therefore, I want to be like that person. If you are going to be obedient in a monastery for instance, or in parish life, this obedience is offered to someone who has, obviously, a life in Christ, a life of love in Christ.
When the Lord is saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He is saying: Turn about. The word “repent” we don’t really understand these days, either. It seems to me that every time people hear the word “repent”, they think it means that we are supposed to have some sort of an emotional reaction, with tears in our eyes, feeling very sad and sorry, and so forth.
Repentance is not necessarily all about tears in the eyes, and feeling sorry (although that does have its place). It has to do with turning about from the darkness towards the light, away from selfishness towards selflessness, away from death towards life. When this turning about takes place, it’s filled with joy, also. Yes, there’s probably some sadness, regret about bad things, mistakes, and so forth that we made when we were in the other mode of life, in the other mode of consciousness.
However, when we turn towards the Lord, turning towards the Lord brings life, light, joy, peace – the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are different. They are lives that are full of joy – not woe-is-me-hang-your-head lives. They are lives that are instead full of joy, full of life, full of vigour, full of power – positive lives. This is what the Lord is talking about when He is saying: Turn about. When He is saying: “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, He is saying: Look. Understand that this life can be new.
It is for you, and for me, 2,000 years after He said this, to come to understand that our lives really are found in Him. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. He is the living Kingdom. It is at His banquet, and table that we are today gathered. Standing together here today in this temple we are gathered around the Lord’s table waiting for Him, Himself, to feed us with His own Self, with His own hand. He uses our bishops or priests as His hand, I suppose you could say, but it is He who is feeding all of us.
It is He, Himself, that is feeding us, and in fact, that’s one of the prayers that is said just before Communion-time. We are asking the Lord, Himself, to feed us all with His own hand. And He does. Let us ask Him, as He is feeding us, that He renew this love for Him, this sense of direction that He is the Way, so that we be ready to be there with the Lord, ready to be with Him whom we love, who is the whole purpose of our being. Let us ask Him to renew this simple, straightforward love and joy so that we can glorify Him in every part of our lives, all together, supporting each other in the Kingdom, standing as we are, glorifying the all-holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Source: Archdiocese of Canada, OCA.