Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ash Wednesday Sermon

I am occasionally called upon, as a subdeacon in my parish, to give a short sermon. For Ash Wednesday (which was just five days ago for us Orthodox Christians worshipping in the venerable rites of the West), Father requested that I give a short meditation.

Yes, I know! Many of you, my Roman Catholic and Protestant readers, are in the midst of Holy Week, and we Orthodox are just getting Lent under way. Hopefully, the themes of this sermonette will be of some edification to you.

Here it is:

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It has begun! The season for feasting is put aside today, as the Church, in her wisdom, enjoins us to put away all earthly care, to rest our bodies, minds, our tongues, and especially-our stomachs. It is a season for us to remember, with St. Paul, the Christian vocation of struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil, and to bring our bodies into subjection, that we may present both soul and body as a reasonable act of worship before God. Yes, our bodies do matter, because God loves the material world so much that He chose to come down and take on a material body, to bathe in it, dance and sing in it, to heal the sick and the blind with it, and finally to die and rise with it. And not only would He rise with it, but He would transfigure it by ascending with it to the right hand of the Father.

This is the glory that we ourselves are destined for. St. Paul draws a striking picture of the great destiny that awaits not only the Christian, but through the Christian, all of creation: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but we ourselves, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23) The groans of creation for its deliverance from bondage is a reflection of the inner groaning of our souls for redemption from the futility of sin and death. We are called to rise and acknowledge our true vocation as human persons, to be the priests of creation, to offer it up to God the father, in humble imitation of Him who for our sakes took on flesh, fulfilling the original vocation of the first Adam. We are called, at this time, to take up the arms of holy fight against those things that would keep us from our true destiny in Christ. The very chief thing we need to fast from is sin!

On this day, we have heard the solemn sentence: “Remember, Man, that thou art dust, and to dust shalt thou return.” We stand with Adam, lamenting the loss of Paradise, but looking forward with the hope of redemption and the ultimate goal of why we were created: to be deified in Christ, becoming by grace what He is by nature. The Church proclaims this reminder of our mortality not to be morbid, but to awaken us to the reality of the fact that sin has caused the corruption of our nature, and therefore we have but a little time left in this life. She seeks to awaken us with a hard and necessary reality chaeck. If you seek warm fuzzies, the Church has none to offer you. What she gives you instead is a cross to bear, made lighter by His sacrifice, surely, but one which we must bear in this life in order to reach our ultimate destiny. Lent is a reminder of the nature of the sojourn in this life we are all called upon to undertake. But this “vale of tears” leads ultimately to victory and the joy of resurrection. We have heard the cold, hard sentence that sin has brought upon us, but thank God, that is not where the story ends. It ends with the joyous proclamation of paschal joy, for in Christ’s resurrection, we too have the hope of rising with glorified bodies, and seeing Him face to face.

But for now, we are enjoined once again to take up the arms of holy fight, to realize how short our time is, and to get busy in the work of the Kingdom. Holy reading, regular prayer, regular confession with your priest, together with what Holy Church calls the corporal works of mercy-feeding the hungry and clothing the naked-put us in such a mind that we see our own need for God, and at the same time, show love for others as we see them as God sees them.

The time has come to fight, good Christian soul. Let us put away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, that our Lenten journey may be fruitful and prepare us for the paschal joy that awaits us.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

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