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Fr. Patrick’s ’14 Pascha Sermon

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Christ is Risen!  Every year as we read this Gospel, the Prologue of St. John, the first chapter, verses 1-17, I’m always struck by the fact that we’re not reading a Resurrection Gospel.  You’d think tonight we’d read a Resurrection Gospel.  Tonight, however, we celebrate something, in a way, before the Resurrection in order that we might understand the Resurrection, and have the reason to live the Resurrection; because if we do not understand who Jesus is then none of (what we do) makes sense at all.  Isn’t that right?  So in today’s Gospel we hear of the Word: the Word who was from the beginning; the Word who was with the Father; the Word who became flesh.  The Word who came to fulfill the law and to give us grace and truth in order that we would follow Him in the way we must go if we want to attain life with Him – in this world and in eternity.  When we understand this Word as the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ incarnate, what we do here makes sense.  What we do all year round makes sense.  And what we do especially in our Lenten journey leading up to tonight makes sense!  If we aren’t thinking about this on a regular basis it will be very easy to slip away: to slip away from faith; to slip away from the practice of the faith and to become confused.

We see in the world today a lot of confusion.  Even in our churches there are people who don’t fully understand the life of the Church; and why?  Because of not living it.  When we’re not (in church) praying regularly, and in our homes praying, fasting, being charitable, reading the Scripture; when we don’t do these things we end up getting stuck in our own heads and often end up making Jesus after our own image, defining Him in a way that will make life more convenient.  Well let me say this, life in Christ is not convenient!  I think we all know this.  It’s beautiful, but it’s certainly not convenient.  There are boundaries.  There are decisions to be made.  There are protocols.  There is truth; truth for one reason: to save us and to lead us to the Kingdom of God.  Truth has lead us to this day, to this Resurrection: the one Resurrection for all time.  This life is a life that compares to no other when we follow “the rules.”  We have grace and we have truth, and we also have our weaknesses which may not allow us to follow the rules as well as we should; but let’s not deny the fact that there are those things that are given to us to guide us into the way that we should go.  We should rejoice in them instead of often fleeing from them.  They’re not scary.  In fact I contend, and any priest who would stand here would tell you, if you follow the guidelines of the Holy Spirit given in the Church you are going to find a life unlike anything you can imagine for yourself.  Shall I say that again?  You are going to find a life for yourself greater than anything you can imagine for yourself!  We have to trust it.  We have to trust God: trust Him that He has given us His Church, His standards of life, His morality, His ethics, His theology, His praxis, His application of faith.  Trust Him.  If we do these things, as St. Nikolai Velomirovic said, “If you follow the commandments of God you will never doubt because there will be fruit on the tree, and it will taste beautiful.”  We have to trust God.  And when we do that what do we find?  We find our true selves.

Recently I read to the parish a small section from Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s “Great Lent,” called “A Lenten ‘Style of Life,’” where he described beautifully the discipline of fasting.  I recommend it for everyone.  It’s very short, maybe 20 minutes of reading.  I’m not going to go through it all now but let me sum it up.  He said, “The reason why we deny ourselves food is so that we can learn to live without it.  When Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness after He had fasted forty days, the Devil said “Turn these stones to bread.”  How did Jesus respond?  “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  How beautiful it is for us to know that man does not live by bread alone!  For this reason alone we should fast.  But even beyond this Fr. Schmemann adds “… and when we deny ourselves – especially the things we love the most – how much sweeter they will taste when we allow ourselves to partake of them again?”  Fasting allows us to gain an appreciation for things.  We gain an appreciation for life.  We gain an appreciation for God.  And in quieting ourselves: turning down the television and maybe off for a while, turning down the radio or not even turning it on in the car, turning off the computer and staying off the internet, staying off the Facebook, staying off theTwitter (we don’t have to tell everybody what we’re thinking – not everybody cares!) we quiet the inner man.  This is a very difficult but important thing.  I remember a woman I knew years ago.  She was a “go to it” person.  She was lovely and one of the best women I’ve ever met.  She’s probably in her late 70’s now.  Boy could she work – all day!  She had her job, then she’d come home to clean, cook, serve, and then do more stuff—every day!  One time I asked her, “Why don’t you just sit down for a minute and enjoy the day?”  All she said was, “I just can’t stop because when I do I have to listen to my own thoughts.”  She was very honest with me.   All I could say was, “Well, I’m sure those thoughts aren’t too bad.  You should go ahead and try it sometime because you might just enjoy life a little bit more.”  It’s essential for us to understand silence.  We even have a tradition of silent prayer in the Church.   It’s so important for us to be able to hear other things than the noise of the world and the noise that’s going on in our own heads.  And between these two actions (fasting and silence) Fr. Schmemann said, “If we’re lucky and with God’s grace we might even come to know ourselves a little bit better; and, even more important, we might even come to know God a little bit better too.”  What a blessing.

Well, here we are.  We’re celebrating the Feast of Feasts.  And while we can’t regret what we may have missed (this past Lent,) we can reflect on what we can do next.  Tonight we’re going to celebrate.  Whether we came from the first or the eleventh hour, it’s time to celebrate.  There will be time to work again.  I say these things tonight as a note of encouragement because when we have the Word of God in our midst and we know Him and He really makes a difference in our lives; and we take that difference and apply it in the life of His Church, doing the things He asks us to do: following the commandments and following the disciplines of the Church, we’re going to find something.  We’re going to find something great.  We will find life in this world unlike anything we can imagine, and most importantly we will find the resurrected Christ and we will live with Him forever.  Christ is Risen!

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