Mystic Mondays – The Mysterious Hope of Things to Come

Once in the Garden of Eden, at the beginning of our sorrows, the pre-incarnate Christ walked within the Garden looking for Man and Woman. He knew what had occurred. He knew His creation had rebelled. He knew the pain and suffering that was to come.

We can almost hear the pain as we read the most overlooked, but painful words within the entire Bible, “And the LORD God said unto them, ‘Where are you?’” God knew where they were, He knew where they were hiding; His question was a rhetorical one. Man answered and admitted to his rebellion and Woman confessed what she had done. The march toward Calvary had begun.

In a small insignificant town in the Roman province of Judea, the Christ child was born. God in the flesh, Jesus Christ, Son of God who was present at creation and the Fall, had come to fix what was broken.

We cannot begin to fathom what the world looked like through the eyes of Christ. For Him to walk in human flesh amongst His creation, to see the effects of sin on His world, what did the incarnate God feel? “Where are you” He must have uttered to creation as He walked through the various towns of Judea.

God asked Man and Woman where they were, but He did not wait on them to come find Him. He instead went into the world to find them.

God incarnate, who cursed Man for his rebellion, who sought after Man in the Garden, hung upon a cross. The crafty serpent of old thought he had defeated God, but Christ arose, solidifying His solution. The serpent had bruised His heal, but He had crushed the head of the serpent.

“Where are you?” His question echoes throughout human history up to the present age and all the way to when He returns. “Where are you?” As He watches humanity rip itself apart, as He watches humanity turn against Him on a daily basis, He must be asking, “Where are you?”

Yet, in this rebellious world there are those who are covered by His Son. Just as Man and Woman needed a covering to hide their nakedness, their shame, we too have a covering to hide our wickedness, our shame. Our covering is the blood of Christ.

Those who belong to Him shall one day walk with Him again. There is a future hope, an end to our suffering, a time where we will not sin, where we will be done in our rebellion.

There will be a time when those who suffer from physical ailments, from these disease-ridden bodies, shall be given new bodies where such pain is gone. The blind will look into the eyes of Christ and see the wondrous acts of His love. The deaf shall hear with clarity the songs of the angels praising God almighty. The hungry will feast with the Lord at the great banquet table. The orphans shall feel the loving embrace of their Heavenly Father and no longer feel the sting of loneliness.

There will be a time when the oppressed shall experience freedom in the presence of the Spirit. Those who are bed-ridden, those who are diseased, those who suffer constant pain will walk amongst God’s beautiful creation, dancing and leaping across His land with Christ by their sides.

But all of this pales in comparison to the reconciliation we will have with Him. We will no longer offend Him. We will no longer contradict Him. We will be in perfect union with the Father as we fall down and worship Him eternally. We will no longer have to hear those painful and cursed words, “Where are you?” We shall instead hear His soothing words of grace; “I have found you.”

Mystic Mondays: On Humility

Pride lies at the heart of nearly all of the devisions we find in the Church.  We Christians are often too quick to judge those who differ from us and place far to much stock in our own vain opinions.  We blatantly ignore the One who binds us together as one body, the creator and savior of the universe, our Lord, who commands us to be humble, and opt, instead, to cast a critical and unrelenting eye on anyone we meet whose theology deviates from our own in only the slightest degree.  Quite frankly, we Christians tend to think far more of ourselves, and of our own private interpretations and opinions, than we should.  We suffer from a deplorable, and often vehement, lack of humility–I invite you to mediate on the profound words of Thomas A Kempis in the eighth chapter of his master work The Imitation of Christ:

“Do not consider yourself better than others, for you may be worse in God’s sight.  Do not be proud of your good works, for often what pleases us displeases God, Whose judgments differ from the judgment of humans.  Whatever goodness or virtue is in you, believe that your neighbor has better qualities; in this way you will preserve humility.

It will not hurt you to consider yourself worse than others, even if this is not really so; bu it will hurt greatly if you prefer yourself above another, although that person might be a great sinner.  A humble person is a peaceful person; but the hearts of the proud are full of envy and resentment.”

Mystic Mondays – One Body

In the West it has become popular to associate Christianity with colonialization or other horrors of the Enlightenment period. It’s often viewed as a “Western Religion” or a “white-man’s religion.” While there is some accuracy to those critiques when it comes to specific churches, those critiques go out the window when looking at the broader Church.

One of the unique things about Christianity is that I can sit down next to a Christian from India, or Peru, or Russia, and have more in common with that person than a relative who is not a believer. I may not speak the same language as the other Christian, I certainly don’t come from the same culture, but he and I are unified on a level deeper than any culture could potentially provide.

Ultimately, Christianity is cross-cultural when appreciated in its true form. When we attempt to make Christianity cultural – which have had a tendency to do in the West – and adopt cultural mores into the Christian ethos, then we begin to make Christianity exclusive. For instance, the liberal Christians who have limited the miracles of God or the works of the Bible have necessarily excluded Christians from around the world who have avoided an Enlightenment influence. Likewise, the conservative Christians who equate Christianity to Americanism, or place patriotism ahead of their faith, have necessarily excluded all Christians who are not American. That is not the call of the Body.

One of the mysteries of the Church is that we are all united even without knowing each other, and must subsequently think globally about our brethren in other nations. We must think about the global persecution of Christians or the poverty they must endure. While this stands true of all humans and our concern for them should also be great, it is even more true for those who are Christians, who are of our own family.

Christianity is universal and unifying. In its truest form it reaches across cultures, languages, and national borders to create a bond among the nations that nothing can surpass.

Mystic Mondays: Sharing a Prayer

Today I wanted to pass on this beautiful prayer that my wife shared with me.  She read it in a devotional book by Molly Sabourin entitled Close to Home which I highly recommend.  It is the prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of the Orthodox Church.  Please read it carefully, meditate on its content, and make it the cry of your heart.

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.  Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.  Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.  O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.  For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation; I dare only to stand in Thy presence.  My heart is open to Thee.  Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.  Behold and lift me up!  In Thy presence I stand, awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate.  To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.  No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.  Teach me how to pray.  Do Thyself pray within me.  Amen.

Mystic Mondays: Is there Something More?

Today  I’d like to share a passage from The Wisdom of Solomon which vividly portrays the ethical consequences of the naturalistic view of reality.  I ask you to meditate on these words and to wrestle with the implications of a world in which God does not exist, in which there is no objective purpose or reason for anything, and in which there is no life after death.  Do not simply engage this topic with your mind but examine it with your heart as well. Ask yourself these questions:  What is the purpose of my life?  Is there an objective purpose to my life if God does not exist? If there is no life after death then why should I live a moral life?  Is sensual pleasure what defines me?  If there is no God, why should I care about the weak?  Why should I be moral at all?  Is there something more?

“For they [the ungodly or atheists] reasoned unsoundly saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades [i.e. death].  Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.  When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.  Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us.  Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.  Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this is our lot.  Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.  But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.” – Wisdom of Solomon 2:1-11

Mystic Mondays: The Centrality of the Resurrection

Rather than offer a long commentary of my own doing, perhaps it is best to quote St. John of Damascus (An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, Book IV, Ch 27 [citation]):

We believe also in the resurrection of the dead. For there will be in truth, there will be, a resurrection of the dead, and by resurrection we mean resurrection of bodies. For resurrection is the second state of that which has fallen. For the souls are immortal, and hence how can they rise again? For if they define death as the separation of soul and body, resurrection surely is the re-union of soul and body, and the second state of the living creature that has suffered dissolution and downfall. It is, then, this very body, which is corruptible and liable to dissolution, that will rise again incorruptible. For He, who made it in the beginning of the sand of the earth, does not lack the power to raise it up again after it has been dissolved again and returned to the earth from which it was taken, in accordance with the reversal of the Creator’s judgment.

For if there is no resurrection, let us eat and drink : let us pursue a life of pleasure and enjoyment. If there is no resurrection, wherein do we differ from the irrational brutes? If there is no resurrection, let us hold the wild beasts of the field happy who have a life free from sorrow. If there is no resurrection, neither is there any God nor Providence, but all things are driven and borne along of themselves. For observe how we see most righteous men suffering hunger and injustice and receiving no help in the present life, while sinners and unrighteous men abound in riches and every delight. And who in his senses would take this for the work of a righteous judgment or a wise providence? There must be, therefore, there must be, a resurrection. For God is just and is the rewarder of those who submit patiently to Him. Wherefore if it is the soul alone that engages in the contests of virtue, it is also the soul alone that will receive the crown. And if it were the soul alone that revels in pleasures, it would also be the soul alone that would be justly punished. But since the soul does not pursue either virtue or vice separate from the body, both together will obtain that which is their just due.

Nay, the divine Scripture bears witness that there will be a resurrection of the body. God in truth says to Moses after the flood, Even as the green herb have I given you all things. But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall you not eat. And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheds man’s blood, for his blood his own shall be shed, for in the image of God made I man. How will He require the blood of man at the hand of every beast, unless because the bodies of dead men will rise again? For not for man will the beasts die.

And again to Moses, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob: God is not the God of the dead (that is, those who are dead and will be no more), but of the living , whose souls indeed live in His hand Wisdom 3:1, but whose bodies will again come to life through the resurrection. And David, sire of the Divine, says to God, You take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. See how he speaks about bodies. Then he subjoins this, You send forth Your Spirit, they are created: and You renew the face of the earth.

Further Isaiah says: The dead shall rise again, and they that are in the graves shall awake. Isaiah 26:18 And it is clear that the souls do not lie in the graves, but the bodies.

And again, the blessed Ezekiel says: And it was as I prophesied, and behold a shaking and the bones came together, bone to his bone, each to its own joint: and when I beheld, lo, the sinews came up upon them and the flesh grew and rose up on them and the skin covered them above. Ezekiel 37:7 And later he teaches how the spirits came back when they were bidden.

And divine Daniel also says: And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such trouble as never was since there was a nation on the earth even to that same time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and out of the multitude of the just shall shine like stars into the ages and beyond. The words, many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, clearly show that there will be a resurrection of bodies. For no one surely would say that the souls sleep in the dust of the earth.

Moreover, even the Lord in the holyGospels clearly allows that there is a resurrection of the bodies. For they that are in the graves, He says, shall hear His voice and shall come forth: they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. John 5:28-29 Now no one in his senses would ever say that the souls are in the graves.

But it was not only by word, but also by deed, that the Lord revealed the resurrection of the bodies. First He raised up Lazarus, even after he had been dead four days, and was stinking. John 11:39-44 For He did not raise the soul without the body, but the body along with the soul: and not another body but the very one that was corrupt. For how could the resurrection of the dead man have been known or believed if it had not been established by his characteristic properties? But it was in fact to make the divinity of His own nature manifest and to confirm the belief in His own and our resurrection, that He raised up Lazarus who was destined once more to die. And the Lord became Himself the first-fruits of the perfect resurrection that is no longer subject to death. Wherefore also the divine Apostle Paul said: If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised. And if Christ be not raised, our faith is vain: we are yet in our sins. 1 Corinthians 15:16-17 And, Now is Christ risen from the dead and become the first-fruits of them that slept , and the first-born from the deadColossians 1:18; and again, For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. 1 Thessalonians 4:14Even so, he said, as Christ rose again. Moreover, that the resurrection of the Lord was the union of uncorrupted body and soul (for it was these that had been divided) is manifest: for He said, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. John 2:19 And the holyGospel is a trustworthy witness that He spoke of His own body. Handle Me and see, the Lord said to His own disciples when they were thinking that they saw a spirit, that it is I Myself, and that I am not changedLuke 24:37: for a spirit has not flesh or bones, as you see Me have. And when He had said this He showed them His hands and His side, and stretched them forward for Thomas to touch. John 20:27 Is not this sufficient to establish belief in the resurrection of bodies?

Again the divine apostle says, For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 1 Corinthians 15:35 And again: It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power: it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory: it is sown a natural body (that is to say, crass and mortal), it is raised a spiritual body1 Corinthians 15:42, 44, such as was our Lord’s body after the resurrection which passed through closed doors, was unwearying, had no need of food, or sleep, or drink. For they will be, says the Lord, as the angels of GodMark 12:25: there will no longer be marriage nor procreation of children. The divine apostle, in truth, says, For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like His glorious bodyPhilippians 3:20-21: not meaning change into another form (God forbid!), but rather the change from corruption into incorruption.

But some one will say, How are the dead raised up? Oh, what disbelief! Oh, what folly! Will He, Who at His solitary will changed earth into body, Who commanded the little drop of seed to grow in the mother’s womb and become in the end this varied and manifold organ of the body, not the rather raise up again at His solitary will that which was and is dissolved? And with what body do they come1 Corinthians 15:35? Thou fool, if your hardness will not permit you to believe the words of God, at least believe His works. For that which you sow is not quickened except it die1 Corinthians 15:35. And that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as it has pleased Him, and to every seed his own body. Behold, therefore, how the seed is buried in the furrows as in tombs. Who is it that gives them roots and stalk and leaves and ears and the most delicate beards? Is it not the Maker of the universe? Is it not at the bidding of Him Who has contrived all things? Believe, therefore, in this wise, even that the resurrection of the dead will come to pass at the divine will and sign. For He has power that is able to keep pace with His will.

We shall therefore rise again, our souls being once more united with our bodies, now made incorruptible and having put off corruption, and we shall stand beside the awful judgment-seat of Christ: and the devil and his demons and the man that is his, that is the Antichrist and the impious and the sinful, will be given over to everlasting fire: not material fire like our fire, but such fire as God would know. But those who have done good will shine forth as the sun with the angels into life eternal, with our Lord Jesus Christ, ever seeing Him and being in His sight and deriving unceasing joy from Him, praising Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout the limitless ages of ages. Amen.


Mystic Mondays: Be Separate, and Therefore Close

John 17:2 shows that all flesh has come under the authority of Jesus Christ and John 17:23 says that the world shall know who the Father is through the oneness of the disciples. Yet, in the same passage in John 17:9, Jesus says that He prays for His followers and not the world. We see a paradox developing where apparently we are to draw away from the world, but in doing so we grow closer to the world. Consider that earlier in the gospel of John, we’re told that God loves the world (John 3:16). But later in one of John’s epistles he tells us not to love the world or anything in the world (1 John 2:15-17). Paul takes the idea of separation further in 2 Corinthians 6:17, telling us to be separate. James 4:4 says that to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. And yet, despite all these warnings, Jesus tells us to go into all of the world (Matthew 28:16-20), to take care of the poor (Matthew 19:21), and even the example of Jesus was one who was always around the “world” (Luke 7:34). What are we to make of this paradox? We see two seemingly contradictory aspects; be separate from the world and be within the world.

Some Christians desire to eradicate the paradox and argue for minimal involvement with the world, only when it becomes necessary. Their ethic becomes legalistic, they live in Christian bubbles, and they pursue holiness. One can think of the Amish who choose to live in seclusion to the rest of the world. Yet, many other Christians can become a type of Amish. They only have Christian friends. They only read Christian books. They only watch Christian television. They only deal with Christians. That they have made “Christian” an adjective for inanimate objects shows that they have bought into the idea that some objects are inherently evil and only sanctified objects are worthy of Christian notice.

Some of these Christians neglect the poor, walk past the suffering on the streets, and look down their noses at sinners. They do this because they recognize that such people are not holy. If only these people would come to Christ, then we could help them! They have become a type of Pharisee (haven’t we all?).

Other Christians will eradicate the paradox in a different way by arguing for unity with the world. They being to reinterpret the Christian message for modern times. They adopt the philosophy and ethics of the world. They view Christianity as something that must change within every culture. It’s not that people are sinners, it’s that “sin” is just an outdated way to look at the world; “sin” is a judgmental term, one that overpowers the idea of grace.

They will often tell us how it’s important to feed the poor and help the widows, but that matters of doctrine can wait or don’t matter (unless, of course, the doctrine is a conservative doctrine; then it matters and should be argued against). They may say that doctrine does matter, but that actions should come first.

Both views are wrong. Both views erase the paradox of the Christian life; one view tries to elevate believing above acting and the other tries to elevate acting above believing. In the process, the whole of the Christian life is fractured.

We believe, but if we believe we will act on that belief. We act within the world, but it is our beliefs that guide us and give us the reason that we should act. Neither is more important than the other. How can we say we believe if we do not act on our belief? How can we tell people how to live if we believe nothing? And so the idea of “faith vs works” or “doctrine vs action” is a false dichotomy as the two are not in tension with each other, but instead are in unison with one another.

This is the paradox of the Christian life, that we are saved by faith, by believing, but that actions must accompany the belief, or how can we say we believe? The Christian life is not just found in books, nor is it found in just serving the poor; it is found in both and needed in both.