Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Now, and to the ages of ages

The ancient fathers gained notoriety by their following of Christ to the uttermost in thought, word and deed, and having slain the old man and put on the New, met bodily death with dispassion. The modern Church is notorious for being an institution for happy, successful, well-adjusted people. It seems to be for folks who must nit-pick their behavior with almost obsessive scrutiny just to come up something viable to bring to the mystery of confession. ‘Straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel,’ is how Christ describes this malady.

It’s small wonder, then, that when people with problems—the unhappy, the failures at everyday living, those that can barely put bread on the table or stay out of trouble with the law—when these show up at church—and show up they must, for they know they are sick—their initial lot is instant pariahship. If they keep coming back, that status can become permanent. That is, until something or someone drives them out. And where do they go then? Need drives them right into the arms of sectarians, Christ-believers with hand-picked agendas and blind spots who, like the men of Sodom, never find the door.

But whether we’re affluent or living hand-to-mouth, whether well-adjusted or plagued with a checkered history of bad choices and ill luck, the reason we go to church is not to see the saints, but to be one. Though we rationally expect other Christians to be dependably loving, welcoming, generous and non-judgmental, what we often find when we start going to church can be very different. At first their welcome seems genuine, but if we cling to our imaginations of ‘what should be,’ the ones we at first thought spiritual and holy start to lose their halos. It doesn’t occur to us that the problem might be our spectacles, and we prove the saying of Jesus true, but in an opposite sense, ‘Seek, and ye shall find.’ We look for trouble, and trouble we find, with fellow Christians, with clergy, with the Church, but certainly, never with ourselves.

If we read our bible, we might have been forewarned. Wheat was sown by day, but weeds by night. Both must be left as they are to mature until the day of the harvest and, unless we are angels, it isn’t our place to either dig them out now—we might dig out some wheat by mistake because we see only through a glass, darkly—or when the day finally arrives.

Holy Church may be the living ikon of the heavenly Kingdom—and in worship more than an ikon—red with the blood of martyrs dying daily to the world with Christ like a ripe pomegranate red with seeds, but until we crack it open, we cannot taste its unquenchable sweetness. How do we crack it open? By letting ourselves be broken, by trusting ourselves to Him who alone loves us and can be trusted, by saying to the Physician, ‘Yes, heal me, for I have sinned against You,’ and by letting the same hands that have broken bread with us bandage our wounds.

As scripture says, speaking of the Church and what to expect, ‘What you have come to is nothing known to the senses.’ Let us go forward, then, looking neither to left nor right, but keeping our eyes on Jesus, follow Him through the Gate Beautiful of the heavenly Jerusalem where we can live with the Holy Triad now, and to the ages of ages.

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