Before Passion Week

16 March 1980
Theme: Great Lent, Doubt, Spiritual life   Place: London Parish   Period: 1976-1980   Genre: Sermon

In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

One by one the weeks of Lent pass, and having started this journey with enthusiasm, feeling in ourselves the strength to com­plete it, when we approach the end, and often long before the end, we begin to feel that we have achieved nothing of what we hoped to achieve. We hoped to fast strictly and honestly, we hoped to pray, we hoped to tear ourselves away from those things that have enslaved all our lives — our interests, our concerns — and then a moment comes when the end of the journey is in sight, and suddenly we realise that nothing, or practically nothing, has been achieved of what we had hoped.

This is the moment when we may be attacked by the destructive spirit of despondency which undermines our last ounce of strength: how can I enter the days of the Passion? How can I encounter the glory and triumph of Christ’s Resurrection? This is where we must evince both Christian wisdom and our trust in God. It is not by the fact that we strive and achieve some sort of result that we are saved; we are saved by our soul’s longing which draws us towards the living God, by the love which draws us to Christ. And even when we fail (as, incidentally, in human relationships) we must not forget that just as the apostle Peter, after thrice denying Christ was able to answer Christ’s threefold question, we can say “Lord, you know everything, you know my weakness, my lapses, my uncertainty, my inconstancy, but you also know that I love you, that that is the final deepest thing in me.”

Then we can go farther, as Peter followed Christ, knowing that God believes in this love, that God believes us and believes in us. And we can go on with faltering steps, with uncertain tread, with ups and downs, if only our hearts do not break away from God; if only we carry or so that one day, in a week or two, we may find our­selves face to face with the Lord’s passion, with the manifestation of the love with which He loves us. To endure what He endured for our sakes can be done only through inexhaustible, bottomless love. And so if we cannot unite ourselves to Christ in a more mysterious way by communing to the way of the Cross through prayer, contemplation and ascetic effort, let us at least stand at the roadside, beside this way of the Cross and with the awe and tenderness of a shaken soul — or perhaps one incapable of awe and tenderness — look upon what it means to love as God is capable of loving us. And let us say to Him, if we cannot say anything else, “Thank you, Lord, that you love me, dead, stony, devoid of feeling, lifeless — love me so much that the day will come when for me also will sound the words spoken to Lazarus, then four days dead, “Lazarus come forth from the grave.”

One day each one of us will hear this, not at the end of time, not at the general resurrection, as Martha thought, but now, at some unexpected moment when the voice of God shall sound, and at once we shall come alive again, alive both in time and in eternity. And we can even approach Easter conscious that we have done nothing worthy of this meeting with the triumph of the Resurrection, have achieved nothing that would give us a right to this joy. As St. John Chrysostom says in his Easter sermon: “Those who have fasted and those who have not, those who have worked and those who have been lazy, all of you come, for the Lord receives everyone equally; to some He repays a debt, to others He makes a gift of His love.” It is not likely that He will be repaying a debt to us, because we have not worked, but the gift of love is offered to each of us. Therefore whatever mood we are in, however lazy we are, however little we have striven, let us go step by step during these last weeks towards that light, as a butterfly is drawn to it: yet not to be burned by it — but rather for ourselves to burn with the glow of the Resurrection, to shine with its light, to become like the Burning Bush which burned and was not consumed in the flame of God’s being. Amen.


Publication: Newsletter N. 130, April 1981

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