Sunday of Forgiveness

17 February 1980
Theme: Great Lent, Faith, Spiritual life   Place: London Parish   Period: 1976-1980   Genre: Sermon

There are two phrases in the Prokeminon of this evening service, to which I wish to attract your attention: “the poor will see and will rejoi­ce”. And the next one: ” Seek the Lord and your soul will be alive”.

Who are these poor, who will see and rejoice? – Who of us does not remember the parable of Christ about those who were called but desisted from their call and the lame and the halt and the poor and the derelict whom the Lord sought out in the by-ways and the hedges of the world to bring them into the glory and the joy of salvation, into His Kingdom. Some were called, because everything was expected of them, they had probably been friends of the Lord, they had broken bread in His courts, they have called Him Lord, Lord… Who would have expected that those who had broken the bread, shared His meal, partaken in His Holy Body and Blood, would not come when He called them? Who would have expected that those on whose lips the Name of the Lord, indeed confession of His Lordship flourished, would desist and refuse to come? And yet, those who had bought a piece of land thought that it was wiser and safer to set roots into this earth, familiar, wonderful, so beauti­ful to take possession of it, perhaps in the Name of God Himself; they had chosen the earth and they turned away from Heaven. Others had bought yokes and (?) oxen and they felt that they had a task to fulfil on earth. They had a concern for its life, for its destiny, all their heart was turned towards it, they had no time for Heaven; Heaven might come one day when the Kingdom of men would be established on earth and they forgot about the Kingdom of God. And another had taken a wife and his heart was full and his joy was perfect and what use had he for the joy of the Lord? How could he share another man’s, his God’s joy, when his own joy was sufficient for him, and he also turned away the invitation of the Banquet of the Lord, it was of no use to him, he was fulfilled.

But there were those who had none of these things, there were the tramps and the poor and the pilgrims, there were all those who had been deprived of the earth to which they first come of a noble and useful function[1] which enticed the others, which enthralled the others; they had had no happiness on earth, no one had told them: “I love you and you alone, and you above all “. And those, when the messages of the Lord came and said, “Come”, with amazement and wonder, with a tremor in their hearts responded to this impossible call to come to the Courts of the Lord, to be admitted into His presen­ce to share His meal, to break His bread, to become His guests, to become His kin. And they went, and on their way how many of them reflected about their own lives and thought how unworthy they were of the call they had received. And they marvelled how could it be that they had been sought out, and they feared lest when they came to the gates of the Kingdom they would be turned away because they had no bridal robes: they were in rags, they were dirty, they were famished, the ones were lame and the others were halt and all of them had wasted all the gifts of God, either because of their own fault or because those who had now desisted from coming to the Lord, had pushed them aside and made them into what they were, men and women of no account, unworthy of any concern, indeed untouchable for those who were clean. How often on their journey towards the courts of the Lord, they feared its gates and marvelled at the call. And they probably came to this gate with no other prayer than that of the Publican: ” Lord, have mercy upon us,” Have mercy because Thou art a devouring fire and all that we have built in life is straw and wood and it cannot stand the test! – And they came, and they were met by the angels of God who received them with joy because their suffering and their loneliness and dereliction had been great and now the time had come, the time of consolation, the time when every tear would be wiped away, when they would learn to smile, when they would learn that their human dignity had not been impaired by their humble, their humiliating, their debased condition. “How can I enter into the Halls of the Lord” said each of them, and the angels of God who ministered to them said: “Come, you will be cleansed, the robe which you have worn on the day of your creation will be given back to you, clean, unspoiled; a crown will be put on your head, a ring will be put on your hand, sandals on your feet, and you will come, having forgotten your own unworthiness, no longer tramps, but children of the Living God, for no other reason than that He loves you, that He created you in an act of love and has given His life for you in an act of love and all He expects of you, is to respond by gratitude and wonder and love to the love He has offered you”. “Those to whom much is forgiven, love more” said the Lord “than those to whom little is forgiven”. And they entered into the Halls of the Lord.

We are the poor, we are the lame and the blind and the halt and the tramps. Not outwardly, not in physical condition, but in our souls, we have been robed of our primeval innocency and beauty by sin, we have scattered the gifts of God, we are in rags, we are wounded, we are of no account if we compare ourselves to the angels and to the Saints of God, and it is to us that the Lord says: “Come unto me all you that are heavily laden, all of you who travail, come and I will give you rest”. And this call is not for a moment: He calls us now to the day of His Resurrection, He calls us now to prepare for the day when we will be partakers of His eternal Life, sharers of His divine nature, become in Him, through Him, the sons and daughters of the Living God; as the body of mankind the Only Begotten Son in the Only Begotten Son. If we think of this is there a doubt that when we look at it and see it, we the poor the beggars can rejoice; and do not we hear the psalmist tell us: “Seek the Lord and your soul will be alive”. Your soul, like that of the Prodigal Son will be alive, will come to life. Newness is being offered, and together we are moving towards these weeks of Lent – wondering, marvelling at the works of God. We should have spent weeks under the guidance of the Gospel, proclaimed by the Church, searching our souls, recognising our wounds, our poverty, our sinfulness and now we see the Grace of God pouring out to us as a stream; we see the images of saints revealing to us what we can be if we only open our hearts and minds and our will and our bodies to the action of the power and grace of God. We can see saints who were despicable sinners become the greatest in the Kingdom, according to the words of Christ that the publicans and the harlots enter the Kingdom before those who imagined that they were righteous and counted on their righteousness. We are moving towards the Resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection, we are moving as a body, we are moving frail and sinful as the Church always was, a crowd of repenting sinners, but all of us, all of us looking and moving Godwards. So let us take upon ourselves one another’s burdens, let the strong carry the burden of the weak, let everyone support his brother or sister. Let us move Godwards, and let no one fall by the wayside for lack of care, for lack of encouragement, for lack of love. Let us support each other on the way rejoicing, rejoicing as the worst of us are moving, instead of condemning or judging, rejoicing that the best of us show the way, rejoicing that we are called to enter into the glory of the Resurrection. In a moment we will sing the Canon of Easter: it is not in vain that we sing it, it comes from the far-off shore towards which our Journey is directed, from afar off we hear Heav­en proclaiming and singing the Resurrection of Christ, from afar off, but ever nearer because in the night when we will keep the Feast of the Cross, the same Canon will be sung with greater power greater clarity, with greater joy because we will then be half way towards the halls of the Lord and on the night of the Resurrection it will burst in this church as a hymn of glory, as a hymn of victory, proclaiming that death is over, separation is over, all that is left is the Living God in the midst of His people, life and not death, joy and not fear, victory and not defeat. So let us now bow down before the icon of the Lord, bow down before the icon of the Mother of God, bow before them with tears of repentance, with broken-heartedness, but rejoicing, rejoicing, because we are loved and therefore we are saved, rejoicing and learning to be grateful and giving glory to God and expressing our gratitude by giving joy for joy, love for love. May we all, together, in an act of love, reach the Kingdom which is that of love unbounded, conquering all lovelessness, of the perfect light dispelling all darkness, of perfect joy conquering all misery and bitterness and of that peace of God that passes all understanding which will allow us, in the pain, in the turmoil, in the agony of the present world, serenely to stand as the witnesses of God, serenely and yet with the compassion of Christ, serenely and yet with a broken heart, serenely and yet giving our life, pouring out all our life that others may find what God has granted gratuitous, freely to us, unworthy though we be. Christ is risen!

[1] not distinct on the tape

Listen to audio: Watch video: