I greet you as we, believe it or not, begin our preparation for the holiest time of the Liturgical Year of the Church. We are entering into the time of year when our repentance is doubled and our prayers are tripled, as we undergo an incredible transformation of the heart, in anticipation of the Resurrection of Christ at Holy Pascha.
The first of these Preparation Sunday Gospels takes us to the streets of Jericho, and shows us what we should all be doing during this time of year, through the example of the tax collector Zacchaeus. Here was a man, who despite his physical limitations…made an effort to see Christ. This rich and prominent businessman, who for his entire life no doubt carried himself with respect, humbled himself when he heard that Christ was walking through the streets. Zacchaeus dropped everything in that moment and climbed up a sycamore tree like a little child…so that he could just get a glimpse of the Savior.
What a stunning and beautiful image for all of us to aspire to! It is the very first encouragement that the Church gives us in these days of preparation…Make an EFFORT! This desire to see and to commune with the Living God above all else in our life…is something that is lacking in each and every one of us.
There is the story of a seeker who asked his Christian friend: “How can I find God?”
The Christian replied “Let me show you”. And he took the seeker down to the sea, and stuck his head in the water three times. Each time the Christian immersed the seekers head, he held him down under the water a little longer than the time before.
After the exercise was over, the Christian asked him: “What did you desire more than anything else when your head was under the water?”
The seeker replied: “Air”.
“When you desire God as much as you desired air…you will find Him”.
What an image! This is what I should start doing during our future adult baptisms, because this is how strong our desire to see and to commune with Christ needs to be…every single day of our lives!
So with this being the first day in our journey to Lent, lets all take a self examination of where we are at with our spiritual lives this morning:
Do we all have a consistent prayer rule in which we spend time, each and every single day, without fail, trying to draw closer and in communion with God?
Have we put my own wants and desires, above the needs of those whom God has placed in our lives that are less fortunate than us?
If we were to take a tally of our time throughout the week, do we spend more time out at bars or restaurants with our friends, than we do at Church Services?
Have we spent more time scrolling through Facebook this year, than we have reading from the Holy Scriptures and the writing of the Fathers?
When we are in the car, do we sing our favorite songs on the radio, more than we sing the Jesus Prayer?
And here’s the biggie: Have we sought and desired to be with God…more than we have desired air to breathe?
These are difficult realities that we all must examine in our lives, now. If we want this Lent to mean anything…if we want to have a transformative experience during the Great Fast…we must begin our preparations NOW. We were reminded at the Dormition Dinner this past week, that you and I were put on this earth for one purpose: to pray, worship, and come into communion with Him who put us here. Today, we start the process of asking ourselves…how have we done?
I want to close this morning by speaking a little bit about what we will be doing as a parish family after the Divine Liturgy today, when we will together mourn and remember all of the unborn children, not only from this parish family…but throughout the entire world. For those families who have experienced the great difficulties surrounding the death of a child, there is no doubt a deep sense of mourning, that no matter how long it has been since that tragic day, does not seem to pass away completely. It is as if a piece of your heart has been torn out…and there is no easy way to heal it.
So often in this life, when we are wounded by the fallen world by a tragic death, we often try to find an outlet with which to pass the pain along. We might for a time became angry at God. We might blame a family member. And perhaps one of those most common things that happens after this tragedy…is we slowly start to blame ourselves…leading our hearts to an even deeper pit of despair.
I want to close this morning by offering you the wisdom of the Ancient Christian Orthodox Church, through the words of one of our greatest Saints of the 4th Century…St. Basil the Great, who was writing to one of the members of his flock “Nectarius”, who had just recently lost his baby boy to a disease.
In the letter, he reminds us that even in the face of tragedy, no matter how backwards it may seem to all of us who are in the world… “Everything that God ordains and allows to happen…is always Good.”
“Be perfectly assured of this, that the reasons for what is ordained by God are BEYOND us, yet always what is arranged for us by Him, Who is wise and Who loves us, is to be accepted...be it ever so grievous to endure. God Himself knows how he is appointing what is best for each, and why the terms of life that he fixes for us are unequal.
There exists some reason incomprehensible to us why some are sooner carried far away from us, and some are left a longer while behind to bear the burdens of this painful life. So we should always adore his lovingkindness and not express discontent, remembering those great and famous words of the great Athelete Job...when he had seen 10 children at one table, in one short moment, crushed to death. He said: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away... the Lord thought it good so it came to pass”.
Let us adopt these marvelous words! At the hands of the righteous Judge, those who demonstrate similar good deeds shall receive a similar reward. We have not lost the boy; we have restored him to the Lender. His life is not destroyed; it is changed for the better. He whom we love is not hidden in the ground; he is received into heaven. Let us wait a little while, and we shall be once more with him. The time of our separation is not long, for in this life we are all like travelers on a journey, hurring on to the same shelter. While one has reached his rest... another arrives...another hurries on...but one and the same end awaits them all.
Glory to God for all things! Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!