Sermon on the Gospel for Holy Thursday
H/T: Pravmir.com (here)
At the very beginning of His sufferings, the Lord gathered His disciples at the Mystical Supper. Although our Lord had the right to say, “I have said nothing in secret,” as he said to his enemies; although the conspiracies are foreign to Christianity, and all the more so pretentious secret meetings (as this is proper to occultism), nevertheless the heart of Christianity is a mystery.
Christ’s supper was mystical. First of all, because the disciples gathered around the Lord, unseen by the world, unseen by the princes of this world, which lay in evil and in mortal danger, which shows the magnanimity of Christ and demands faithfulness of His disciples. This demand, which Judas broke by his awful betrayal, and which the other disciples fulfilled only imperfectly when they fell asleep from despondent misgivings, while they should have kept watch with Him during His agony in the garden. Peter, confused by fear, denied his Teacher with an oath. All the disciples scattered.
But there is line between faithfulness, albeit imperfect, and complete rejection. This is a terrible line: the irreconcilable difference between His magnanimity and holiness, the Kingdom of God which He establishes and brings to men, and the kingdom of the prince of this world. It is so irreconcilable that, when we draw near to the mysteries of Christ, we are proved by our later choice. Indeed, we draw so near to Christ that believers in other religions cannot even imagine it. They cannot imagine that one can get as close to God as we do when we taste Christ’s flesh and drink His blood. It is hard to think of this, much less express it! How must it have been for the Apostles to hear the first time those words by which the Lord established the truth of the Eucharist! And woe to us if we do not feel at least a little of that trembling which must then have filled the Apostles.
The mystical supper is secret also in the sense that it must be hidden from the inimical world, since in its nature resides the unexpressible mystery of the ultimate condescension of the God-man toward men: The King of kings and Lord of lords washes the feet of the disciples with His own hands, and thus shows His humility to us all. What could exceed this? Only one thing: to give Himself over to death. And the Lord does this.
We are weak people. When our hearts are deadened, we want prosperity. But when have a living heart — sinful, but alive – what then does the heart long for? It wishes it had something to love, to love endlessly and worthily, that it could find such an object of love and serve it, without sparing itself. All the dreams of men are irrational, for they are dreams. But they are alive as long as the living heart strives not for prosperity but for sacrificial love, so that we may be moved by the Lord’s unspeakable magnanimity toward us, so that we may respond to it with some small part of magnanimity, and truly serve the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is so kind to his servants.
In the person of His apostles, the Lord called us his friends. This is more awesome than to think of than being His servants. A slave can hide his eyes in a prostration; but a friend cannot turn away from the gaze of his friend, reproaching, forgiving, seeing the heart. The mystery of Christianity, unlike the imaginary mysteries that entice people with false teachings, is like and depth of clear water which is great that we cannot see the bottom. In fact, there is no bottom.
What can we say this evening? Only one thing: that the Holy Gifts, which have been offered and given to us, are the very body and blood of Christ, of which the Apostles partook with unimaginable trembling. This is also our assembly. This is the longest supper, the Mystical Supper. Let us pray that we do not give up this Mystery, the Mystery that unites us to Christ, that we might survive the warmth of this mystery, that we might not betray it, that we might respond to it even with the most imperfect of faith.
Blessed Augustine said something about the Eucharist that is difficult for our pusilanimous hearts. He explained the Eucharist, partially, as a call to the struggle of martrydom: for the body and blood which Christ gave to us, we should be ready to give our own body and blood. Few are called to the struggle of martyrdom in its full sense, and we won’t speak of things that are too high for us. But if the Lord, having washed our feet, gave us His body and blood, how can we not magnanimously endure even those small discomforts which we are given to endure?
Let us pray that we never forget that mystery by which we are bound to the great mystery — the Mystical Supper, so that we may never betray it to its visible and invisible enemies, and may never have a stony insensitivity towards it. Let us pray that our hearts may be resolved to serve the King of kings, Who is merciful towards us, Who is so close, even right next to us, as close as the Food that we taste.
One more thought must come to anyone who listens to this Gospel reading. We see that during His earthly life our Lord kept the law of the Old Covenant. He even came to Jerusalem for reasons of that cycle of feasts that was kept by the Jews, between the Jewish Passover and the Jewish Pentecost. He came not to destroy, but to fulfill; and His life began with submission to circumcision according to the Law. Why then did the same Lord consistently challenge Jewish legalism, as in the question of the complete rest that the Jewish lawyers demanded of men on the Sabbath?
Of course, this is meant to teach us that kindness is more important than custom, more important than regulatory correctness. This delivers us from the danger of ritualism. But it seems this isn’t all. What did the strict observance of the Sabbath signify for the believing Jew? It meant that the God’s creative work was finished on the seventh day: On the seventh day, God rested from His creative activity, and this completion of God’s creation was celebrated every Saturday. The resting of the faithful was a witness to his belief that the world shall not be changed; although there was a teaching among the Jews at the time of Christ there was a teaching (not entirely clear) about the world to come and the resurrection. The Pharisees believed in this, while the Sadducees rejected it, so that it still was not a universal belief.
If the resting of God is observed as complete lack of work, as an end to His creativity, this means that world is fully established. This is written with mournful beauty in the book of Ecclesiastes: “That which has been, the same shall be.”
The Lord contrasted this with another teaching, without destroying the meaning of the Old Testament, but rather completing it: The rest of God is not a cutting short of His creativity (although God’s world is perfect incomplete insofar as it is not spoiled by the deeds of fallen spirits and fallen men). Even now, when we see any work of God — blossoming branches in spring or any other creation — we hear the words of the Creator: this is very good. But the entire intention of God is not yet fulfilled, namely His intention to transfigure the world. God made us men, but we made ourselves fallen men. But the Lord wants to lead us to such and aptitude that Apostle John was not able to find words for it in his epistle, when he said, “We are now the sons of God, but we do not know what we shall be.” And the Lord said, “My Father continues to work, continues to create, and I continue.” This refers to the healing on the Sabbath.
The mercy of God is limitless and kind. It goes before a man, before his requests and prayers, to say nothing of his correction. But the mercy of God is demanding. We can observe how we react to the children of others, and to our own children. If we are not entirely wicked people, we see how even with children for whom we bear no responsibility we are happy show them affection, to give them some candy, to rejoice over them, and to demand nothing of them. We are not responsible for them. But not like an uncle is the Lord kind to us, not like an uncle who gives us candy and goes on his way, asking nothing of us. The Lord meets a man who has been healed by Him, and He reminds this man that the great mercy he has received is at once a demand: do not sin. As much as the Lord gives us, so much does He demand.
It will be yet better if we understand that His demanding of us is the best thing that He gives us. The words “sin not” were said to a man who was healed of a very heavy, very long sickness, who was rescued from the bitterest misfortune. But each of us, even if we live in prosperity and a relatively safe life, knows what abysses lie before him; He does not see the abysses that God may allow for him. So these words are also directed at us: Sin not, lest a worse thing befall thee. For even those of us (if there be any such) who have no memory of such things in their past, of miraculous deliverance from great misfortune, or of a misfortune that came and later went away, have all the reason necessary to understand that each moment could be much worse. We have led ourselves and God’s world into such a state that misfortunes must happen to us. So it is reasonable for us not to sin (even apart from the fact that this is a duty of race) for the Lord has not dealt with us according to our sins.
Let us pray that the Lord will raise up our weakened souls, our weakened hearts, and that He will complete the work of the Resurrection of out Fatherland. And we should also pray today for those souls who paid for the victory of our Fatherland with their blood. We should also remember those who gave up their lives in the Russian diaspora for the salvation of those who were threatened by the inhuman Hitlerian regime. We should remember such people, like Mother Maria. Let us pray that our weakened Fatherland, having lost all earthly hope, might receive health in spite of our sins. Amen.