In my previous post, I made some comments on death’s destruction of personal relationships and the effect of the Resurrection on those relationships. The terminology I utilized might well have given the impression that I was going to discuss the political or cultural implications of the Resurrection. I did not. In fact, I only obliquely commented that the personal effect of the Resurrection cannot be reified institutionally, in part because the Resurrection transforms persons. In this post I want to comment further, with some unstructured ad hoc reflections.
Depending on how you date the start of my journey into the Orthodox Church, it took me five to seven years to finally be received into the Orthodox Church. Many, many times I chafed at the delay. But within what was the last year prior to being chrismated (anointed with holy oil), I began to recognize that the delay had been important and, to some extent, necessary. While my initial motivations for investigating the Orthodox Church had to do with prayer and with an incarnate (one might even say existential) connection to the New Testament Church, the methodology by which I began my search was intellectual and digital. I read theology and hit the online blogs and message boards. Looking back I now see the two dangers that these things entailed. I can now marvel that I did not personally join the wreckage that sometimes occurs.
Take your time. Please. Think of the journey in terms of years, not months. Be patient. When you think you’re ready, you’re probably not. Your priest will not be in a hurry. Follow his lead. Assume that God’s providence is operative and will work everything out with impeccable timing and grace. After you think you’re ready, if you can be convinced that you’re not ready, and you’re resolved to wait another couple of years, then you’re probably ready.
Oh, and as a general rule, stay away from Orthodox blogs. Like this one.
The Resurrection appearances of Jesus were personal. There was not simply an empty tomb followed by an angelic revelation or a different version of the burning bush. There was the bodily, personal appearance of Jesus to his followers. He is not a ghost, but has flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). A person is a soul, is spirit, yes, but a person is, as the Incarnation teaches us, a body. And Jesus’ personal appearances were appearances of his whole person, body and soul, to his followers. His death, from the vantage point of his disciples, had irrevocably sundered their personal relationship. His Resurrection restored forever those connections.
We have pre-Resurrection examples of what this victory over death entails. In two instances, recorded in Luke, in which Jesus raised the dead, the dead were returned to their families: Of the widow of Nain’s son “And Jesus gave him to his mother”; of Jairus’ daughter, after dismissing everyone except her parents and three of his disciples, he raises her and then tells her parents, “Give her something to eat.” And when he healed the demonized boy after coming down from the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus “gave him back to his father.” Raising from the dead, healing, were intended to restore the social and familial connections that sickness and death harm and destroy. And in the final resurrection, St Paul writes, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). The next verse, in the wonderful KJV phrasing, exhorts: “Wherefore comfort one another with these words. ”
As the Divine Liturgy is beginning, the deacon says, “It is time for the Lord to act.” For one having grown up in evangelical churches, this sounds like a very curious thing to say. How many sermons have we heard that discuss worship as “liturgy” as, that is to say, the “work of the people”? How carefully are worship services crafted so that the music, the visual presentations, the message, all coalesce together in rhetorical and emotive influences so as to move the worshippers in some way: to repentance, to conversion, to action? And yet here, as the Orthodox are preparing to hear the Gospel and its preaching, and to consume the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the altar is declared the fundamental truth: in this worship service God will act. God will enter our time, uniting it with eternity, and engage in mighty works.
No wonder the impulse to prostrate oneself can be so strong.
“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” (Mark 16:7)
And what must have been in Peter’s heart at this? To him who had betrayed Christ, the Lord himself had called by name, inviting Peter to join him in Galilee.
But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. (Luke 24:12)
Did his heart race ahead of him? Did he hope to see the Lord at the tomb, just as the women had? Did he rehearse in his mind what he would say to his Lord and Master? Did the words of the parable come to mind: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'” But he did not see the Lord there. Not yet.
So, I phoned my mom yesterday, which by my own laborious calendrical calculations happened to be Mother’s Day. Good timing on my part, I think. I am both the firstborn of her three children, and her only son. Yes, the psychoanalysis just jumps out doesn’t it? I can see the nodding heads and set mouths, “Ah, yes, it all fits into place now.” But yes, it’s true. Our relationship has had its, um, phases. Of course, it’s all my fault.