26 February 2012

Homily for Cheesefare 2012

We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community. We need to keep that in mind as we begin this Lententide. In last night’s Vespers we heard Adam sitting outside Paradise, mourning his Fall. The Fall brought death—separation—in Adam’s relationship to the world, to his wife, and to God. You may remember that when God confronted Adam, Adam blamed Eve. And Eve blamed the serpent. It was everyone for himself.

Still today we reap the fruit of that bitter harvest. St. Paul speaks of reveling and drunkenness, of debauchery and licentiousness, of quarreling and jealousy. Just consider drunkenness. Many folks get drunk for one of two reasons: either they want to overcome their own insecurity to make it easier to relate to others…or they want to forget the pain and brokenness of relationships that went bad. Either way, they end up lonelier and more isolated than ever.

That death, that separation, can even be seen in the church. Again, St. Paul speaks of the stronger and weaker brother. One man eats all kinds of food; another eats only vegetables. (By the way—did you notice that Paul says it’s the weaker man who eats only vegetables? We need to remember, as we enter the Fast, that fasting is a confession of our weakness, not something to boast about.) Even in the church, differences can lead to separation…alienation…death in our relationships.

In his mercy, Christ God gives us the weapons we take up during Lent to make us stronger, and to enliven our life together. “When you fast,” he says, because fasting turns me away from concern for my own life. “When you give alms,” he says, because giving alms makes me think of the other person, the one who lacks the things he needs. Remember Christ says, “Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon?” We use money to make friends, when we give it away.

And then, “When you pray.” Prayer restores our link to God. In the words of last night’s vespers, “I shall return to the earth from which I was taken, and I shall cry to Thee, O compassionate One, have mercy upon me who am fallen.”

Our prayer, our alms and our fasting don’t heal the breach between man and God. No; that was done when God the Son took on flesh from the most pure Virgin, and embraced our fallen condition. He fasted to overcome Satan; he prayed for fallen Adam and his seed; he gave the best he had, his own life, into death so that by his death we might have life. He rose victorious in the strife, to prove that the ancient breach was healed.

So why then do we take up the weapons of prayer, and fasting, and giving alms during Lent? It’s because like Zacchaeus, we would get a clearer view of Christ…like the Prodigal Son, we want to return home…because, while we live in the light, we want to do those things which Christ will praise on his return in glory.

We are damned by ourselves; we are saved in community. In a few moments we
will mark Forgiveness Vespers. Each of us will ask forgiveness from everyone else, for the ways we have hurt each other this past year…for the ways we have chosen our own concerns over the life of the community. We will pray the prayer of St. Ephrem, which says in part, “Grant me to see my own sins, and not to judge my brother.”

And we will offer more services during Lent. It isn’t easy to come more often to church, I know. It means giving up some of my own pursuits. It means making tough choices. But the Lenten fast is too hard to do on your own. We need each other, to encourage and support each other. We are damned by ourselves. We are saved in community.

So come, brothers and sisters; let us greet the Lenten fast with joy. Let us forgive one another; let us love one another; let us encourage each other as we make ready to celebrate Christ’s holy resurrection. For by his obedience he has conquered our sin; by his death he has conquered our death; and by his rising he has restored us to the image of that ancient beauty in which we once were fashioned.

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