30 March 2015
Homily for St. Mary of Egypt Sunday Lent 2015
Can you be baptized with my baptism? Can you drink the cup I drink? So the Lord asked James and John, so eager to share in his glory…and when they said, “We can,” he assured them, “You will. You will.”
Today, this fifth Sunday of Great Lent, we commemorate the life of our righteous mother Mary of Egypt, the great sinner. She lived life her way. She sought only pleasure. She delighted in corrupting the lives of others too…until she came into contact with the life-giving Cross of Christ. Confronted by the sign of Christ’s love, facing the power of the Cross, she saw her own sin in all its depths. She was baptized with Christ’s baptism, and journeyed out in the desert, beyond the Jordan, to learn the meaning of repentance. There she stayed for forty seven years, weeping over her sins and learning how to pray.
The Church holds St. Mary of Egypt before us, to remind us that we can’t enter life on our terms. We don’t negotiate a settlement with Christ’s cross. The terms are clear and simple: unconditional surrender.
She also reminds us that no one need despair. There are no depths of sin you’ve committed that cannot be forgiven by the precious blood of Christ. As St. Paul says in our epistle, “If the blood of bulls and of goats sanctified for the purification of flesh, how much more will the precious blood of Christ, who through the Spirit offered himself to the Father without blemish, cleanse your souls from dead works to serve the living God.”
She also reminds us that repentance is a life-long pursuit. Forty seven years in the desert…and, she told Fr. Zosima, for the first seventeen she battled her passions daily. The Christian life isn’t simply a matter of an altar call, followed by a life of fixing other people; the Christian life is a daily dying to self…every day, until our last breath.
That’s what it means to be baptized with Christ’s baptism: to drown our old man daily, by repentance, so that the new man might come forth…to learn to join our sin, in all its depths, to the cleansing waters of Christ’s baptism…that we might ignore the body, that perishes, and attend to the concerns of our undying soul.
Yesterday we baptized little Margaret; this morning, for the first time, she receives the life-giving cup of salvation, the very body and blood of Christ.
When he was suspended on the Cross, Christ carried that blood through the greater and more perfect tent of his body, and entered once for all into the Holy Place. Through the Spirit, the Son offered himself to the Father, and so restored us to fellowship with the Holy and blessed Trinity. What he offered there for us, he gives here to us. And so we drink his cup.
But that’s not all. His cup is also the cup of his sufferings. In the Garden he prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but thy will be done.” Then he went from the Garden to the Tree of Life, that by his suffering he might ransom us from death, sin, and the devil.
When he asked James and John if they could drink his cup, he was teaching them, and us, that we enter glory through suffering. James was to find that out a few years later, when Herod killed him with the sword. He was the first of the apostles to die for Christ. And John would learn it many years later, when he suffered exile for Christ’s sake.
Just think of the other saints we commemorate today: “Martyr Mark, bishop of Arethusa; Martyr Cyril, Martyrs Jonah and Barachisios of Persia, and Eustathios the Confessor.” Or think of those 21 who recently lost their heads for confessing Christ.
When we take on the Lenten disciplines, we learn to suffer willingly—we practice for martyrdom by dying to ourselves in little ways. When we embrace whatever suffering comes our way in our calling—as parents, or children, as workers or students, as neighbors and friends—we drink the cup of Christ’s suffering.
For the mystery of suffering is this: Christ joins our suffering with his, and takes it up as his own. That is why he calls it our cross. That is why he could say to Saul, on the Damascus road, “Why do you persecute me?” Saul learned it, for much later in his life he could say, “All who strive to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Can you be baptized with his baptism, dear friends? Can I? Can we drink the cup he will drink? “With your help, Lord, we can,” we tell him; and he answers, “You will. You will.”