10 May 2015
The whole of the Christian life consists of these two parts: to do the will of God, and to suffer for his sake. Consider the life of our Lord Jesus Christ himself. He who is God, the giver of the Law, submitted himself to the Law for our sake. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law,” he told his disciples. “I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill.” And having kept the Law in its fullness, he willingly suffered its penalty for us and for our salvation. The wages of sin is death, but he gave himself as a ransom to death, in order to give us life.
Consider also the Theotokos. When God revealed through Gabriel that she would bear his Son, she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” And when her spotless Son was led to the tree, the words of Simeon were fulfilled, “A sword will pierce your own heart too.”
Indeed, these two things have marked the lives of all the saints, from the beginning of the world till now: they did the will of God, and suffered for Christ’s sake.
I bring this up, beloved, because at the heart of today’s gospel the Lord says something very strange: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
Now normally we think of food as something that gives us energy to work, or as a reward after we’ve done work. But here Christ says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.”
How often, in my Christian life, do I say to myself, “As soon as I feel strong enough…as soon as my basic needs are met…as soon as I’ve got life going the way I want it to….then I’ll willingly do God’s will and gladly suffer hardship for Christ’s sake.” Day follows day, week follows week, and I’m still stuck in the same ruts, struggling with the same sins, getting older but no better, slipping into despair. Does this describe you, too?
If so, maybe we have it backwards. Maybe we will find the meaning and satisfaction and purpose we so desperately long for, not by feeding our passions and focusing on our own desires, but by finding our delight, as Christ does, in doing the will of God and suffering for his sake.
For the past month or so, I have been so caught up with preparations for our trip, and finishing the semester, that I’ve neglected my normal habit of walking a couple of miles a day. And how has that been working for me? I have less strength, less motivation, and have gotten less done.
What’s true physically is also true spiritually. When things happen and my first question is, “How does this fit in with what I want?”—I inevitably get frustrated and angry and despair. But when I learn to pray from the heart, “Thy will be done,” and embrace the things that come as from the hand of a Lord who so loved me that he embraced death for me—then I learn to live in peace and joy.
My friends, Khouria and I will be away for much of the next three months. May I offer a challenge to you? Meditate on these strange words of Christ, and apply them to all that comes your way. Don’t desire that things go your way, according to your will; but embrace what happens as an expression of his will. When Christ kept these words, when he obeyed and suffered, it meant life for you and me. When we embrace them for ourselves, think what joy it will bring for us, and what life in Christ for others!
04 May 2015
The Gospel of John is not a story of “once upon a time;” it is a story of “once and for all time.” In its lines the eternal Word becomes flesh, on behalf of all and for all. And so it is fitting that at each Orthodox marriage, we read these words from John 2. For marriage, too, embodies timeless truth in human flesh. Marriage reveals the relationship between Christ and the Church. There are not two Christs or two Churches, but one Christ and one Church, joined in their distinctiveness, and dissimilar in their union.
We see that clearly at the wedding in Cana. Two great hearts are present—Christ and his Mother, each with their own role to play. Mary is present as the intercessor, the pray-er. It is she who sees the need of the couple, and intercedes for them with her Son. “Son,” she says, “they have no wine.”
Some might say that she’s unnecessary. After all, doesn’t Christ know all and see all? Yet it was his will to work through her prayer, that day in Cana. And since these words show timeless truth, it remains his will to work through her prayers… indeed, through the prayers of all his people.
Christ is present, too, as the provider. He tells the servants to put water into pots. Then he makes that water, plain and pure, into the sweetest and best of wines. He works in a hidden way to accomplish his will. The servants pour but water; the steward tastes but wine. Only the disciples get the whole picture. Only they see that by Mary’s prayer, and by Christ’s provision, the water is turned to wine. Only they see Christ’s glory, and worship him.
John and Ariana, it has been my privilege and joy to watch this relationship develop from its beginning. I knew you both, before you were together. I remember a breakfast at the truck stop on 76th, and a suggestion—“Why not just go out on one date, and see what happens?”
Well—see what happens! See what happens through the prayers of Mary and the provision of Christ! Today he who made them male and female in the beginning, and who said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”—today he joins you together as husband and wife.
And those two great hearts are not done with you. You will have those times when the wine runs low in your life together…when joy becomes struggle and maybe even heartache. If marriage were a merely a matter of two people and their willingness, it could not last in this broken world. Did you notice that there are no vows in our wedding liturgy? Marriage is a threefold cord, for God the Holy Trinity works today to bring you together and join you as one. It is not of man who runs or wills, but of God who shows mercy.
So let me encourage you to invite Christ and his Mother to your home and life together. She will pray for you in those times when the wine runs low. She will teach you, as she taught the servants, “Whatever he says, do it!” And he who came to bring joy to that couple will bring to you as well, the wine of joy and gladness in his Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.