Holy Ascension of Christ
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Sermon from Fr. Nicholas
Sermon for April 14th, 2019
St. Mary of Egypt
Gospels: Mark 10:32b-45, Luke 7:36-50
Epistles: Heb 9:11-14, Gal 3:23-29
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Ever since the fall of man through sin, people have been engaged in a constant internal struggle between the flesh and the spirit. We know from the Holy Scriptures, that most lose this battle. The pull of the flesh is great. When the Fathers use the term “flesh”, they mean not so much our physical bodies, as those base appetites and desires that drive so much of what we do. Even those who eventually win fall many times. It is difficult to strive for the eternal, the spiritual and the perfect, when we, as a result of being fallen beings, have been re-calibrated for the temporal, the carnal, and the false.
Even two of the greatest disciples, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, show how difficult it is to swim against the current of our fallen nature. The entire conversation between Christ and these two disciple in the first Gospel reading takes place at two completely different levels. The reading starts out with the Lord telling the twelve about the harsh reality speeding towards them: that Christ will be betrayed, condemned to death, given over to the Romans, beaten, mocked, spit upon and killed – but on the third day He shall rise again. Now, maybe the disciples didn’t understand, or maybe they weren’t paying close enough attention, because immediately following, James and John come up to Him and ask, ”Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand, and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” They are still looking to a military leader and earthly glory, and they don’t yet truly hear the words that Jesus speaks to them. Even today, according to Jewish teaching, the expected messiah fights wars, restores the structure of the temple in Jerusalem, and enables mass animal sacrifices to take place. As we just heard, the True Messiah was saying things so profound, so sublime that that old man in us who is chained to this world scarcely even understands.
The Lord is patient and does not rebuke James and John but says, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And they reply, “We are able.” Again, the conversation is at two different levels. The Lord, of course, sees this, but James and John do not. St. John Chrysostom says that Christ is calling His crucifixion a cup and His death a baptism.(1) James and John understand this literally, and continue to not know what they ask. The Lord reassures them that they will drink of the cup that he drinks of, and they will be baptized with the baptism that He is baptized with, but He says that to sit on His right hand and on His left, is not His to give but it is for those for whom it is prepared.
Let us consider these words of the Lord for a moment. Notice how this portion of the conversation that, as we have seen, was conducted on two levels, ends without the Lord explaining or clarifying anything to James and John. They started by asking the Lord about partaking in earthly glory, and they walk away not knowing what the His cup and baptism really mean, that is, pain, suffering, humiliation and even death. It’s interesting to think about how and when it dawned on James and John what it was that Christ was *really* talking about here. And each of us should strive for this inner-understanding, for if we keep the words of Christ alive in our hearts, those parables and teachings that are just ink on paper or chanting in a church one minute, spring to life when we encounter them in reality. And often, they are not what we imagined them to be. It is as hard to accept the necessity of pain and sacrifice, as it is to discern the spiritual benefit that comes from them. But Christ knew that James and John would do both, and perhaps that is what is most inspiring, that these two disciples who were asking for earthly glory, learn to take on the role of servants and by faith, sacrifice and suffering for Christ *do* sit at His right hand and His left in glory but a glory that is infinitely greater than the one that they had originally asked for.
This teaching of the Lord is evident in today’s second Gospel reading as well, where we see two very different people reacting to Christ’s presence. The first is a Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house. It is likely that this man is theologically well read, and he has even made it his profession to serve God, although we see that somewhere along the way he has made himself the master. The second person is a woman, a known sinner, but she quietly washes the Savior’s feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, kisses them and anoints them with fragrant oil. She is suffering and she pours her love upon the Lord, making herself His servant. And let’s not forget about what we just mentioned about suffering and servitude. But also, notice why the Lord says in the end that her sins, which are many, are forgiven: because she loved much. This idea is truly at the center of both Gospel readings, and, indeed the entire Gospel, but today it was only explicitly stated at the end of the second reading. And yet without it neither reading makes sense. Love is inseparable from sacrifice and servitude as anybody who is married, husband or wife, will tell you. Although, my brothers and sisters in Christ, the ultimate definition of love isn’t even expressed in words at all, but starting at the end of this week as Orthodox Christians we *will* hear it, we *will* see it and we *will* be completely immersed in it. The question is will we truly understand it in our hearts like James, John and the sinful woman, or will we remain cold and critical like the Pharisee. May the Lord give us the faith and strength to open our hearts to love.
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.
Ancient Christian Commentary Mark vol.2, p.150
Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for us!
From the Parish Council
Please remember that our General Parish Meeting will be April 30th on the Sunday of the Myrrh Bearers. We will share reports from our Rector, Treasurer, Church Warden, and Head Sisters. We will also elect Parish Council members. Please plan to attend and support tour church.
Reminder: consider how you can help maintain our church on a weekly and monthly basis. Look over the Church Operations and Maintenance Checklist (below). If you can help, please complete a task and initial under the week you completed it. This checklist will be posted in the kitchen for weekly use.
As always, We need your continued prayers and support. Please consider donating and keep an eye out for special project appeals.
If you are interested in helping with projects and chores (large or small), please reach out to our church warden, Sasha Soubotin (firstname.lastname@example.org), or our head sisters, Christina Roller (email@example.com), Vicky Selznick (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Stephanie Rindell (email@example.com).
FOR A DETAILED CALENDAR, visit our website: https://www.holyascensionofchrist.org/calendar
April 7 - Annunciation (Liturgy at 6:00 am)
April 8 - Lazarus Saturday
April 9 - Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem
April 9-15 - Holy Week
- April 9 - 6:30 pm Matins of Great & Holy Monday
- April 10 - 6:30pm Matins of Great & Holy Tuesday
- April 11 - 6:30pm Matins of Great & Holy Wednesday
- April 12 - 5:00pm Holy Unction; 6:30pm Matins of Great & Holy Thursday
- April 13 - 9:00am Liturgy for the Mystical Supper
- April 13 - 6:00pm Matins of the 12 Gospels for Great & Holy Friday
- April 14 - 9:00am Royal Hours; 3:00pm Vespers with the bringing out of the Shroud; 5:30pm Matins of Great & Holy Saturday
- April 15 - 8:00am Adult Baptism; 9:00am Vesperal Liturgy; 9:00pm Reading of the Acts; 11:00pm Midnight Office
April 16 - PASCHA
- Midnight - Paschal Matins
- 3:00pm Agape Vespers and Matins
April 17 - 9:00am Bright Monday Divine Liturgy
April 17-21 - FAST FREE WEEK
April 23 - Thomas Sunday
April 25 - Day of Rejoicing - 6:30pm Panikhida
April 28 - Vespers at 6:30 pm, Catechetical Class to follow
April 30 - Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women
- General Parish Meeting - following Divine Liturgy
Please note the following service schedule:
- Vigil is served at 6:30pm each Saturday and before each Feast.
- Hours and Divine Liturgy are served at 9:00am unless otherwise noted.