He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Love it to Death: The Love of Our Life

This year I did something that I have never done before; I attended both Roman Catholic and Antiochian Orthodox liturgies for Easter or Pascha.  Because on the Gregorian and Julian calendars they were a week apart, I was able to experience them in sufficient proximity to one another that I was able to do some effective comparison.  I also had enough time between them to consider their uniqueness.

In both cases I attended the vigil service, and as a result I was out until after 2:00 am and did not sleep until 3:00 in the morning.  One of the similarities I noticed at the liturgies is that both viscerally evoked the image of an empty tomb.  In the case of the Roman Catholic Easter Vigil Mass, the tabernacle was empty and standing open when I arrived, a symbol that Christ had risen from the tomb.  In the case of the Antiochian Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the iconostasis was the symbol of the tomb, completely closed off at the start of the service, then opened up after the candlelight procession and readings.

Whereas the the candlelight procession, readings, and the Exultet took place after the symbolism of the empty tomb in the Roman Catholic church, the procession and readings happened before the tomb was shown to be empty in the Antiochian Orthodox church.  This made sense when we read the Gospel reading about the empty tomb and I saw the priest knocking on the doors to the church (in traditional Syrian practice) to go back in as if he were leaving the tomb to enter Heaven.  And the journey of Christ does end in Heaven, but only by way of Hell and after 40 days on earth appearing to the Apostles and others.

Just as Christ went through Hell to release the righteous dead and arose to new, glorified life, so too are we invited to arise to a new glorified life, bringing with us those who were once dead, those who had been wrapped in the comforting cocoon of sin just as we were imprisoned by our attachment to our fleshly desires.  Like Christ, we are called to ascend to Heaven with those we love, drawing them out of the tomb by our love into the eternal love of the Father.

Christ showed us by his life, death, and resurrection that it is a life and death in service to others which leads to a new life which transcends death.  He showed us that it is in pouring out our lives for others that we are emptied of our selfishness so that we can be filled with divine love.  He showed us that it is in being broken for the sake of the love of others that we can be re-formed so that our love for others is perfected and purified, made whole by participation in the divine life of love.

Just as Christ is the Bread from Heaven that was broken for us, so too are we bread which is broken for those we love, our hearts rending for others and our deepest fleshly desires shattered for the fulfillment of what is good for our beloved.  Just as Christ poured out the blood and water of His body for us on the cross, so too our blood and tears are poured out so that we might do what is good for those we love, our eyes weeping with our beloved as they weep and our blood shed while working to ensure that they can live on.  Just as Christ humbled Himself in service to us in life, so too we humble ourselves in service to those who can never repay us, asking only that they follow our example of loving service to others so that we might be joined in the eternal divine life of love.

Christ who is Love showed us how to live a life saturated with love, a Life so bright with the joy and enveloped in the peace which springs from love that it cannot help but be seen as the best and boldest Way, a self-evident Truth to those who witness this new Life.  Christ showed us how to live the Life of love by coming to us in this life as Love incarnate, life overflowing into a new and more glorious life beyond the tomb and beyond the pits of Hades. Christ showed us how to love to death all that prevents us from participating fully in the new Life, a love unto death which he shows to us as an invitation to be adopted into the household of Love by the Father who is eternal Life.

Christ thus became the Love of our life, and the pure Life of our love.

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