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Keeping the Sabbath
Today is perhaps not the most auspicious day to publish any words. Having just served the Vesperal Divine Liturgy for Holy Saturday, wherein is sung the somber yet supremely beautiful hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” I find myself in danger of falling under my own condemnation. So I will at least try to keep my words brief.
In the center of the church the Lord, the life of all, lies entombed, keeping Sabbath in the flesh. But where are we, my dear brothers and sisters? Are we also now lying with Him in the tomb, having through the struggles of the Lenten Fast at long last put to death the old man and “crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts” (Gal. 5:24)? For we are called not to be merely spectators of the great and dread events of Holy Week, but living participants as well. And it is by no means an accident that precisely on Holy Saturday are catechumens traditionally vouchsafed Holy Baptism: for “know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by Baptism into death” (Rom. 6:3-4).
But perhaps we have not entered as fully as we ought into Great Lent, or into Great and Holy Week. Perhaps we have merely watched from afar off as the Lord ascended the Cross for our salvation, rather than ascending the Cross with Him ourselves. Perhaps the old man still walks free on this earth, still speaking and acting all too strongly within us, while Christ Himself lies silent in the tomb for our sakes.
Yet even if this is so, let us by no means despair as did Judas. Though the Lord in His perfection accomplished all things for us during one Great and Holy Week, even so we sinners and half-hearted Christians will likely need many Great and Holy Weeks to enter fully into His Life-giving Passion: as many as the number of years in our earthly lives. And though we perhaps find ourselves once again at the end of Great Lent, at the end of Great and Holy Week, still in many ways profoundly unprepared to glorify with a pure heart the Pascha of the Lord, yet in only a few short hours we will hear once again these words from the divinely-inspired Homily of St. John Chrysostom:
If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, Who is jealous of His honor, will accept the last even as the first; He gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour. And He shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one He gives, and upon the other He bestows gifts. And He both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord.
Let the joy therefore of each and every one of us be full to overflowing tonight — no matter who we are and no matter what we have done, or left undone — for truly, “forgiveness hath dawned from the tomb.”
But having arrived now at the eleventh hour, let us also by no means neglect — at least in these final moments — to labor at least a little in prayer and repentance. Before the Blessed Sabbath leaves us, let us take full advantage of these holiest hours of the entire year: “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us” (Heb. 12:1), and as we reach out to embrace the Paschal resurrection and joy, let us steadfastly resolve to leave behind us in the grave all the countless sins and passions and lusts to which we but a moment ago have clung.
Let us love one another. Let us forgive one another. And as we prepare to enter the church tonight and to venerate one last time the buried body of the Savior, let us at least now become willing to offer Him unstintingly our whole hearts and our whole lives; in the last moments of this Blessed Sabbath, let us even now “become united with Him in the likeness of His death,” so that “we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection” (Rom. 6:5).
Let all mortal flesh keep silence.