Homily 394 – 33rd after Pentecost, the Sunday of Zacchaeus, the Meeting of the Lord
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 2, 2020
Epistle: (316) Hebrews 7:7-17 (Feast) and (285-ctr) 1 Timothy 4:9-15
Gospel: (7) Luke 2:22-40 (Feast) and (94) Luke 19:1-10
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
There are a lot of things coming together this morning. We remember the presentation of our Lord, more formally called the “meeting of the Lord in the Temple”, and we celebrate the final Sunday of the ordinary year, the last Sunday before we begin preparing for Great Lent, also known as the Sunday of Zacchaeus.
Let’s start with the Meeting of the Lord in the temple. In the readings last night at Vespers, we read from the account from the Torah where God tells his people to “sanctify to Me every first-born, the males, to the Lord.”
God had, during the Egyptian captivity, caused the firstborn males of every house that didn’t have the blood of the Passover, or Paschal, lamb on the doorposts. That male died.
That death was a sacrifice – except for the people of Israel. The angel of death passed over them. And so, while they were spared from one sacrifice, just as God spared Isaac, they were still sacrifices – a living one instead. They were to be sanctified.
Sanctified – set apart. Caused to live with a different purpose. For a Holy Purpose. And so, the males were circumcised on the eighth day after their birth – that eighth, most perfect and holy of days, the day of Pascha and the day of the Kingdom – on that day, the males were circumcised.
Thirty-three days later, the first-born of the males were offered to God in the Temple. It is interesting, to me at least, that this was a time of healing, a time of purification.
So, God takes the first-born males, sanctifies them, that is, sets them apart for God, in the place of the first-born of the Egyptians.
We continue that practice in the Church even today. On the Eighth Day, there are prayers for the naming of a new baby. We are perhaps a little more flexible in this modern and missionary environment, but the prayers of naming are the Christian circumcision, and it applies to all, both male and female.
Then, ideally thirty-three days after that – on the 40th day of life for the Child, there is a service called Churching. In our day, that churching has been largely interpreted as being the restoration of the mother into the Church after a time of rest and healing after giving birth.
But – importantly – it is for both. Mother, but also the Child. Typically, in the Church, we also perform the Baptism and Chrismation on the 40th day, and the last part of the service is the Churching for the Child.
So, a Churching isn’t just for the mother. Both mother and child are purified – healed – after the stress and physical endurance of childbirth.
And also, we recognize that all children, male and female, firstborn and subsequent, are offered to God, for salvation and sanctification – being set apart. Chrism is the oil by which we are set apart for God’s use.
For Jesus, the Christ – the anointed one – that sanctification was already complete. So what are the implications of Christ’s presence?
That’s why we call it a “Meeting”, for through the priest Symeon, the world is allowed to meet its God, face to face. What was not possible for Moses, that no person could see the face of God and live, is made possible.
Symeon recognizes that miracle – one which he had been anticipating for most of his adult life. He recognizes in the Child the promise of the Messiah.
This child was – is – salvation itself. This child is light. This child is glory. Himself. Those were names for this Child, the anointed one, the Messiah.
Fast forward a few years, and as Jesus passes through Jericho, a wealthy tax collector wants to see this man. And he has his own individual Meeting of the Lord.
On his own, Zacchaeus was unable to see Christ. He was short. So in order to see Christ, he climbed up – he ascended – a tree. There he met Christ.
On his tree – on his Cross. That’s where we also find Christ. We must ascend the cross, just like Zacchaeus – just like Christ ascended the tree of the Cross.
If we desire Christ – if we want to see Him – we must ascend to a higher place.
Like Zacchaeus, that sight, that glimpse, will result in our meeting the Lord, and our lives will be changed for having met Him if we allow it.
Zacchaeus gave away half his wealth to the poor and restored all he had defrauded four-fold. For an accountant like me, the way I understand that is Zacchaeus gave away everything.
The Church holds that Zacchaeus continued to follow Christ, and after the Ascension of Christ, he accompanied the Apostle Peter on his travels and was installed as Bishop in Caesarea in Palestine.
I’m quite sure that was not what he expected when he climbed that sycamore tree in Jericho, hoping to catch a glimpse of this prophet, this man, Jesus.
Today, we climb our tree, we ascend our Cross, guaranteed to see the risen Lord. What will he ask of us? Will he ask us to change our entire lives for Him?
The short answer is yes. Perhaps it won’t be that we should sell everything and leave, but that we should stay and care for our neighbors and pursue holiness through the submission of our will.
Or, perhaps we will be asked to sell everything and leave, to go and serve elsewhere. That is what our friends the Coatney’s have done, that is what so many of our founders have done.
It is safe to say that whatever is involved, that calling is for us to see the needs of those we encounter and addressing it as we are able to address it. And we follow that path where it leads us.
Because it surely leads us to our salvation – to our own meeting with the Risen Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!