Our Baptism, our Wedding, our Funeral.
Homily 243 – Twenty-ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
January 8, 2017
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
All my life, from as far back as I can remember, I’ve heard the phrase we heard this morning over and over.
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Nine words – probably the most frequently phrase in the whole of the Scriptures – Old Testament and New.
So often did I hear these words, in fact, that I would be hard pressed to explain them. It seemed rather simple – even simplistic.
Repent. That is a verb. For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. That is the “why”.
I grew up in a Southern Baptist environment for much of my life. Implied in the “why” statement was a different message – if you want to see the Kingdom of heaven, repent.
Quickly followed by, repent is to be sorry. Lament, grieve, repent. Beat yourself up. Atone for your sins.
And, by the way, regardless of how sorrowful you are, or how much you atone for your sins, it will never be successful. Never sufficient.
Only trust in Jesus. A relationship with the Christ. That is the only sufficient, successful way to see the Kingdom.
And once you have been introduced, well, that’s probably enough. No worries beyond that point.
Coming into the Orthodox Church, I learned something different. Very different.
First, the word “repent.” In the original Greek, it is the word μετάνοια – metanoia.
Literally, it is a Greek word meaning “change of mind”. Yet the full meaning is somewhat more. This kind of repentance is not about regret or guilt or shame; it implies making a decision to turn around, to face a new direction.
It might be said, “On second thought, I’ll go a different way.”
We go in the direction we face. That seems intuitive, but is important to recognize. If we are facing Christ, we are moving in His direction.
If we are not, we are moving away from Him.
Every moment of every day, we ask ourselves – am I facing Christ?
Don’t worry about movement until you verify direction!
And if you find yourself off-course, then face Christ. That is what “Repent” means. Turn. Change direction.
We were not always this way. There was a time when we gloried in facing God – reflecting His glory in ourselves. But since the fall, and the expulsion from the Garden, we’ve been removed from the Kingdom, no longer facing God, no longer reflecting His glory in ourselves.
The glimpses we do find of God are “through a glass, darkly” as the Scriptures say.
That has implications also. We may not clearly see Christ, to clearly know that we are facing Him. Our vision is cloudy, fuzzy, out of focus.
So we need to rely on one another. The blind may not lead the blind, but the blurry vision can be overcome in a group.
We encourage one another. We pray for one another. We share with one another. And in so doing, we offer our sense of direction. And together, we piece together a highly focused vision of Christ.
Our communion with one another, in the Holy Spirit, facilitates this. We become not 50 or 5,000 or 50 billion pairs of eyes – but we become one body, clearly seeing our bridegroom who is Christ.
And we offer Him, our bridegroom, our very selves. In the most magnificent wedding feast we can imagine. Even beyond what we can imagine.
Our gaze is direct. No one gets married and looks throughout the service at their ex. And that is what the Evil One is – this world, our former life. That is our ex! Not our bridegroom.
Every time I put on these vestments, the base sticharion, which is the baptismal garment, I offer a specific prayer. “My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for he has clothed me with the garment of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom he has set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so he has adorned me.”
Which helps us understand and ties things together – this baptismal garment is also a wedding garment. Our baptism is our uniting ourselves with Christ – it is our wedding.
In a mystical way, every baptism is our baptism, because we are united to one another. We are, collectively, the singular bride of Christ.
It is Theophany – the revelation of Jesus as God, our wedding, His baptism, our baptism.
All those things.
So that in and with Him, the Kingdom of God is present with us. Not near. Not “coming”.
Here. With us. Now.
Because where the King is, there the Kingdom is also. This temple is the Embassy, our presence is as Ambassadors in a foreign land. But this is without a doubt the Kingdom in our presence.
So, like Christ, in uniting ourselves with Him, we keep our focus on Him, facing Him, and moving to Him.
And likewise, He moves to us. Because He loves His bride more than Himself.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Je