As you look back to your Holy Week experience, I’m sure you recall many visitors to your Church. Some were familiar faces of those parishioners whom you hadn’t seen in a while, but there were others whom you never met. During Holy Week, naturally our Churches are filled with people who do not attend on a normal basis if at all. It offers us a great opportunity to expose others to the Orthodox Christian Faith in the Resurrected Christ. Unfortunately, many of us treat these visitors as tourists rather than pilgrims.
Much has been written about the exodus of our youth from the Church. What I have to say today is not new information, but it connects to today’s Gospel lesson, so it might hit home differently. According to studies, as many as 60-80% of youth are leaving the Church permanently, and it is our job as parents, priests, mentors, parish council members, teachers, etc. to do what we can to change this pattern. The first step is we must acknowledge that what we have been doing hasn’t worked.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear what could be the most famous passage in the Bible, thanks to televised sporting events. There isn’t a sporting event that goes by where at least one person is not holding up a large poster for the TV cameras which reads, “John 3.16” which is a rich blessing to proclaim how much God loves us. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (You can read the entire passage for today below)
On the Sunday of Thomas, the eighth day of Pascha, we hear God say to His Disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28.19) We also hear God say, “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” (John 20.29) Shortly before His Passion Christ also prayed for “those who will believe in Me through their word.” (John 17.20) He was speaking about us. We have heard the report of Christ’s resurrection and we have believed without seeing. Now it’s our turn to go forth and tell others what we have heard, so they can be blessed by God.
Did you fast all of Great Lent? If you did, then today your body is sending you a message. If you remember back to the first couple days of the fast, your body was cleansing itself of the many toxins in you diet. Without meat and dairy, your body cleansed itself. You probably even felt better after the first few days, with more natural energy and less weighed down throughout the day. That was because the foods we normally eat are not only heavy filled with too much fat, but also many chemical toxins.
Our journey is over, or is it just beginning? Today is the Feast of Feasts, the Day of Resurrection, the day on which the world has forever changed. Christ is Risen, and death no longer has any power over our lives. If we have learned anything from this year’s Daily Lenten Journey, I pray we have learned that we are not the same person we were when our journey began forty 49 days ago. Seven weeks is a long time, but it seems like we just began, and now we are celebrating.
On Holy and Great Friday the Church commemorates the Passion of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Last night the Cross of Christ was processed around in a darkened Church, while faithful approached quietly to venerate our Crucified Lord. Since the Cross is otherwise not available for the people to venerate, as it is always in the Altar, this can be a special time for the people filled with a bit of somber excitement.
On Holy and Great Thursday, the Church commemorates the establishment of the Eucharist, the New Covenant between God and His People. As we approach the final days of our journey to Pascha, it is a good reminder that the Passion of Christ, His Crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection is NOT an act of obedience to His Father. Rather, it is a new covenant, and if new then not bound by the old.
On Holy and Great Wednesday, we commemorate the betrayal of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. During last night’s Bridegroom Matins, we sang a hymn that poetically places two options in front of us. The place of Judas who betrayed Christ, or the sinful harlot. At first we might say, neither betrayer nor harlot, but life isn’t about who we are today. Life is about what choice we make to become who God desires us to become.
Holy and Great Tuesday is a day to remember to avoid being foolish. Many have been foolish over the centuries. Some have even boldly declared themselves “ready” to meet God. While we must all strive to be ready, as this week’s focus reminds us, to think we are finished and ready is a risk I’m not sure you want to take, especially this week.