It seems like yesterday, that 45 of us met in Miami and traveled to the Holy Lands; experiencing something that would change our lives forever. Although some of us have been before, each time is a new adventure that opens up our Faith in a new and unique way.
It was exactly seven weeks ago tonight, on Saturday evening, we walked through the rainy, cobblestone streets of the Old City, and made our way to the Holy Sepulcher before midnight.
Fr. John and I entered the Altar and took our place across from the Holy Sepulcher. It was dark; it was late; we were exhausted but ready to serve the Divine Liturgy. One by one, Clergy from throughout the world entered - from Russia, Romania, Germany, Qatar, Greece — totaling almost 30.
At a little after 1:00 AM, we processed out of the Church, and arrived at the Tomb of Christ. After a few moments, the Bishop told us to enter the tomb as we began the Divine Liturgy. For the next two and a half hours, Fr. John and I, along with a few other Clergy, were given the GREAT blessing of serving the Divine Liturgy INSIDE the Holy Sepulcher.
The place where Jesus rose from the dead; the location where Joseph of Arimathea laid Him; the place where the Myrrh-bearers entered looking for Jesus and were met by an Angel.
It was dark - only a small candle lit; very little air circulating. Feeling truly astonished, in awe, we prayed the Divine Liturgy. I remember praying for my family; those who are ill; our fellow pilgrims, and our Saint Mark family.
Tonight, my dear brothers and sisters, we stand by the very same tomb of our Lord; although half a world away; through the hymns, services and beautiful traditions of the Orthodox Church, we are able to walk into this dark tomb. Whether we are here in our Sanctuary; or in our homes; we stand by the tomb of Christ, in anxious anticipation.
Let your mind go back to 2,000 years ago . . . to the very first Easter.
I came across this beautiful story:
On the very first Easter, the disciples were locked in their homes. It was dangerous for them to come out. They were afraid. They wanted to believe the good news they heard from the women, that Jesus had risen.
But it seemed too good to be true. They were living in a time of such despair and such fear.
If they left their homes, their lives and the lives of their loved ones might be at risk. Could a miracle really have happened? Could life really had won out over death? Could this time of terror and fear really be coming to an end?
Alone in their homes they dared to believe that hope was possible, that the long night was over and morning had broken, that God's love was the most powerful of all, even though it didn't seem quite real yet.
Eventually, they were able to leave their homes, when the fear and danger had subsided, they went around celebrating and spreading the good news that Jesus was risen and love was the most powerful force on the earth.
April 2020. I believe we are experiencing a taste of what that first Easter was like; still in our homes daring to believe that hope is on the horizon. The coronavirus has immobilized our lives; our world. It has changed the way we work; the way we socialize; the way we worship; the way we live.
It makes me sad; confused; angry; it makes me doubt and wonder.
This brutal virus makes us feel that we are locked up in a dark tomb for an impossibly long duration, as though the darkness of “Holy Friday” might go on forever with little hope in sight.
But tonight — for one night — I choose to forget about all of this.
Around us, we see signs of awakening, signs of hope, signs of resurrection.
We know life as we know it may be dampened down for now... but just for a bit.
The Lenten journey is always filled with roadblocks; disruptions; detours and obstacles that prevent us on keeping the eye on the prize.
We have been living in darkness, confined to a kind of tomblike existence. Life as we have known it has stopped. We don’t go out to work. We don’t go out to play. We hide our faces; we guard our lungs. We walk through our homes and streets, frightened, waiting for this to pass us by.
It is inevitable, year after year, the evil one finds a way to take our focus off of the goal, and turn away from God.
“See, I have shut down your Churches,” said the Devil. And our Lord responds, “On the contrary, you have opened one in every home.”
The beautiful signs of piety, prayer and love that I have seen you experience in your homes has been truly remarkable; life changing. Never allow darkness to change you.
Isaiah writes in his 26th chapter, “My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.” (Isaiah 26:9). “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. Go my people enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while….” (Isaiah 26:19-20)
The disciples realized that when the stone was rolled away, and the darkness opened to the light, a new day was rising. A new day where sickness, tribulation, decay, loneliness, depression and death were no more.
A new day where the darkness of the night is pierced with a light from above — a light that penetrates the world; our lives; our hearts; our homes.
A light that enables us to have hope; to see the sun rise on this pandemic. A light like we have never experienced before.
Yes — we are exhausted; confused; bewildered; struggling; isolated. We are growing tired of the way our life is — but tonight, tonight my dear brothers and sisters, let Christ enter the core of your being; let him enter your homes, your lives, your tombs. Whether we are in Jerusalem, at Saint Mark or in our homes, Christ will penetrate the darkness and bring us LIGHT.
Watch and wait dear faithful. Be expectant. Dawn is coming. And when it comes — you will breathe again.
The blue skies you see around you will manifest in all kinds of ways, and life will start again. You’ll again feel the bustle of people and cars, know the joy of relationships and friends. You’ll again eat together, sing together, worship together, and love together.
In one word: Resurrection.
It will all be new. Never again will life be quite the same. For our experiences of death and darkness change us. We emerge not the same — but renewed and restored in His Name. We become more joyful about life, and more appreciative of everything in it.
We become Resurrection People.
Resurrection is coming. The signs are all around you. Watch. Wait. Listen. Long for the change; celebrate the change. Celebrate the Lord who gives Life and restores Life.
Life beyond the grave has been revealed. The fear of death has been dispelled in the light and power of the Resurrection. We proclaim our joy. Now salvation and power and the kingdom of God has come, and we shall live forever.
And now my dear brothers and sisters, as I come out of the tomb with the light, light your candles in your homes, and allow the LIGHT OF THE WORLD to enter your life at the empty tomb as we experience His Resurrection.
This light will offer you something greater than you can ever imagine.
The light of Christ does not discriminate; does not shun; does not push away. The light of Christ embraces and loves all people.
This light will give you forgiveness; this light will give you peace; this light will give you hope; this light will give you healing; this light will allow you to walk as a new person.
This is the light that opens the door to Paradise.
Come . . . Come my brothers and sisters as we process to the tomb of Christ — and receive the never ending Light.