Holy Wednesday

MP3 Audio: WS330344_Fr-Michael_Holy-Wednesday-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Wednesday evening, April 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

~

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is one. Amen.

You all remember Claire? She came and worked with us and wants to come up again. I figured we could work on some things like – you know – high and low, and loud and soft, and that sort of thing, because you’ve got the chanting down pretty good, so we can start to get fancier now.

Her brother Paul is dying up on Long Island, and he’s had cancer for a while and they – when I saw her Sunday before I left to come up, you know, she said, “Well, the hospice nurse said that they probably won’t need me back on Monday, you know, and he could go very quickly.” Well, he’s still there, and he’s still between this world and the next. And she called me before I left to come over here, because his wife had said that he had told her he was seeing things in the room, and they were scaring him . . . so what does this mean?  What’s going on? . . .

What I told her Sunday, and what I reminded her today, is that our bodies are not meant to die. When God created Adam and Eve, he never intended that they should die. He didn’t mean for human beings to die. He didn’t mean for the soul, which was placed into our body, to ever be separated from that body. That’s because of sin. That’s because Adam and Eve were disobedient. They rejected the life that God offered to them, which would have been an eternity together with him in paradise, and that for all other men and women on the earth. And so, death, getting sick from disease, the disintegration we sometimes see, you know things that die . . . all of that is the result of our rejection of God, of being disobedient to what he told us to do.

So, when it comes time, because physical death is now a part of the Creation – I mean we’re kind of stuck with it at this point – the soul and the body don’t want to separate. The soul needs the body in order to interact with the physical world, because the soul is not physical – the soul is spiritual. It doesn’t have form. It doesn’t have shape. This [body] is my soul’s form and shape. The body needs the soul to move, to breathe.

The soul is . . . what is called the anima in Latin, the principle of movement and energy and everything that is life, working through the body. Without the soul, the body dies. It cannot move, it cannot do anything. Without the body, the soul enters into a very shadowy existence in which it cannot experience the world clearly or distinctly, because that’s what my hands, eyes, mouth, all that helps the body to experience. That’s why they’re put together. So the body will die and be placed somewhere in the ground, in the grave – wherever we have for it – in large cemeteries like that out there, or small places. And the soul now goes to one of two places. It goes either to Hades or to Paradise.

Remember that Jesus tells the thief on the cross who confesses him, who believes, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” That’s not heaven. Paradise is the place where the souls of those who are being faithful and obedient go to await the resurrection. Hades is the place where the souls of those who have not been faithful, have not been obedient, go. And those people, unless God in his mercy chooses to intervene, go to what we call “hell”. And the souls in Paradise go to what we call “heaven”, after the Second Coming, after the general resurrection.

Now, at Jesus’ time, that was not the case. Up until Jesus’ time, all the souls of those who had died went to Hades. Why? Well, Jesus hadn’t conquered death yet. Just as the first Adam was disobedient to God and was cast out of Paradise – remember he’s out there with a big honkin’ angel with a flaming sword preventing him from getting back in. The second Adam who is our Lord Jesus Christ comes to return us to Paradise.

So the body fights death, and this is why Claire’s brother Paul, whom everybody said was going to die two weeks ago, ain’t gone yet. He’s resisting it to the limit of his physical strength. And I told her, I said, “Yes, he may be seeing things that are real; he may not.”  The cancer is eating his brain and it might be that. Or there may be demons coming to tempt him, but they can’t do anything. They can’t do a blessed thing. He’s made a complete life confession – he’s confessed all the sins that he can remember that he’s done – and faithfully done that. You know, God forgives the sins that he can’t remember if he really can’t. His priest has been with him; his priest has anointed him. He’s received the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood. Even if something is trying there to cast him into despair, or to cast the family into despair, it is powerless! It has no power. Only Christ has the power.

Now Jesus came – and all of this is what Holy Week is about, this is what we’re going to be experiencing tomorrow and Friday and Saturday – Jesus came, as I said, to be Adam #2, and to reverse for us what the first Adam had done. He didn’t come to do it for himself – he didn’t need it. He came to restore us to the place with God we were supposed to be, or at least, if we are willing to be faithful and follow him, make it possible for us to be restored, because this is not magic. It’s not automatic. We have to respond in a faithful, persevering, and godly way.

And so Jesus goes through exactly the same thing that Claire’s brother Paul, and that our forefathers, and that – someday – myself and you will eventually go through. We’re all going to physically die. And our soul will be separated from our body, and our body will go to the grave, and our soul – depending upon how faithful we have been – will go either to paradise or to hades, where we will begin to experience what we will experience for all eternity: either heaven or hell.

But, you see, because the soul has difficulty just experiencing things, making contact, it doesn’t have – it can’t do “this” anymore. Even “that” is a little shadowy and a little gray. Jesus himself endured death and went to hades. Up until that first Good Friday so many millennia ago, as I said, all the souls went to hades, which was a place which was, you know, wasn’t too cool, wasn’t too nice, wasn’t too balmy. I mean, it was really kind of dank and dark and depressing. Everybody was there. Adam and Eve were there. Moses and Joshua were there. Plato and Socrates were there. Everyone who had died, their souls were in hades. And we could do nothing. We couldn’t hope, because there was nothing to hope for. We couldn’t look forward to being united with the soul again, because no one had ever done that before. And yet, while Jesus’ body laid in the grave on Saturday – and we’ll commemorate this on Holy Saturday – his soul went to the same place that every other created soul before him had gone to.

Now think about this. Adam is there. It’s just one more nasty day in Hades. You know, the food sucks, the climate is awful. You know, there simply is nothing good about this place at all, and he’s stuck here for all eternity. And all of a sudden, the light seems to brighten. It’s not as dreary, it’s not as dank, it’s not as dark. And he looks up and sees something he had never thought he would see – the second Adam – the one who has come to release him. His Creator and his descendant comes to hades in the brightness of his glory and says to them the same thing he says to us, “Who do you think I am? Do you think I am God? Do you think I am the Word of God? Then you’re released.”

John Chrysostom in that sermon he preaches on Easter says, “The earth took a body and discovered God.” And everything begins to shake. And everything begins to transform for all who respond to him. And we don’t know who that is . . . yet. We don’t know who said, “Yes, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If Plato said that, he’s in heaven. If Socrates recognized that all his philosophy prepared us for, he’s in heaven. If Moses said, “Yes”, he’s in Heaven. All of those who accept him as Savior and Lord would be released from hades and enter into paradise where they still wait, but now they know for what they wait. They wait for the Lord to return in the glory of his angels, and to separate the sheep from the goats, both those who have died and those who have not yet.

For those who have died, you see, there is still hope for those in hades, by our prayers, by our fervent intercessory prayers. It is possible that God, in his mercy, at that last Judgment, will take our prayers into account and restore them to Paradise. Maybe God, in his mercy – because he’s God, he can do whatever he wants – will restore everyone. We won’t know until that day. My suspicion is, “No”.  There’s going to be someone, somewhere who is going to say, “No, I like hades. I like being damp and dark and cut off,” just out of sheer cussedness, because that’s what human sin is about. But I pray that the vast majority say, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Now, one of the things we do during Holy Week on this night, is recognize that the reason we get sick and die is because of our rejection of God and of the life that he offers to us.  And so we bless this oil which we anoint people with when they are ill, as part of our restoration of ourselves to the lives that we are supposed to have. We confess our sins. We pray that God will restore us. We have the anointing with the holy oil, that in his mercy and will, he will heal us in whatever way he knows is appropriate – in whatever way we need – because frankly we don’t know what we need. God does. And if we are faithful in persevering, we will receive that for which we pray.

And as we come forward, either to be anointed with the oil, or as I said for those of you who are not yet Orthodox, laying on of hands and prayer. Pray for Paul, pray for Claire, pray for their family, for he who is between this world and the next, that he will see the living God. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Wednesday evening, April 16, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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