St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Sunday Before the Cross

Sermon Preached by Fr Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 5, 2010

John 3:13-17

The Lord said, “No one has ascended into heaven, but he who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”  For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  It isn’t that God tolerates us, or loves us just a little bit.  St. John writes that He loved the world “so much.”  So much that He created us and sustains us even when we fall away from Him. So much that God sent His Son who  set aside His divine prerogatives, allowed himself to be nearly beaten to death, spat upon, mocked with impunity, impaled with a thorny crown, stripped naked publically, nailed on two pieces of wood and left to die, hanging in the air suffering horribly between heaven and earth, like the worst of all criminals.  He loved us not just a little bit! 

God loved us so much that he sent prophets to preach to us and prepare the way for His coming in the flesh.  He loved us so much that He inspired the writing of Holy Scriptures filled with news about who He is and what He intended to do.  But prophets and scriptures were not enough!  Prophets and scriptures are merely fingers pointing at the moon, they are not the moon itself.  Love does not stop until it pours itself out completely for the beloved.  He gave us not only everything He had, but everything that He is.  There is a beautiful liturgical canon based on the Song of Solomon that begins like this, “How long, O Lord, will you send us only prophets and scriptures when we long for the kisses of your mouth?”

A lover will break down all barriers to be with his beloved and we, brothers and sisters, are God’s beloved.

So the Son of God descended to earth and wrapped Himself in human flesh, assumed a human will, subjected Himself to the joys and sorrows of life in this world, lived, and died as one of us, all to prove, all to show that there is absolutely nothing that God will not do, will not give, will not suffer to bring us into union with Him.

And this love did not end with the Cross and the Resurrection!  God never changes although everything else does.  He is not loving one moment and unloving the next.  His loving-kindness endures forever. Everything is passing away except the love of God.  The Holy Spirit has come to bring all of us, indeed all of creation into union with the Father.  All of it.  Everyone.  When asked about the eternal punishment of sinners in hell, St. Silouan of Athos replied, “Love could not bear that.”

Hear St. Isaac of Syria the great and holy ascetic of divine love as he cries:

“In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state [in the Age to come], and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.”

How?  We do not know any more than this:  God’s love is boundless and eternal and all-powerful.  His greatness will accomplish everything it sets out to do.

What does this mean for us?  That the same love that creates us, sustains us, dies for us, and lives for us slowly, but surely will transform us into His divine likeness and we will come to be as He is: gracious, compassionate, and merciful.  As we come more and more to dwell in love we will, as St. John writes, dwell in God and God in us.  That is as we come more and more to practice love until it becomes who we are from the inside out!  One of my young spiritual sons was dropped like a hot potato by his girlfriend.  He asked me what he should do. “Let go,” I replied.  “How?” he asked.  Practice letting go and you will let go.  Practice loving and you will become love.

After we have practiced and practiced we will at some point, by His divine grace, love as He loves, like the One who loves all human beings equally, in whom there is “no respect of persons”, who causes His grace to fall on all human beings everywhere and at all times, both living and dead.  “Blessed is the man who loves all men equally,” writes the divine Maximus. We will become completely infused and swallowed up in the ocean of His Grace and watch as our pettiness dissolves away into nothingness.  The only thing that will go to hell is our pettiness. Then we will know the truth for we will have been united to the truth, Jesus Christ, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, the Savior.

How is this accomplished?  What must we do?  St. Maximus once again interprets the Word of God for us.

"But I say to you," the Lord says, "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute you." Why did he command these things? So that he might free you from hatred, sadness, anger and grudges, and might grant you the greatest possession of all, perfect love, which is impossible to possess except by the one who loves all equally in imitation of God.

The great mystic poet Rumi sang, “Let our souls mirror the love of our Master.”  Indeed!  Dear Lord, for all of us, let this be so!  Amen!