God Tells Us a Story
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 3, 2016
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark. (8:34-9:1)
Human beings love stories. We need them. Our lives are populated with them. Christianity is built on them. If they are in the New Testament we call them parables. Raised as a Southern Baptist child in the hills of Eastern Tennessee, we learned and memorized the stories of Adam and Eve, Moses and the Exodus, Noah and the Ark, David, Solomon, Daniel and on and on. These stories were as real to us as life itself and they informed our vision of life. They still do. Literature and movies are filled with references to them. Everyday speech uses biblical references a-plenty. Listen for them. They are everywhere.
Today I want to quote Alan Watts who wrote of this so eloquently in his book BEHOLD THE SPIRIT.
"The vast majority of human beings have always had very concrete and childlike minds, and there are levels at which even the most highly intelligent people are still children. To get an abstract, universal or spiritual truth into the understanding of a child one must make it concrete, and the best way to do so is to illustrate it with a story. Because God intends the gift of union and its realization for all men, and not merely for an esoteric elite, he therefore embodies the gift in a story, a mythos, which is acted out in real life—in Palestine under the governorship of Pontius Pilate.”
Today we read about the part of the story God tells in the event of the Crucifixion of Jesus. Not the account itself, but its lingering effect. It is the ultimate proof of God’s infinite love. He came in the flesh in order to die and destroy the power of death over us so that we would no longer need to be terrified by it. Death, says Holy Scripture, is the last and final enemy. The fear of death is, as St. Maximus the Confessor writes, the hidden reason for all sin. Death is the thing that frightens us and is the thing that Divine Love has brought to an end.
God wanted to make his love for us so concrete that even the smallest child would be able to understand. The Cross, both an historic and metaphorical reality, is how he made it so. One meaning of the word “salvation” is to be removed from harm’s way. And this God has done through the Cross.
The last part of the Gospel reading today needs to be understood in the light of the whole story. And Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come with power.” And then not long after Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration where Jesus is revealed as He is, the effulgent splendor of the Father, the kingdom of heaven revealed in the flesh. This before the Crucifixion. This before the Resurrection. This is the truth of His identity from all eternity. And everything He did and said reveals the glory of God. Not just the Transfiguration, but even more the Cross, for upon it was crucified not the desperate Victim but the “Lord of Glory.” And not just the Cross, but also the creation and before that if you can imagine, before the Word was made flesh and beyond that in both directions. Time cannot contain Him. History cannot exhaust Him.
Those with eyes to see and ears to hear will be able to understand that the life, death and resurrection reveal the eternal presence of the Kingdom. God is and always has been the very foundation of all that is. Those who can see and hear will be the ones who pass from a childish faith to a childlike faith. From a faith of clinging to externals to a faith filled with wonder and the infinite depths of divine compassion. Watts again calls us to understand that eternity is not unending time, but rather an indestructible present for the past does not save us, nor does the future. We are saved now. God does not know how to be absent and He never has been.
It is a passage from what is external and passing away to what is internal and therefore eternal. It is the descent of the mind into the heart, from the cacophony of the crowd, from the stifling fundamentalism that cannot see beyond exterior things and literal interpretations, from concepts, definitions, laws, rock-solid dogma to grace, to communion, to silence, to wonder, to the interior where the Holy Spirit dwells in the temple of the soul.