Sermon on the Liturgy preached in July, 1990
What awesome words do we hear both in the Gospel and in the prayers of the Church, and what dread a responsibility do we take when we hear them, approve of them, accept them, and yet do not live up to them.
If you listen to the Holy Liturgy, the beginning is easy for us to carry. It speaks to us of our need and of God's response; it is the cry of the earth Godwards. But a moment comes when we stand before God as the Church of God; and the Church of God is, in the words of our Orthodox theologians, the continued, incarnate presence of the Lord Jesus Christ on earth, His presence unto the salvation of the world.
The first moment which strikes me as being so frightening and so glorious, is the moment when, in one of the litanies, we ask the Lord to bless the Gifts which we have brought to Him, and to bless us also. At that moment begins a double consecration; we return to God what is His: the bread, the wine – they are no longer prisoners of a fallen word, they are given back to Him, liberated, freed, pure in themselves, and capable of receiving the fullness of the Divine presence within themselves; but at the same time we pray for us ourselves to be consecrated to God; re-consecration indeed, because in baptism, in the first act of faith we have declared that we offer ourselves to God, soul and body, to become His, but through sin we have fallen away, and give the lie to our promise. And here again we say, «Renew in us our consecrated status!»...
A moment later a proclamation is made, a warning: «The doors! The doors!» – from that moment in the ancient Church only those who were allowed to receive communion, those who could pronounce the Creed, says the Lord's Prayer, receive the Body and Blood of Christ, could stay in the church. We now all stay; but these doors – are they only the doors of a temple? Are they not the doors of our heart, the doors of our life, of our mind, and of our will and determination? It is a warning: Open these doors, which you can open to God, and only then can you enter into the sacred realm of the Liturgy as members of the Church, not as outsiders ...
And after that, again, another cry: Let us love one another so that with one mine we may acknowledge the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! We cannot pronounce the Creed outside of a relationship of mutual love. The Creed speaks to us only of a God of love, a God Who has loved us and the whole Creation into existence, a God Who has given His life to redeem it, God the Spirit Who comes upon us in our frailty, in our weakness, in our impurity to burn evil, and to make us into the Burning Bush.
And then, can we say these words, speak of the God of love if we have no love for one another? Saint John, in one of his Epistles says: if we say that we love God and do not love our neighbour, we are liars, there is no truth in us. We must reflect on that; because we are not proclaiming a theological statement, we are not speaking of general truth, of a world-outlook, but we are speaking of a God Who says to us, 'I have given you an example for you to follow'.
But can we summon love within our hearts, when they are cold, when they are dead, when they are full of trouble? – No, we cannot summon love as a feeling, as a glorious joy that embraces all creation and everyone as our neighbours; but love does not begin as a feeling – love is an act. Those who love Me, says the Lord, will fulfil My commandments'...
And the commandments – we have heard in the words of Saint Paul, in addition to all that the Gospel proclaims to us: Love your enemies, pray for them, bless them, do not curse anyone! Christ, at the moment of the Crucifixion said, Father, forgive them – they do not know what they are doing! If we are in the Liturgy as the Body of Christ, it is on these terms that we are there… And how frightening it is to say in the Lord's Prayer, 'Forgive as I forgive', because it does imply, 'If I do not forgive, I stand unforgiven' ... 'By whatever measure you measure it will be measured to you', says the Lord in the Gospel.
So you see what awesome words we accept, and proclaim, and make ours so lightly! And what a responsibility to proclaim them, to accept them, even to hear them. But then, we can ask the same question which Peter asked of the Lord: But who then can be saved?.. There is hope; there is hope because we are sustained by the grace of the Lord, because the power of God deploys itself in weakness, because all things are possible in Him, but only on one condition: that we earnestly accept Him, that we earnestly struggle and try to live what we proclaim, to be Christ's within our limitations, but with all our will, all our mind, all the little strength we have, all the faith we have!
Let us therefore re-read the Liturgy time and again, the prayers which we use, and ask ourselves: Is it only words for me? Do I only agree with these words in my mind? Do I only applaud the words and leave them untouched?
Let us reflect on this; but let us also reflect on this with hope because we know that in our frailty we are sustained by God if only there is good will, if only we want the good, if only we struggle for it – the power of God will be made manifest in us and we will outgrow our deadness, our narrowness, our timidity, our cowardice, our inability to be Christ's own people. Amen.