St Mary Of Egypt
Sermon Given on the Sunday of St Mary of Egypt
Sunday 16th April 2000
In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Week after week we feel that we are coming closer and closer to the glorious Resurrection of Christ. And it seems to us that we are moving fast, from Sunday to Sunday as it were, to the day when all horrors, all terrors, will have disappeared.
And yet so easily do we forget that before we reach the day of the Resurrection we must, together with Christ, together with His apostles, tread the road of the Crucifixion. 'So we are ascending to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they shall crucify Him, and the third day He will rise’. All we notice is that He will rise. But do we ever think of the way in which the disciples went to Jerusalem, knowing that the Crucifixion was at hand? They were moving in fear. They were not yet mature enough to be those who would give their lives for the message to be spread. They were moving in fear. When Christ told them that they would go now to Jerusalem, return to the city which had then renounced Christ, put Him into danger of His life, they said to Him, 'Let us not go.' And only one disciple, Thomas, said, 'No. Let us go with Him, and die with Him.'
This disciple is the one whom, foolishly I believe, we call the Doubter: the one who was not prepared to give his trust to God, his faith, his life, his blood, without certainty. But his heart was unreservedly given to Christ. How wonderful to be such a man! But the other disciples would not desert Christ. They walked towards Jerusalem.
And we have today another example of one who went through a tragedy before they met Christ. It is Mary of Egypt. She was a sinner. She was a harlot. She was unfaithful to God in her soul and in her body. She had no reverence for this body which God had created and this soul. And yet she was tragically confronted with the fact that there was no way for her into the temple of God unless she rejected evil and chose purity, repentance, newness of life.
Let us reflect on the disciples who almost begged Christ not to return to Jerusalem, because Jerusalem was a city where all prophets had died; and they did not want Christ to die, and they were afraid. Let us ask ourselves how much we resemble them. And let us ask ourselves freely today how do we resemble, or not, Mary of Egypt – Mary who had lived her life according to her own ways and desires, followed all temptations of her body and soul; and one day realised that as she was, she could not enter the temple of God.
So easily do we enter the divine temple, forgetting so easily that the church into which we come is a small part of a world that has chosen to be alien to God, that has rejected God, lost interest in Him; and that the few believers have created for God a place of refuge – yes, the church is the fullness of Heaven, and at the same time a tragic place of refuge, the only place where God has a right to be because He is wanted. And when we come here, we enter into the divine realm. We should come into it with a sense of awe, not just walk into it as into a space but walk into it as a space which is already the divine Kingdom.
If we were in that mood we would, when we come to the doors of the church, be, however little, like Mary of Egypt. We would stop and say, 'How can I come in?' And if we did that with our whole heart, broken-heartedly, with a sense of horror of the fact that we are so distant from God, so alien, so unfaithful to Him, then the doors would open and we would see that we are not simply in a big space surrounded with walls but we are in a space which is God's Heaven come to earth.
Let us therefore learn from this experience what it means to go step by step towards the Resurrection, because in order to reach the Resurrection we must go through Calvary we must go through the tragedy of Holy Week and make it our own, partaking with Christ and His disciples and the crowds around in the horror, the terror of it; and also experience it as a scorching fire that will burn in us all that is unworthy of God and make us clean. And perhaps one day, when the fire will have burnt everything which is not worthy of God, each of us may become an image of the burning bush, aflame with divine fire and not consumed, because only that which could survive the fire of God would have remained is us. Amen.