September 14, 2008
The impetus of the Christian life is gratitude, the response of love to Love, of receiver to Giver, the gratitude of the lost who has been found, the wounded who has been healed, and the broken who has been made whole. But many, even those who spent their lives in the Church, have missed this, living for years under a shadow of untruth which robbed them of the vital joy, the dynamic, and the sheer awesomeness of this life to which we are called.
In his song “Only the Good Die Young…” Billy Joel states “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, the sinners have much more fun…” and the reason we understand those lyrics is because too often we’ve lived under an illusion, the idea that our Faith is about rituals, rules, regulations, and tasks all under the watchful and harsh eye of a god who uses fear to achieve his ends. In our world the free person, the person who is most alive, is portrayed as the one who has thrown off the chains of gods and rules and lives each moment to their own pleasure while the devout struggle in ignorance and slavery, doing what they do from some primal disturbance inside. And too often we believe it ourselves.
Now we won’t say it out loud but it comes out in our actions; the marginalizing of godly things in our lives, the sense that we’re doing what we do like a child who’s mom told him to finish his peas before he gets dessert. It’s amazing how we can travel for hours to make a game or concert and find a few minute’s drive to church tiresome. How is it that we can watch television for hours but not pray or read the Bible for even a few minutes? We spend thousands on toys and give God the lint from the inside of our wallet. So much of this is rooted in the fact that we see God like we see the worst boss we ever had and hope to do just enough to keep from getting fired, or in God’s case thrown into fire. So we keep the “rules” like the person who set his cruise control just enough above the speed limit to avoid getting a ticket and our faith withers because of it.
But that’s not our God and that is not our Faith. Our whole life as Christians is supposed to be about love returned to the One who loves us; a life lived in response to life given, the created responding to the Creator with the harmony of Eden’s first light. As we cherish those close to us on earth and give our lives to them so it should be with our life in God. The rules and the regulations, as it were, are not the ends but the means to assist us in what should be a life transforming love relationship with God. Yet this is too often a rare thing, the province of saints and ascetics even though this was not meant to be.
We need, as Orthodox Christians to rediscover the depth of the love of God for us, the unspeakable grace which flows to us from the very heart of His being, and if we truly catch this vision gratitude will rise from us in waves. We rattle off John 3:16 without pausing to think about it means to say that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” but the implications of this are profound. The God of the universe burns with a holy love for us, as fallible and minute as we are, and in the distress of our brokenness has come to us to teach us how to live, to willingly bear all of our darkness, and even break the power of our greatest enemy, death.
If we get this for even a moment, if we see the cross which we celebrate today and realize what’s been given to us, then the way we see God will change and our life of faith will stop seeming like an endless series of rituals and rules but rather that which would naturally arise from a profound gratitude. We’ll flee from sin not because we’re afraid of God but because it sullies the love we share. We’ll worship not because we feel such a thing will appease God but because our hearts cannot help but give praise to One who has given everything to us. We’ll give of ourselves not as some kind of bribe under eternal duress but rather as an expression of love with joy. When we realize who God truly is, come to terms with even a fraction of the depth of his love for us, and have our heart stirred by the reality of it all it will become impossible to remain stingy of soul, to live the minimal life of faith, to settle. Even the fasts will be filled with joy and our hearts will find rest. Gratitude is what makes this Christian life an easy yoke and in the shadow of the holy cross may such gratitude be stirred in our hearts today.