[To keep the paschal spirit going this week, I’m offering today one of my older Easter homilies, which I think I never “recycled” here before. May it be a blessing!]
Christ is risen! This morning, I am going to give you a prophecy. It’s not my prophecy, though; this is a prophecy of Isaiah—I think he’s much better at it than I am. Isaiah says:
The Lord of Hosts will provide a rich feast for all peoples. He will destroy the veil that covers all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away all tears from all faces. On that day it will be said, “Behold, our God! This is the Lord for whom we looked! Let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us!”
I want to take a look at a couple of points here, starting with the end: “Behold our God! This is the Lord for whom we looked!” This is the One who has come to save us. When we look at the icon of the Resurrection, we behold the God who has come to save us. We behold the One that we have looked for, the One that all humanity for all ages consciously or unconsciously has looked for: the Savior, the one who would save us from death.
Death, as Scripture says, is the last enemy: no one has ever figured out how to overcome death, how to prevent death, no matter how many anti-aging herbs you might take, or no matter what the mind-boggling advances in bio-nano-technology are coming up with, no one is going to solve the riddle of death. Only Christ can do that. And it’s really amazing that Isaiah had this insight in 700 B.C. or thereabouts when he says God will destroy death, forever! What could that have meant to the ones who first heard that prophecy? Probably they just went away, scratching their heads. But this was really the word of God, and it was going to be fulfilled in Christ, who has changed not only the meaning but the consequences of death forever.
We still have to cross that threshold; we still have to lay our body in the tomb, but what happens after that? We don’t have to go down into that realm of the dead and just live in the darkness and some sort of shadowy quasi-existence. But we pass that threshold into the new and everlasting life that Christ has come to give us by his resurrection, because He went down into death. God, in the flesh, went down into the realm of death, and came back out again, giving us new life and hope, and a victory over that last enemy, which is death.
It’s interesting, the way in which that prophecy is worded, because he speaks of death as a veil that covers all peoples and all nations. And this is true; it is like a pall over the whole world, this death. But Christ takes it away, as this prophecy says; He destroys, He takes away, that veil of death that covers all people, that has covered all people for all time. He has cut through the veil, and we see that when He died on the Cross, the veil of the Temple was ripped in two, symbolically indicating our newfound access to the heavenly sanctuary. That veil of death which kept us away from God and kept all of humanity shrouded in that outer darkness—well, Christ’s death and resurrection has torn the veil, taken it away, made access to Paradise, to the heavenly sanctuary, possible for all those who would believe in Him, all those who would follow Him in that way.
There’s another veil that I discovered recently in the writings of Romano Guardini. I found it very interesting because he was talking about the presence of Christ—the universal presence of Christ everywhere, throughout the whole cosmos, throughout all of nature and everywhere. But we cannot usually see it. And you know why he said that? He said we don’t see it because the veil of custom keeps us from recognizing Christ. I think that is intriguing and profound.
You know, if we are brought up not to be able to look for God everywhere, not to develop a sense of awareness of the presence of God, then we become accustomed to not perceiving his presence. We become accustomed to living as if He wasn’t present, and so we don’t look for Him. We don’t expect to find Him, because we’ve become accustomed not to.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. We have to also rip open the veil of custom. And there are many other things that apply that way, not only to individuals, but to nations, to communities—unfortunately to churches, too—that are covered by this veil of custom which keeps them from actually recognizing the presence of God in their midst.
This was the problem with the Pharisees—the only ones that Jesus had a “short fuse” with—because they had let this veil of custom, of their particular interpretation of the Law, cover their eyes so thoroughly, that they could not recognize God in the flesh, speaking and teaching and working miracles right before their eyes! It’s incredible how blind they were because of this veil. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, everyone’s rejoicing, but the Pharisees are saying, “That’s really the last straw! We’ve got to get rid of this guy; what’s He going to do next?” Instead of saying: “This man can raise the dead! Is He not from God?”
So that veil, which they had woven themselves, “the web that was woven over the nations,” they wove it over their own perception: they could not see. We have to look at our lives and see where and how is that veil of custom, the veil of habit, the veil of routine, covering us and making us unable to see the presence of Christ everywhere around us?
If we lift the veil, He’s there. And the revelations are there. But we have to be willing to break out of our customary ways of doing things, seeing things, and regarding things, understanding things—and realize that there’s something more: there’s the presence of Christ. The power of the Resurrection has been infused, so to speak, into all creation. All creation has been energized by the Resurrection of Christ and his Face is looking at us everywhere! If only we can stop to look, to listen, to pray, to ponder, to stand in awe and wonder at the greatness and glory of God that is shining everywhere around us. It’s there! But we have to look for it. We have to “lift the veil.”
Christ has lifted the veil of death; we have to lift the veil of custom. There’s something else that has to be lifted, too—and this is heavier than a veil. It’s a stone. You know, when the myrrh-bearing women were going to the tomb of Christ, they had one question on their minds, one concern. They couldn’t care less about the soldiers who might take them into prison and do the same thing to them that they did to Christ. All they were concerned about was, “Who is going to roll that stone away from the tomb?” But what happened when they got there? They found the stone was already rolled away.
Now there’s an application for us as well, because we often are burdened with some sort of “stone” over the entrance to our souls, to our hearts. And it may be some problem that keeps us in a state of unhappiness, or depression, or despair, or some sort of hopelessness about anything ever changing. I read something from a bishop recently who said (this was in a context that’s different, but it can be applied to anything): if you deny that Christ can help you, with this problem or with that problem or whatever you’re going through, then you are effectively denying that He rose from the dead.
So, there’s a stone that has to be rolled away. But the thing is, if these veils are out of the way, we will notice—and Christ wants us to notice (for this is part of the message of the Resurrection)—that the stone is already rolled away! We don’t realize that because Christ, the Roller-Away-of-Stones, is living within us in the power of his Resurrection, that anything that weighs us down like a stone in our life is already moved away by his power. But we have to first recognize that, and accept it, and live out of that awareness.
We need to remember that, because Christ calls us to a new and better life. We’re too used to having things be in a certain way that we just sort of accept as, “Well, there’s nothing that I can do about it, so I might as well live in this unpleasant mess that I’ve made of my life.” But it doesn’t have to be that way.
There was someone here recently who had some pretty serious problems: real spiritual oppression, but also some emotional problems as well. We prayed with her very intensively, and at a certain moment she had a very dramatic breakthrough where things opened up for her, and she felt the love of God, and many things began to change for her. But what happened was, not long after that, she renounced, in effect, that wonderful breakthrough. She was not only saying, “Well, that didn’t really happen,” she was also saying, “That shouldn’t have happened, it’s wrong somehow.” She had lived so long under this oppression, it was all she knew, and it was something familiar, even though it was unpleasant, so she just went back to it, because she couldn’t break through and accept and start to change and live a new life that was handed to her by God’s grace. That showed me how easy it is for us to cling to the darkness, just because it’s a familiar place.
Christ challenges us to go to an unfamiliar place: to a place of light, to a place where He’s going to challenge us. And we need some courage and faith and trust to make that leap. Like it said in that document we read about Christ releasing the dead from Hades: it says they leapt out of Hades! Well, we have to “leap out” too, leap in faith to overcome these obstacles, to let go of the darkness that we cling to, consciously or unconsciously; the familiar darkness that we’ve come to accept as our mode of living.
Christ is here, risen from the dead, to tell us today: “It doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a new life because I live a new life, and I live in you, and I’m going to make you new—if you let Me, if you follow Me, if you have the courage to turn your back, to walk away from the grave: because the stone is already rolled away.”
So let us then accept this and praise God and give thanks because He has taken away that veil of death that has covered all peoples and all nations, and opened the way to the heavenly sanctuary. Let us also, with his grace, remove that veil of custom, so that we can have a clearer perception of his presence, and of the whole truth that He wants to reveal to us through the persons and situations of our life. And then, when our perception is refined, we will be able to see that the stones that we thought could never be rolled away are already gone, for Christ is risen!