In the book that bears his name, Job, through his trials, wrestles with his understanding of God. He, while remaining faithful, wonders and asks questions. At the end, instead of answers to his stated questions, Job receives an encounter with God. I think about that as I write on the threshold of Holy Week because the resurrection service seems to be as close of an encounter with God as we can have, short of receiving the gift that Job received. And it has always struck me that Job received an answer, but it was to a question that he did not (could not?) enunciate and, for all the words that God speaks to him, the ultimate answer was the very act of being enveloped in the encounter.
And that is where Job’s experience touches that of the Paschal service: it seems to me that we may be best infused with the services of the resurrection by allowing ourselves to be enveloped in them. Service books and attention to the words and the details have their place, but they can also help us miss the forest for the trees. We can get so caught up in the doing (the reading, the singing) that we forget to be. The dance of the candle flame, the smell of the bay leaves, the exuberant brightness of the church with full lights and open altar doors, or a ray of light reflecting off the censer can reach places within us that words cannot, but only if we are truly there to experience them.
Or, perhaps, we should think of Pascha as a love story: for God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son. At times we can stop and think about why we love someone, but even analyzing all the reasons we can give will not reveal the mystery of love. In the end, love itself is greater than all the whys of that love. Just so, the Paschal service is greater than the sum of the words of the services.
Pascha is beauty; Pascha is poetry; Pascha is love; Pascha is what makes all things new. Our renewal hinges on our participation in Pascha, in our partaking of the risen Christ. Are we able to withstand that beauty? Can we leap from the solid ground of rationality and into the poetry of the divine revelation? Do we dare become new, renewed in the image of our Creator? Do we dare love the living God with a love devoid of quid pro quos? Will we trust Him to guide our lives and shape who we are?
A popular myth of modernity is that if we only try harder, we will succeed, do better, reach our goals. In some cases, that is true. In the spiritual life, it is not. If it were, Christ would not have needed to die on the Cross and the Resurrection would not be the most important feast of the Church.He could merely have asked us try harder. The fact that everything in the Church centers on Pascha tells us that the try harder mindset is destined to failure. We cannot recreate ourselves. We are made new by Christ and it is only in Him that we are able to partake of that renewal.
St. Porphyrios said: “Don't occupy yourself with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness.” In other words, do not try harder to struggle against sin, but allow yourself to be enveloped in Christ. This is what the Church calls us to. We find this in the Lorica of St. Patrick:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Or, in the words of St. Paul: “for me, to live is Christ” (1 Phil. 21).
If we allow ourselves to be enveloped in Christ, then He can do in us that which He came to do: renew, transform, and heal. It is only in Him and through Him that we can conquer sin and say with St. Paul that “even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4;16).
And so, this Paschal season, may we allow the services to overwhelm us, may we allow their beauty to transport us to the edge of heaven, and may we allow Christ to take His abode in us and bring us wholly into His Kingdom.