Last night I registered for my region’s regional retreat. It got me thinking about this year’s OCF theme: “Who do you say that I am?”
In context, the theme comes from Matthew 16:13-16. Take a moment to think about it.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
St. Peter takes the ultimate leap of faith, declaring Jesus as the Messiah. Thousands of years of Jewish tradition were fulfilled by the Person he was looking in the face. Peter did not know about the Resurrection or how his life would go, but in that moment he knew Jesus Christ was and is God. “Who do you say that I am” is an expression and confession of faith; it’s an opportunity, it’s an invitation, it’s a way of life, and it’s an inspiration.
Let’s turn the attention personally. Who do YOU say that Jesus is? Yes you can ‘say’ He is God, but do you really live in that way? Do you know who He is? Can you even say who you are?
Ask yourself this hard question. Who do you believe Jesus is? If you don’t know, great; that’s an opportunity to grow in your faith. If you do know, do you act like you know who He is?
Jaroslav Pelikan talks about the duality in the reality of Christ. He says, “If Christ is risen, nothing else matters. And if Christ is not risen-nothing else matters.”
There are two possibilities that his argument creates. If Christ is risen, then we have nothing to fear. Then we can know our Creator. We know His life, His sacrifice, and His love. Are you leading and living your life in the reality that Christ is truly Risen? Orthodoxy in its beginning was not a religion; it was and is “the Way” that people follow to get to know God.
Let’s look at the alternative, very nihilistic in essence. If Christ is not risen, that means we are still bound by death. That sin and brokenness don’t matter. It means that people are fallen, and there is nothing we can do it about it. It means that we can’t be refashioned into the image and likeness of God.
Who do you say that He is? Think about this question, and develop an answer because you will be called to answer that question either in this life or the next. Confess and live your faith.
And honestly, if you feel like you are losing faith, transform that feeling into an opportunity to learn more and ask why. St. Peter here confesses that Jesus as the Messiah, during Christ’s crucifixion he denies Christ three times. Yet St. Peter repented and became one of the greatest evangelists in history, the rock on which Christ built His church. Doubt and fear are a part of our fallen nature, but they can be a chance to grow spiritually.
“Who do you say that I am?” Who do you say that you are?”
Ask. Grow. Repeat.
Do you ever have one of those days in which you have so much work to do that you simply sit down and do nothing? Like, because you’re so overwhelmed, instead of chipping away at the work, you just deny that all of it exists?
Welcome to college.
In the worst solution ever contrived by young men and women–and that’s really saying something–we remove the burden of work from shoulders by denying its immediacy. We delay it, pretending as if we have all the time of the world. We crash, watch Netflix, eat a cookie (okay, several cookies), and feel better.
I think we can do the same things with our spiritual life–with our life in general, really.
And it’s understandable, easier to understand I think–because the time period is longer. The comeuppance of our spiritual life comes when we die, and when we arrive at the final judgment. Remembering the stakes of that eventual judgment is what gives us perspective on our daily lives; understanding that what we do today affects where we end up for eternity.
Isn’t that terrifying? Like, isn’t that draw-droppingly scary? I enter shutdown mode when I just have a lot of papers and assignments to do; when faced with the Final Judgment there’s no wonder, I think, that I want to curl up in a little ball and hide in the comfort of willing ignorance.
When we forget about that ultimate moment–the moment in which our actions are measured against our purpose; what we did against what we were made to do–we are seemingly freed from the responsibility to align with our purpose. We feel, perhaps a little synthetically, the freedom that we didn’t experience when fulfilling our purpose. Without a sense of finiteness, consequence, actions, decisions–these all exist in a vacuum. They do not matter, because we can inevitably rectify them on the ever-arriving tomorrow.
Lent, I think, helps remind us of our temporality. The Lenten process is a big countdown–among other things, of course–to the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. By carving out this chunk of the year to remember the Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection, we’re not only reminded of Christ’s sacrifice and what that means for our salvation, but we also encounter an experience of a man–Jesus Christ–understanding his daily actions, choices, and moments all within the context of his death.
We always talk about Lent as a period of preparation, and a key aspect of that period is that we know when it ends: we have work to do; and we know when the work is due and the period ends. We can shirk it like we might our schoolwork at times, but there is an ultimate end, and that finiteness is what motivates us to be the way that we should, and not crumble to our vices in the moment.
It’s important to experience, every day, our end. To know that we do not have unlimited time and unlimited tries. That’s what instills our life with meaning, drives us beyond temptations. Experiencing temporality can be hard and scary, certainly–but it’s important that we do it, else we eternally attempt to avoid who we were meant to become.
Image from Ted on Flickr
Last week, we discovered that to respond to the gift of grace, we must ask Jesus to “come and see” the sins that lie within our hearts. And that, as He did with Lazarus, Jesus will call us forth into Life.
Incredibly, the final time we find “come and see” in the gospels, it is again at a tomb. This time, it is at the Lord’s tomb that an angel tells the myrrhbearers, “come and see where He laid” (Mt 28:6). They find not a dead, rotting body, but an empty tomb. They hear from the angel, “He is risen.”
This is the final destination of each disciple of Christ–to follow Christ unto death and to be raised again with Him.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. –Rm 6:8-11
Once we we have come to Christ, learned who He is, and allowed Him to see our own brokenness, we spend a lifetime crucifying the flesh and its passions (Gal 5:24) so that on the day of judgement, we, too, will rise into eternal Life. We spend our lives becoming dead to sin and alive to God.
It is not an easy path to ascend the Cross, but it is a path that Jesus walked Himself first and which we walk by His strength (Phil 4:13). It is a path which we can have confidence finds its end not in the grave but in the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”
So when we tell someone, “come and see,” I hope we mean more than come and see the artifacts of our faith, the incense and icons and liturgical movements. I hope it is more than a cop-out to having an explanation for who we are as Orthodox Christians. “Come and see” is an invitation to dwell where God dwells, to know Jesus as our Savior, to confess our sins and be healed, and ultimately, to complete the race blameless, entering into eternal Life which comes only from the One Who is risen. It’s an invitation open to all and which we are compelled to share with everyone we can.
But first, we must answer ourselves.
So come and see. Find out where the Lord lives, desire to be in His presence, bring Him your doubts, get to know Him yourself in prayer, let Him see who you really are, confess your sins to Him, and unite yourself to His death and resurrection. Become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Come, dear ones. Come and see.