In this week’s troparion, we say to Christ our God, “You opened paradise to the thief, You turned the myrhhbearers’ lamentation into joy.” We go on to proclaim that this is because He is risen, and He replies – through the apostles and the Church’s songs – “Yes, I am risen, for I am merciful – that is the reason why.” In the kontakion, we go on to imagine the Saviour saying to us, “Now come forth to Me – Come to the Resurrection.” So it is not just that the Merciful Lord came to us at Bethlehem, went up on the Cross to bring mercy to us, or came up out of the Tomb to bring the Kingdom to us. His outward movement towards and into us is also about our coming to Him, being brought in our movement towards and into Him: “Come into the Resurrection!”
In a talk at the fascinating conference on paths to Christian Unity that has preceded this Liturgy, we heard how our shared Christian faith is not just a matter of body and soul, but of heart and imagination too. In the beautiful and striking hymns that we have sung in turn since the first millennium, we in our eastern Church for our part are taken, then, into this realm of imagination by which we enter the Kingdom of the heart of Christ Who adores us more than we can possibly adore Him. Here, we can meet, and love and worship together, with and in the Church of heaven which is invisible to us but where there is no division from Christ. As the Orthodox Metropolitan Platon (Gorodetsky) of Kiev, said, in words of pioneering mystical ecumenism that inspired Father Paul Couturier to reimagine the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, “The walls of separation do not rise as far as heaven.” So, perhaps the eastern imagination of the life of resurrection and being brought into it week by week – “Come into the Resurrection” – with our very visual worship and its movement of colour and image, and fragrance and sound – is something we can humbly offer to our fellow Christians, adding to the dimensions of body and soul, heart and imagination in the Life of Christ that we lead in His Body.
For the power of the liturgical and spiritual imagination – which is of course something that belongs to all our traditions in different ways – takes us back to reflect on the meaning and nature of God’s love with St John the Beloved. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches of the East we often call him St John the Theologian, not just because of the words and mysteries he wrote out, but because it was the disciple whom Jesus loved that spoke to God, who has as a result spoken of God, and whom God has spoken to, close to Him, right to the heart. St John thus says, “No one has ever seen God” (Epistle – I John 4.12-19); and then he meditates profoundly on the perfect life of love in Christ as nonetheless the very vision of Christ in God. We have not seen God, but God has seen us. We have not loved God before He first loved us. We are to be seen, then, as those who are loved by God. More than that, what is seen us is none other than the love and eternal life of God, none other. “No one has ever seen God”; but they can see us.
And so, this angle that we have on Christ that I spoke about before turns out really to be His angle on us. We imagine we behold Him in His risen glory – and we are excited by love and life to the full. But while this is so deeply true of the nature of things even in this world, what we are really seeing is Him beholding us out of mercy. It is the Merciful who is risen from the dead, and our own resurrection from Him will be because we too have been changed into Mercy, that is the living vision of God’s life of eternal love. For when we say, “Save us,” it is from being merciless, being unloving, and thus unliving in Christ that we cry to be kept.
May this Christ, who is that Mercy Itself, save us; for He is good and He loves mankind.