Continually In the Temple
Brothers and sisters,
Let us begin with the final words of St. Luke’s Gospel. The context is this: after Jesus’ Resurrection, and after He had appeared to His disciples, He led them out as far as Bethany, and there He was parted from them and ascended into heaven. The disciples, obeying His command, returned to Jerusalem, where they awaited the descent of power from on high. Luke closes his Gospel by telling us that there the disciples were “continually in the temple, praising and blessing God.”
I used to think that, right after witnessing Jesus’ Resurrection, the disciples were of course very excited. Everything was so intense, and that is why they were in the temple continually giving thanks to God that their Teacher had returned from the dead. But now, after so many centuries, we can scarcely expect such excitement. We are used to Christ’s Resurrection, and we certainly won’t be in the temple continually, praising and blessing God!
This, of course, is surely not the right way to read St. Luke! How then are we to understand these words? Certainly Luke is not merely concerned here to chronicle the deeds of Jesus and His disciples – “Jesus did this, and then the disciples did that, and then they did the next thing ...” Especially since Luke is closing his Gospel – we could say, he completes his Gospel with these words. And then, as if to make sure we get the message, he repeats nearly the same words at the beginning of Acts: the disciples “all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication.” Let me suggest to you that Luke finishes his Gospel by showing us what our response must be to all he has related to us of Christ, in the rest of the Gospel. Luke has set out a paradigm, or model, or icon of our proper response to Christ.
But I can hear you thinking, “You are nuts, Deacon Theodore! We can’t be in the temple continually! These are modern times, after all – and we are very busy!” Well, how about a compromise: How about every other day in the temple, praising and blessing God? Here at Holy Trinity we do offer services every other day. But even at this jewel of the OCA, as it has rightly been called, I scarcely need the fingers of two hands to count worshippers at weekday Vespers; and Saturday night’s Vigil of the Resurrection is not much better. No, for the most part we are a weekend parish – and the same goes for the OCA as a whole. In fact, Orthodoxy in America is by and large a weekend affair.
But is Christ a weekend Christ?
We must ask ourselves, brothers and sisters, whether we have fallen into a pattern of worship that is neither scriptural nor orthodox. Why do I say “not orthodox”? We all learn at catechism that “Orthodoxy” means “right worship.” Luke has shown us right worship. If we depart from his Gospel teaching -- then in this way our worship is not orthodox.
Let us look at another passage, this one from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Paul warns the Corinthians:
“He who eats and drinks [the Eucharist] in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
This is another passage that puzzled me for a long time. What does it mean to “discern the Lord’s body”? Are we expected to see a physical body with our physical eyes? Certainly not! Paul must mean spiritual discernment. But what does it mean to discern spiritually the Lord’s body? Let me offer an interpretation.
We sing often that Paradise has been opened to us. In Paradise, before the Fall, Adam and Eve walked with God. This, brothers and sisters, is what the Lord’s Resurrection, His glorious Ascension, and his Body and Blood have opened to us: to walk with God. But do you think that Adam and Eve walked with God only on the weekend, while they busied themselves with other matters during the week? We cannot walk with God – or, to put it another way, participate in the Divine Life – if we pass the week in indifference to what the Lord has offered us. If we do so, and then show up at the chalice on the Lord’s day, expecting to partake of His Body and Blood, then indeed we may eat and drink judgment to ourselves, as St Paul says.
Having said these things – and some hard words – let me say that of course some of us truly find it difficult to come to Church more than every Sunday – or even that often! We have newborn children; or we are single parents; or we are doctors or nurses and must work at the hospital; or we live far away; or we are elderly and have no transportation. In such cases, God sees our love, which on its own cannot reach its fulfillment, and He provides what is lacking. But whatever our situation, be certain of this: we will be called to account for how we respond to what God has given us. The Lord has made this abundantly clear in the Gospels.
And those of us who have young children, let me ask: would we feed our children once weekly, on Sundays only? Of course not! Then why would we bring them to worship only once weekly, when Christ himself said, “You shall not live by bread alone, but by the very Word of God.” We need to bring our children into the life with God. We need to teach them that worship is the center of our life.
For those of us who truly do find it difficult to come to Church outside of Sundays, let me offer a suggestion. Once a month, attend Vespers during the week, or Vigil on a Saturday night. Make it a night out. Or take a half day off from work on a feast day, and come to Divine Liturgy in the morning. You may think, “Once a month? That’s not going to help much.” But do the math: if everyone in the parish attends a weekday service once a month, the worship of the community as a whole – the worship of the Body of Christ – will be considerably strengthened.
So, brothers and sisters, let us not cast off the worship that has been handed down to us. Let us not practice indifference towards the great gifts that God has offered us. But rather, let us enter into the joy that the Lord has prepared for us, walking with him daily, bringing with us our children, our parents, our friends and indeed the entire world.
© Deacon Theodore Feldman 2008