Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, 27 and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. 30 “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (Revised Standard Version)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Twenty-second Day of Zadeeg, Fourth Sunday, Red Sunday), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
The Blood of Christ
Although there seems to be no ecclesiastical origin or significance for Red Sunday (Կարմիր Կիրակի), the color red recalls numerous themes within Christianity and the tradition of the Armenian Church. It is the blood of Jesus Christ that redeems and heals us, the source of life which spilled into the ground from the Cross to give life and salvation to the entire created order. As we sing Առաջի քո Տէր during Badarak:
Son of God, who are sacrificed to the Father for reconciliation, bread of life distributed among us, through the shedding of your holy blood, we beseech you, have mercy on your flock saved by your blood. (p. 33)
But bringing about a renewed creation, one that is made whole, requires the corruption which ails us to be judged. And so the Father gives the Son, as the Son of man (see Daniel 7:13-14) authority to bring judgment on the forces of sin and evil that have plagued us, diverted us, misled us, oppressed us, and led us to believe that this world and what it has to offer is satisfactory and sufficient. And so the Cross and the resurrection call us to live in him, in holy communion with Jesus Christ, just as we were created to live. Jesus invites us to pass from death to life into a resurrection of life rather than the path that leads to a resurrection of judgment. As. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes,
Some will be welcomed by the unspeakable light and the vision of the holy and royal Trinity, which now shines on them with greater brilliance and purity and unites itself wholly to the whole soul…the others…must endure being outcast from God and the shame of conscience which has no limit.
Built into the Gospel is a sense of urgency, a matter of life and death. Rather than right vs. wrong, the Orthodox Churches view sin from the perspective of life vs. death, as taught in Scripture and by Church Fathers such as St. Athanasius in his work On the Incarnation:
He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. (4.24)
And so Jesus calls us to hear his word and believe in him so that we may have eternal life (v. 24).
What is the number one concern of our existence? Jesus isn’t looking to be fourth or fifth place or even second place. His desire is not to be someone who is only called upon when we are in need. He didn’t take on flesh, shed his blood, and rise from the dead just so we could relate to his ideas and principles and imitate his style of life as one among many religious figures. Many religions and individual beliefs around the world consider Jesus to be a prophet, a good teacher, and someone to respect. But the Son of God himself calls us friends! (see John 15:15) And so he wants to spend time with us. He wants our love in return, our entire being. He wants to commune with us! So what do we do with the time and life given to us by God? How do we fill our schedules? How often do we pray, participate in Badarak? Is our life marked by seeing others as more important than ourselves, or is it just occasional? Do we live as though we are dependent on God daily, momentarily as our Savior? Do we really believe we need him, that we are utterly lost without him?
The Blood of the Martyrs
Speaking of crossing from death to life, which is one of the themes of Sunday’s Gospel reading, the color red also recalls the blood of the Church martyrs: those who follow the pattern of Jesus, those men and women who demonstrated valiant faith, unafraid to die for Jesus Christ, confident in his words and promise to raise to new life those who know and follow him. As Jesus promises in the following chapter,
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40)
And later in John’s Gospel, in front of the tomb of Lazarus,
I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)
In a way, on this Red Sunday, and every day, we are called to martyrdom. The demand of the Gospel, the demand of our faith compels us to imitate Jesus’ complete and total surrender to the Father’s loving care, no matter the cost, even unto death. This is good news in a world that regularly spills blood in the name of ego, politics, and false religion. A world that is still filled with injustice, imbalance, unfairness, pandemics, and terror. And so the color red reminds us of our pain, distress, fear, and suffering, but as St. Paul assures us, the love of Christ and his work at the Cross is the last word on the topic of evil and death:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Who are the Martyrs to whom we look as examples of faith? To which Saints do we pray asking for help to imitate their lives and the life of Jesus Christ? Do we tend to think of martyrdom one-dimensionally, as death by the sword, or is martyrdom built into the Christian faith? If not by death, what does it mean to be an authentic, tangible witness to the reality of God, what he did for us, his mercy, forgiveness, and love – every day in every situation? Do we really want to test the boundary by living just enough to get by, or do we want to live like martyrs, confident not in ourselves, but in the promise of new life in Jesus Christ and the reality of his love that conquers every trial, even death?
The Blood of Holy Communion
Finally, Red Sunday should call to mind what was already mentioned, the life-giving Blood of Christ, but given to us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the Gospel reading, Jesus claims the Father “has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” The fullness of life doesn’t come from anywhere or anyone else, no other source, and we are given that fullness of life in the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church.
In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (v. 25) During Badarak we don’t just receive a fleeting experience or a temporary spiritual fix. When we share the Body and Blood of Christ, we are passing from death to life, and so Badarak is a matter of life and death. Once again, we view sin in terms of life vs. death, rather than right vs. wrong.
(This does not imply the Church does not teach that some thoughts, words, and deeds are wrong. Some things are wrong, but not because of a legal system that Jesus has constructed for the Church, but because those things rupture our holy communion with him and instead bring rot and corruption to our being. It is important to know, especially in times when we are isolated and cannot share the holy communion that comes with the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood, that holy communion can be experienced in our momentary lives, when we live a life in him, one that is continually renouncing our ego and in a state of constant repentance. In other words, as Bishop Daniel Findikyan often repeats, “Holy Communion is more than just something placed on your tongue.”)
That being said, the celebrant of Badarak does not say the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is “life, hope of resurrection, purification and remission of sins” for poetic or metaphorical reasons. There’s an urgency. We will die without him. Again, from On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius, reflecting on our origin in the Garden, writes:
He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” “You shall die”— not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption. (1.3)
That process or state of death and corruption still lingers today. We have never ceased from disobeying God. In other words, we have not loved him by following his commandments (“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15). But this death and corruption is not punishment for a legal disregard of a rule, it is a consequence of being infected by the disease of sin which results in ruptured holy communion. It is a result of not loving God, or at the very least, loving something more than him. Jesus picks up the idea of life and death from the Old Testament and applies it to the New Covenant he made with us. In John’s version of the Last Supper/Passover, Jesus said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53)
Pick up the Badarak book and follow along. Listen to the words and prayers therein. In the beginning part of Badarak, the Liturgy of the Word, the deacons invite us to:
Stand in prayer before the holy altar of God that we may find the grace of mercy on the day of the revelation and the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (p. 25)
In the latter part of Badarak, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest prays the following words as he breaks the Body of Christ and places it into the chalice:
Grant that this communion be for the purification of sins and the loosing of transgressions, as our Lord Jesus Christ promised and said that “Whoever eats my Body and drinks my Blood shall live forever”…let this be to me…for health of soul and body and for the performance of all deeds of virtue; so that this may purify my breath and my soul and my body and make me a temple and a habitation of the all-holy Trinity. (pp. 45-46)
The deacons invite the people forward to share Holy Communion and sing:
We confess and we believe that this is the living and life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that becomes for us purification and remission of sins. (p. 49)
After all have shared Holy Communion, the people rejoice with thanksgiving and sing:
We give thanks to you, Lord, who have fed us at your table of immortal life; distributing your Body and your Blood for the salvation of the world and for life to our souls (p. 51)
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, what happens to those who believe? To those who do not? How important is our faith to live? How important is not only attending, but putting our entire heart and being into participating in Badarak? Do we ever think of our faith or Badarak in terms of urgency, as a matter of life and death? When we do, how we should yearn for the Mystery of his Body and Blood, especially in times when we are unable to participate in Badarak. The miracle of the resurrection is happening inside of us, at this moment, so that when we physically die, death is rendered inconsequential to the new life already given to us by God. A new life that changes us, transfigures us, and makes us a new creation, so that when we face trials and suffering we face them with the overflowing, divine abundant life of Christ. How else could Jesus have faced the Cross had he not been in (comm)union with his Father?
How should our faith, then, permeate and inform how we view suffering, our lifestyle, our schedules, our self-image, the goals we set for ourselves, how we raise our children? We are not called to live in panic, but in confidence that Jesus has accomplished salvation. That does not mean we can sit back and wait for God’s plan to unfold. Jesus includes us in his plan, and it requires effort on our part, concrete faith – to love those who do everything possible to be unlovable, to forgive those who hate us and exploit us, to give thanks not only when we experience surplus but in our pain and when we are in desperate need, to live and walk soberly, so close to God that we are one with him, in holy communion with him, so that we are not the evil and corruption that the Son of man will one day judge. As St. John Chrysostom admonishes:
Beloved, we need great diligence in all things, for we shall render account of and undergo a strict enquiry both of words and works. Our interests stop not with what now is, but a certain other condition of life shall receive us after this, and we shall be brought before a fearful tribunal. As St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians (2:10), “For we must appear before the Judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Let us ever bear in mind this tribunal, that we may therefore be enabled at all times to continue in virtue… so he that always retains this fear will walk soberly.