A friend of mine recently said about baking banana bread, “I think my family and life is like the bread I just made... a lot of different ingredients... but turning out GREAT! How do rotten bananas make yummy bread? How do the bad things in life turn out good? Just a little cooking theology... thank you God for family and the friends you gave me in this journey of life!” How profound. How simple. It is really in these moments of clarity, one’s life begins to make sense. Our Lord became incarnate for us in order to fill all of our life with Himself. It is His presence within our life that fills our earthly existence with meaning and purpose. As Orthodox Christians we participate IN Christ. We put Him on at our Baptism. We offer our lives in sacrifice to Him as the universal priesthood of creation. We partake of Him in the Holy Mysteries for the healing of soul and body. We become participants in Christ. We then realize how Christ is present in all of the events of our life - one’s family, one’s occupation, one’s circumstances, one’s joys as well as heartbreaks. It is in these more difficult times that we have a harder time seeing clearly. As my friend put it, “How do rotten bananas make yummy bread? How do the bad things in life turn out good?”
Recently I came across two passages of Scripture that bring great consolation during difficult times of struggle. The first is found in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:18-25). It reads, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”
I love this imagery of this earnest longing, this groaning to be redeemed, these “birth pangs.” This glorious hope and liberty of the children of God. I think we can relate to this indescribable longing and yearning that St. Paul speaks of. We find it hard to put it in words. This is the same longing of the prodigal son, upon “coming to himself” remembers the House of the Father. What consolation to read that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” As Christians we have this eager expectation, this hope, which is in Christ. This culminates in our Eucharist prayer - this great and glorious Thanksgiving to God for this coming full redemption of our souls and bodies in Christ - partakers of His Divine Nature and His glorious resurrection. We come to know Christ and we come to know ourselves. We see for the first time our failures, our sin, ourselves stripped of any projection of who we think we are. We then descend with Christ to hell. This is where true growth begins. “The place of the skull becomes the place of Paradise.” “Thy tomb, O Christ, is the fountain of our resurrection.” We begin, out of this longing and groaning of creation, to yearn for participation in this Light of Christ.
This brings us to another reading which is found in St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (4:6-15). It reads, “Brethren, it is the God Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’ Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, ‘I believed, and so I spoke,’ we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
We begin to find that it is actually through our sufferings that we come to know the true power of Christ and His Cross in our life. We live in these “earthen vessels” to show that it is by God’s power that we are healed. We carry about in our bodies the death of Christ “so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. The is the joy of the Cross. We will sing this month at our parish feast, “Through the cross, joy has come into all the world.” Christ came primarily to unite Himself to us - to become everything that we are, to experience everything that we experience. He brought us with Himself to this Cross of shame and made it a place of victory. This is why we are “afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” because the power of the Cross tramples down death by Christ’s death. Thus when we venerate and lift high the Cross of our Lord, we are really offering up our life which is our living sacrifice - dying with Christ and raising with Him in a glorious resurrection. This is the “rotten bananas” that become the yummy bread as my friend said. Let us all continue to groan and yearn for Christ with hopeful expectation. Let us remind ourselves that “He Who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into His presence.” This is what will cause to increase in us this thanksgiving “to the glory of God.” Amen.