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“The Gathering”

I probably don't remember nearly as much from science class as I should. But one lesson from junior high sticks with me. You probably remember this lesson, as well. The teacher took a few rocks of different sizes, placed them in a bucket, and asked what would happen if she turned the bucket upside down. Of course, the rocks would fall out. That’s gravity. But then - you know what comes next - she put the rocks in the bucket and began to spin the bucket around, arm at full extension, in continuous circles (it was more animation than I had seen from her since the day she threw her chalk at me in math class). And to the wonder and amazement of all those young adolescents in the room that day, the rocks didn't fall out. A force greater than gravity held those rocks in the bottom of the bucket even when it was upside down.

I was reminded of that introductory lesson in physics when reading the Gospel of St Luke this week. Our Lord’s words, “He who is not with me is against me and he who does not gather with me scatters," brought it to mind. That there are forces which seek to scatter us from Christ and from one another comes as no surprise to us. We feel those forces every day of our life. Temptation, anger, hatred, lust, fear, greed, the allure of wealth and a worldly security which corrodes our faith…the list goes on and on, all of these forces and myriad others trying to separate us from Christ and one another and fling us out into an ever expanding chaos and separation. This is not just talk, either. We feel these forces. How often do we say the words, "I'm falling apart,” or, “I’m just trying to keep things together"? We all have this experience, sometimes too often. What we don't always recognize is that the forces driving us toward this chaos are, quite simply, the forces of evil. And the attempt to “keep it all together” through recreation, entertainment, a bottle, a pill, or any of the means generally available to us only exacerbates the process. We are falling apart.

So how do we resist these scattering forces of dissolution and chaos? Well, as my junior high teacher capably demonstrated, by a greater force. And there is no greater force in all the cosmos than the grace and love and mercy of God. But this Divine “force” seeks not to act upon us or against us but within us, drawing us, gathering us to Christ and to one another in him.

This gathering is at the heart of our Lord’s work. It is why the Forerunner said, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn….” (Matt 3.12) It is why so many of our Lord’s parables were stories of gathering the harvest or hauling in the great catch of fish. And it is why St Paul describes the whole purpose of Christ’s dispensation being so that “He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth….” (Eph 1.10)

Of course, the more common name for this gathering is simply Church. In fact, another name for the Church and specifically for the Church gathered in the Divine Liturgy is "the gathering” (in Greek, synaxis; in Slavonic, sobor). Thus the Church, much more than simply a human and earthly institution, is the final and Divine gathering of all creation into one in Christ, the Alpha and the Omega.

But we need to be clear. This gathering is quite literal, which is why it is associated with the Divine Liturgy. It is not just a nice religious metaphor or a happy thought. We survive the forces of evil and chaos which seek to scatter us when we gather in Christ, in the Liturgy, before the word, at the chalice. Elsewise we scatter. There is no third option. One force or another will move us: the forces of evil will disperse us, tearing us from Christ and one another; or by the grace of God we will be gathered into the heavenly synaxis, the eternal Liturgy, and drawn evermore deeper into the life of God.

With love in Christ,

Fr John

“Give me a word!”

Select sayings from St Issac the Syrian

Without temptations, God’s concern is not perceived, nor is freedom of speech with Him acquired, nor is spiritual wisdom learnt, nor does the love of God become grounded in the soul.

Divine care surrounds all human beings all the time, but it is only seen by those who have purified themselves from sins and who have God in mind at every moment.

The heart of the Lord is directed towards the humble, to benefit them. The face of the Lord is set against the proud, so as to humble them. Humility receives compassion continuously, whereas a hard heart and absence of faith continually meet with endless difficulties.

Constant pondering on the holy Scriptures will always fill the soul with incomprehensible wonder and joy in God.

Faith is the gate to the mysteries. What the body’s eyes are in relation to perceptible objects, so it is with faith in the case of the treasures that lie hidden to the eyes of the mind.

Blessed is the person who has eaten of the Bread of love, which is Jesus.

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