Feast of St. Haralampos / Sunday of the Canaanite Woman, February 10, 2019
II Timothy 2:1-10; Matthew 15:21-28
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of the seed of David. (II Timothy 2:8a)
I was struck this week when I read that first phrase: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” This is part of the Apostle Paul’s instruction to his spiritual son St. Timothy, in his second epistle to him. Timothy had been appointed by Paul as the bishop of Ephesus, and even after Paul moved on from that city, he continued to send teaching and counsel to the young Timothy to guide him in his pastoral ministry.
Why would Paul say this? “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.” Is he concerned that Timothy is going to forget this key piece of Christian doctrine? Is he saying, “Now, don’t forget Jesus, Who rose from the dead!”? That doesn’t make sense. Timothy has been made a bishop by Paul. There is no way that he would forget the central proclamation of the Christian faith, the very Person Whom they all worship as the risen and living God.
So there must be something more going on here when Paul tells him to “remember” the Messiah Jesus, Who is risen from the dead. And there is perhaps more that we can also say here in addition to what Paul intended in his counsel to Timothy about what it means to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”
Concerning what Paul intended, St. John Chrysostom, who knows the mind of Paul so well, said that Paul was emphasizing the resurrection as well as Christ being from David’s seed (that is, truly human) in order to counter heresies that were already springing up at the time. But he also says that this is to encourage Timothy, that contemplating Christ’s resurrection will give him comfort (Homily IV on II Timothy).
Why does that work, though? Why is it that remembering Christ and His resurrection would give Timothy comfort? And would that work for us, as well?
In order to understand why this remembrance gives comfort, it is good that we restate the most basic truth about Who Jesus is and what His resurrection means.
Jesus is the Son and Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. And in His perfect knowledge and wisdom, He was sent by the Father to become man, lowering Himself to be like us in all things except sin—becoming truly human while remaining truly God.
Would you not be astonished with humility, gratitude and love if some great emperor or ruler came to your house to be with you, to share in life with you? How much more should we be comforted that the very Lord of the Cosmos has come to be with us, to share our life with us?
And then to die for us? How can we respond adequately? We cannot. But in calling this truth to our minds, doesn’t that put everything else in our lives into perspective?
And what’s more, He not only died, but rose on the third day, truly alive again—the same Jesus, the same God-man, the same One Who had died now alive. And what is more, He said that if we follow Him and join ourselves to Him, then we will also rise again to true life after our own deaths.
That not only puts our own lives into perspective but all of history, all of the story of mankind! The tragedy that touches every one of us no matter what—death—has been overcome. Its sting has been removed. Its victory is ended. Christ is risen, and death is overthrown. This changes everything.
Every event in your life and every event in history has to be seen in a new light because of Who Jesus is and the fact that He rose from the dead, beginning the resurrection from the dead that will eventually encompass every person who has ever or will ever live.
To remember that is not the same kind of remembering that you do when you remember to walk the dog in the morning or to take out the trash. It is to meditate on it, to refer every aspect of your life to it. If you always keep in mind Who Jesus is and that He rose alive again from the tomb, then you will be comforted. And you will find yourself reordering your life around that truth.
I also want to say something here about the act of remembering itself and what that means for us as Orthodox Christians. To remember, especially to remember Jesus Christ, is to use our minds to bring into our hearts the presence of who or what we are remembering. This kind of memory is not merely recall but invocation, a “calling-in” of that presence.
There is a sense in which your memories are who you are. If you were to wipe away all memory of your experiences up to this point in your life, you would not be you. Or if you were to alter them somehow, then again, you would not be you.
But there is also the act of remembering, which is not considering our memories as a kind of library of things that have happened to us or that we know. The act of remembering is making a choice—often an unconscious, unintentional choice—to bring some memory to our conscious thoughts, to enthrone that memory in our hearts, to give it rule over our souls and bodies.
We all have this power of memory, and the way that we use that power shapes who we are in a profound way. Have you ever noticed how, when you think about some particular thing over and over—maybe something you’re worried about or anticipating—then your life itself seems to shape around it? Even your routine tasks take on a different character because of that thing you remember.
For example, if someone has died or if you fear that someone may die, it’s not only that you can’t stop thinking about that person but that your continual remembrance of him or her now colors all that you do. Or if you have some project or new opportunity that is in the future, when you keep remembering it, then your experiences and purposes become oriented toward that thing.
Memory is powerful. And to a significant degree, it makes us what we are, shapes how we experience life, and influences what we do and say. And the acts of remembering that we engage in further shape all of this.
That is why we have to take responsibility for our minds and hearts and become intentional about our remembrances. We often act as though whatever comes into our minds and even becomes an obsession is somehow beyond our control or influence. It is not. We have the ability to bring to remembrance other things than what is suggested by our unconscious or subconscious minds.
One of the ways that we can do that is by prayer, both private and corporate, both liturgical and meditative. And we can discipline our minds in other ways, too, which we often learn in the process of confession. By this, we are able to bring to remembrance what shapes us for the Kingdom of God, rather than merely passively submitting to remembrances that shape us for a kingdom that passes away.
So when we read Paul saying to Timothy “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” we should also hear him saying that to us. And then we should take this counsel from him and understand that he is saying that this thought—Jesus, risen from the dead—is one that should always be in our remembrance. Because if we do remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, then Who He is and His resurrection will reorder our lives and make us more and more like Him.
To Him Who remembers us be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.