What might we have to “surrender” in order for new life to grow?
I have to confess I have never been comfortable with the smallness of my life. The world spins on its axis, sometimes seemingly out of control, and I sometimes feel like a tiny speck of dust ready to be hurled off into oblivion, powerless to do anything to change the chaos and confusion around me. I so often balk at suffering, doubt the meaning of my own existence, and wonder whether God has any place for me in the economy of God’s ever-unfolding plan. I am keenly aware that my Father has sometimes had to pull me along the road of salvation kicking against the goads, all the while watching me respond to the struggles of life with a mixture of cynicism and doubt rather than mountain-moving faith.
But with the unfolding of another new liturgical season and by God’s wonderful grace, I have truly experienced a renewed sense of joyful expectation springing forth from the trust that has been borne by these trials. Indeed, it is this very sense of smallness moving within my soul that has taught me what it means to live with mustard seed-sized faith.
In the transformation that has taken place within me in the midst of isolation, quiet suffering, and spiritual surrender, I have reconnected with the beauty of Christ’s presence breathing life into my soul through his holy word and the profoundly simple elements of the Eucharist. It is in losing myself in the wonder of worship that I have been drawn to that place of submission where the vastness of God’s mercy transforms me from seed-child to mature soul, as God lifts me from the darkness of my despair to the light of a new dawn of hope.
Faith and the Fellowship of the Liturgy
When trials come, it can seem right to default to the kind of prayer that calls on God to rearrange the cosmos to suit our needs. We try to fool ourselves into thinking that this is faith, all the while knowing that it is merely false hope. But the Scriptures tell us this: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
All our wishful thinking and prayerful pleading cannot bring the certainty that is found only in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we celebrate in the liturgy each Sunday. Yet, do we truly understand what it means to enter as a body of believers into the heavenly realm that opens up before us as the holy word is proclaimed and the bread and wine brought forth to the eucharistic table? We are called to come before the throne of grace with a grain of faith: “And the Lord said, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
We may imagine such faith to be a divine quality outside ourselves to be grasped, an atom of heavenly power ready to be split within our souls in order to release the creative energy of the Holy Spirit. But what if we focused on what it means to be the seed? How would this change our thinking about the kind of faith that hopes for what we know to be certain, that holds a glimpse of the goodness that presents itself in the once-for-all eucharistic sacrifice of Christ?
The Seed, the Source, and the Surrender
We are like mustard seeds, crafted by the hand of the creator with the potential to become something large enough for the kingdom of God to take up residence within our hearts. Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew: “Another parable he put before them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches’” (Mt 13:31-32). In order to become the fruit-bearing tree it is necessary for the seed to be plunged into the earth, to die to itself in order to rise as a new creation. Our Lord tells us this in John’s Gospel: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
This is our picture of the resurrection life that is ours in Christ; but do we recognize the divine imprint of the Father that lies within us, waiting to be nourished with the word and the Eucharist in order for us to experience the full flowering of our Christian faith? Jesus alone is the source of our salvation, the one who cracks open the shell of our hardened hearts in the fertile soil of our struggles. As our Lord floods our souls with his living water, he releases the budding desire of our Spirit-filled hearts to rise above the pressure and darkness of this cold earth to receive the warmth of God’s eternal light.
The Eucharist celebrates the moment when Christ descended into this world and defeated the enemy of our souls at the cross. In his dying, we, like seeds, are planted in the death to sin that occurs in the burial of our baptism. Saved and set free, we rise anew, equipped to move mountains and fed by the grace of the Savior himself, who has made himself present to us sacramentally in the earthly elements of bread and wine. This is the wonderful mystery of the liturgy, that glorious act of love that sends us forth to bear fruit to a lost and weary world.
The Seed Crushed
In order for a mustard seed to be consumed it needs to be broken and crushed. Jesus descended to earth to bring us his very life and free us from the overwhelming burden of our sin. To fulfill God’s great plan of salvation, he consented to be crushed under the weight of our transgressions so that he could offer his life as the perfect peace offering for humankind on the altar of the cross.
Jesus alone is the source of our salvation, the one who cracks open the shell of our hardened hearts in the fertile soil of our struggles.
As he knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane, next to the heavy stone press that crushed the olives to produce the healing oil, he gave himself over to the Father’s will. Through his suffering, we received the grace to find healing for every evil we would ever commit. As Isaiah says: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Is 53:5).
Christ was willing to be crushed – to be broken bread and poured out wine – that we might consume the very life he came to bring us. In receiving the Eucharist, we are nourished for our own calling to be broken and poured out upon a sinful world so desperately in need of healing. Do we truly come to the liturgy ready to be overwhelmed by the crushing glory of God’s word? Are we willing to join with Christ in his sacrifice as we offer ourselves with the Eucharist on the altar?
Our faith is meaningless unless we are prepared to be broken and buried to sin, so that we may rise anew in the light of Christ’s love. Through the Eucharist we partake of the divine nature that is ours through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (see 2 Peter 1:3). This divine nature is available to those willing to walk through the valley of the shadow of death straight to the cross and forward to the resurrection. The liturgy draws us into this journey of surrender as we are planted in death to sin in order to rise to the harvest of our new life in the Spirit.
A New Birth to Come for the Seed
The Eucharist not only nourishes us for the life of virtue to which we are called, it also points us to the seed-to-flowering transformation that is ours in the resurrection. At the altar of offering, we celebrate the death of the Lord until he comes again. We are sent forth into a broken world to bring the light of the kingdom to the lost as we journey ever-forward to the reward that awaits us in heaven on the last day.
This is a whole new order of faith, to cling to the promise of a life so new, to a change in body and soul so transformative, that we cannot fully comprehend its glory. Like seeds, we are sown in death as mortal beings to be raised up as immortal children of the kingdom. Paul gives us a glimpse of this glory in his first letter to the Corinthians:
So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a physical body, there is also a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:42-44).
Do we truly come to the liturgy ready to be overwhelmed by the crushing glory of God’s word? Are we willing to join with Christ in his sacrifice as we offer ourselves with the Eucharist on the altar?
This is the future glory that is manifested in the celebration of the Eucharist. In Christ, we have been redeemed from the dust to rise anew in an eternal kingdom, never to die again. This truth, that we shall be changed into something so beautiful and new, should cause our hearts to burst with anticipation each time we come to the liturgy and look forward to our future transformation with grace-filled hope.
This is the Day the Lord Has Made
Life will continue to be filled with times of sorrow and suffering that may threaten to break us. But because of Christ, it is also filled with moments of joy and glimpses of glory so profound that we cannot help but lift our hearts in praise and thanksgiving to the one who has fulfilled all things by his cross and resurrection. If we are willing to allow the savior to break open the seed-sized faith that he has given us, we will have the assurance of walking with him anew in the kingdom to come.
As I journey with renewed anticipation along the road of my salvation, I know that I stand perpetually in the presence of the pioneer and perfecter of my faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross for the sake of sinners like me (See Hebrews 12:2). This reality cuts through the confusion and chaos of the dark times and reveals in its light the clear path through my trials to the transformation that is taking place moment by moment and faith to faith. It continues to draw me to the word and the table where the seed of faith is nourished again and again, so that I may move ever forward to the resurrection and my life with Christ forevermore.