How many of you have experienced the typical roadway intersection in Minnesota? There are four cars and none of them are moving because everyone is waving the other person on. “You go. No, you go.” England and New England overcame this over a hundred years ago with the rotary—no one stops, you just jump in and jump out. Intersections are no stranger to Orthodox Christianity and they happen when the various cylces of the year come together on any particular day. It happens every Sunday when the lectionary cycle of biblical readings based on the date of Pascha intersects with the fixed feasts and saints cycle based on the calendar year. And those intersect with the weekly melody cycle based on the eight tones and the eleven Orthros morning gospel readings cycle.
Tonight, we enter another intersection as we celebrate the fixed feast of the Eisodos tis Theotokou or Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple which coincides with the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Just like two roads crossing gives at least four different perspectives of the intersection, so this evening’s liturgical celebration offers us multiple perspectives on the Christian life.
First, let us get a view from our American holiday of Thanksgiving. We use the term ‘holiday’ so often now but we forget its origin—that it means “holy day,” a religious observance. The first pilgrims from England to America gave thanks to God not long after they arrived around 1620. Interestingly, most people do not assign a religious purpose or significance to the word ‘pilgrim’ when talking about the early settlers to America. That differs from discussions about pilgrims who make pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Think about it.
Next, let us adjust our view from the perspective of the Feast of the Entrance. According to tradition, Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin Mary, were without child well past their child-bearing years. Nonetheless, they continued in prayer to God, asking that He grant them a child. Their desire was so fervent, that they promised to return or dedicate that child to God if He granted their fervent wish. Joachim and Anna rejoiced in learning that their prayer had been answered affirmatively on December 9th and the Virgin Mary was born nine months later on September 8th. Joachim and Anna never forgot their promise and when the Virgin Mary was three years of age, they brought her to the Temple to dedicate her to God and entrust her care to the priests and servants of the Temple. In the story, we hear that the little Mary eagerly scaled the steps on her own and entered not only the Holies but the Holy of Holies. This entrance is what we commemorate today and that’s why the Epistle reading is chose from Hebrews 9:1-7 because it mentions the Holy of Holies and the Ark. It is a precursor of Mary becoming the living Ark, the living Tabernacle of the Messiah, when the Word of God will be conceived within her by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Consider for a moment, if anyone of us could or would give up our three-year-old child. Maybe we could/would do it with our closest and trusted relatives or friends under extreme circumstances. But could/would we do that with the priest and council members and leaders of our parish community? And if anyone did turnover their child to the church, could/would we leaders accept that offering? Would we be worthy of that trust? This is the context of Joachim and Anna’s deep faith and most profound expression of thanksgiving to God. Think about it.
Third, let us take the perspective of the Gospel reading we just heard in the liturgy. It is selected for several Feasts of the Theotokos including the Entrance today (Nov.21). In the last two verses, a woman praises Jesus’ mother Mary, saying she is blessed because she bore the Messiah and nursed Him (11:27). But Jesus answer says that His mother Mary is blessed because she heard the word of God through the Archangel and obeyed it (v.28). That’s how she came to bear Him in her womb in the first place. This provides a little context for the first verses of the passage about Jesus entering the home of Lazaros’ sisters, Martha and Mary. It says that Martha got irritated with her sister Mary because she sat at the Lord’s feet listening to His words (v.39), while Martha was busy and distracted with many tasks. Exasperated, Martha confronts Jesus and tells Him to tell Mary to help her (v.40). Jesus responds saying, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."
Innumerable people are so distracted with their many tasks of hosting for the holidays that they could not or would not be here with us to sit at the Lord’s feet in His temple, to listen to His teaching, and give Him thanks. How many of us fall prey to the same problem as Martha each and every Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the Day to receive the Theia Eucharistia, the Eucharist, the ultimate expression of thanksgiving to God?
As we conclude, consider for a moment that every day is a spiritual crossroad, an intersection. Ever decision, every choice determines if we turn to the left, to the right, or turnaround. Each one takes us farther away from God. We must pray for discernment so that we may know if we should continue straight on our path or if we should repent and make a turn to get on the road that leads us to God’s Kingdom. Blessed Feast of the Entrance and Thanksgiving to all!