The Paschal season of the Church is preceded by the season of Great Lent, which is also preceded by its own liturgical preparation. The first sign of the approach of Great Lent comes five Sundays before its beginning. On this Sunday the Gospel reading is about Zacchaeus the tax-collector. It tells how Christ brought salvation to the sinful man, and how his life was changed simply because he “sought to see who Jesus was” (Luke 19:3). The desire and effort to see Jesus begins the entire movement through Lent towards Pascha. It is the first movement of salvation.
This excerpt from our church bulletin explains why this date on the church calendar is a good one for someone to become a catechumen, as two people did on Sunday in my parish, and as I did seven years ago. It was not my first introduction to life in Christ, but it was definitely the time when I climbed up to the best vantage point to see Christ and His Church in all its fullness.
When I was a little child in Sunday School I learned some details of the story by way of a song:
Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he.
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see.
And when the Savior passed that way He looked up in the tree;
And He said, ‘Zacchaeus, you come down, for I’m going to your house today.’
In his gospel homily Sunday our rector pointed out that the Lord also said, “Make haste.” In other words, “Get down here, man! Don’t be dilly-dallying about, but begin right now to mean business with God.” And this week St. Nikolai explains how this man and his experience are meaningful to each of us:
“Today, salvation has come to this house.”
(St. Luke 19:9).
Thus it was spoken by the One Whose word is life and joy and restoration of the righteous. Just as the bleak forest clothes itself into greenery and flowers from the breath of spring, so does every man, regardless of how arid and darkened by sin, become fresh and youthful from the nearness of Christ. For the nearness of Christ is as the nearness of some life-giving and fragrant balsam which restores health, increases life, give fragrance to the soul, to the thoughts and to the words of man. In other words, distance from Christ means decay and death and His nearness means salvation and life.
Draw near to us O Lord, draw near and bring to us Your eternal salvation.