On the first three evenings of Holy Week, we participate in the Bridegroom Matins. These services echo the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The celebrations of this past weekend — Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday — were foretastes of the joy that awaits us at Pascha. They were bright and joyful celebrations. But through Holy Week, we once again enter a somber time. The constant theme through this week flows right from Jesus’ mouth in Matthew 25:13, “Keep watch.” The Christ the Bridegroom is coming, so keep vigil.
Keeping a vigil can often be viewed as a passive activity. Yet, it is anything but passive. It is attentive repentance and watchfulness. It is actively preparing a place for Christ the Bridegroom in the internal bridal chamber of our hearts.
One of the things that has drawn me to Eastern Orthodoxy is their balanced understanding of “missional,” although they probably would never use that word. In my opinion, many of the discussions I’ve read regarding “missional” lean too far on what I would call “missional activity” rather than on what I would call “missional being.” As valid as most of this missional activity is, Jesus calls his followers to something much deeper than that. He calls them to keep vigil.
In John 20:21, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jesus fulfilled his part in the Father’s mission on earth. But the mission continues until Christ’s return. So Jesus passes the missional baton very carefully. We participate in our part of God’s mission just like Jesus participated in his — by being the embodied fullness, life and presence of God on earth. That means we must be formed into Christ’s likeness so that, like Christ, we too can be God’s fullness, life and presence on earth. In other words, missional activity must flow from missional being. We must be Christ’s likeness so that we may cooperate with Christ in God’s mission.
So mission is first and foremost formation into Christ’s likeness. While journeying into the formation into Christ’s likeness, the Orthodox Church emphasizes something even deeper than formation — repentance. Repentance is the very core of living in God’s kingdom. We see this in Jesus’ proclamation in Mark 1:14-15:
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'”
These words are more than instruction about how to enter God’s kingdom. They reveal how one breathes and lives moment-by-moment in God’s kingdom. Repent and believe. Repent and believe. Repent and believe.
So to pull all the loose strings of this post together, keeping vigil — actively preparing our internal bridal chamber for Christ the Bridegroom through training into repentance and therefore being formed into Christ’s likeness — is mission. Keeping vigil is our mission. A life of continual “repent and believe” forms us into Christ’s likeness so we may truly be sent as he was sent. This is how we are saved and in turn become saving.