“If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering.
Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day.
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.”
Those words are from Saint John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily, which Orthodox priests traditionally recite (I think my priest knows it from memory) on Pascha, or Orthodox Easter.
This is the year that I am the tarrier, I am the heedless, I am the last, I am the eleventh hour follower. I told you at the beginning Lent that I couldn’t bear all the must-dos this year. But I thought I’d at least attend a few services here and there, maybe a Friday Akathist or at least some of the services of Holy Week. But here I am, on Orthodox Holy Friday, having attended no services this week. The runners are rounding the last bend of Lent and heading toward the finish line of Pascha. I watch from the stands.
I’ve waited and lingered. I’ve fretted and rebelled. I have not followed the formulas or attended the liturgies and many days, save quiet and quick bedtime prayers with my children, I have not even prayed. I am a deserter, showing up – rather unfairly – at the eleventh hour.
But the beauty of God is that he gives mercy to the deserters, to the ignorers, to the end-of-the-liners. Perhaps I do not deserve to attend Pascha. Perhaps I do not deserve to take the bread and the cup.
Yet St. John Chrysostom’s words tell me: The Lord will accept the last even as the first. The table is open. Even to me. Even to a faithless straggler like me. Even for a heart as scarred with doubts and questions as mine. The table is full laden. The table is ready. And no matter what I have or haven’t done, I am welcome at the feast.