|09 - The Gadarene Demoniac|
In the Gospels of the New Testament we see how the time of the Savior’s Incarnation leading up to His Holy Pascha was filled with events that prefigured His Holy Pascha – mini-Paschas if you will. When a bomb explodes, it shoots out fire and shock waves of devastating power in all directions. Christ’s death on the Cross was an explosion that shattered the iron and bronze doors of hell. Uncreated fire and shock waves of death-destroying and life-creating divine power burst forth from that moment on Golgotha in all directions not only in space but also in time, back into the past and forward into the future.
I see this morning’s Gospel as one of the shock waves emanating back into time from the “zero” moment of Christ’s explosive victory over death with His weapon of victory, the Cross. The deliverance of the demoniac that we hear of in this morning’s Gospel reveals the terrible shock of divine power that hell already had begun to feel when Christ stepped onto the shore of this world at the moment when He was conceived in the flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Ever-Virgin Mary.
St Matthew in his Gospel proclaims that at the moment Christ died on the Cross, the graves were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. Coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Mt 27:52-53). In this morning’s Gospel, we see that the power of the tombs was already breaking simply by Jesus’ stepping onto the shores of this world in space-time when He became flesh to dwell among us. It was feeling the shock waves sent out from the explosion of Christ’s death on the Cross that were undulating back through time. The moment of Christ’s death on the Cross was yet to come in space-time; but, it was already shaking the foundations of the earth even as far as hell because of the God-Man who would stretch out His arms on the Cross to embrace all of creation and unite it to Himself, not only the vast reaches of the universe but even the whole of time, past, present and future. We see in this morning’s Gospel that the tombs were already being forced to open and release from their power this man bound by the demons for so many years. Nor could the power of the demons stop this man, even though he was under the power of demons, from rushing to the feet of Jesus and to implore Him for deliverance. I do wonder if this was an unfolding above the ground of the same drama that would unfold beneath the ground, in hell, when at the moment of His death on the Cross, Christ would descend and the terrible, life-creating light of His glory would shine in the darkness of hell. How many souls that had been bound by the devil and his hosts and his pride, when they saw Jesus bursting through the bronze and iron doors of hell, ablaze in the unbearable light of His Holy Glory – the same glory witnessed by the holy apostles on Mt Tabor – rushed to Him to worship Him and to implore Him to deliver them from the terror of death that had bound them for so many eons?
Beloved faithful: we also have been “hit” by the sacred shock-waves exploding from the moment of Christ’s death. They reverberate through the generations and ages of the world, all the way down to the present moment. We encountered the force of these sacred shock-waves when we were immersed into the sacred waters of Holy Baptism. We continue to be washed by these undulating waves of divine power and glory emanating from the Holy Cross of the Savior whenever we approach the sacrament of confession in sincerity, in brokenness of heart and contrition, whenever we draw near in the fear of God with faith and love to the Holy Chalice to partake of the precious body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whenever we retreat into our closet to pray in secret, when we come to the Church to pray the prayers of the Church together, when we take up the fasts of the Church for the sake of Christ, and whenever we take up our cross to struggle in spiritual warfare.
At our baptism, we crossed the threshold and passed over from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness ruled by the devil and by all his hosts and all his pride, to the Kingdom of Light and Life ruled by the all-merciful God who alone is compassionate and the lover of mankind. We passed out of the Egypt of this darkened world glittering with the twinkling lights of vanity, emptiness and purposelessness. The devil and all his hosts and all his pride were washed out of our souls. We were cleansed of the stench of death that clung to us because of our sins and trespasses, and we were clothed in a Robe of Light and anointed with the sweet-smelling myrrh of the Holy Spirit. And then, we were set on the path that leads from the font, from the moment of our becoming partakers of Christ’s victory over death, to the Holy Chalice. These ritual movements of the Church’s sacramental mysteries are not mere symbols. They are the embodiment, the icon that take up in themselves the whole movement of the life of faith here on this earth. In this life, we are in transit, making our way from the moment of our union with Christ’s death and resurrection in Holy Baptism to our union with Him in the Mansion of many rooms that is our true home in the Promised Land of His Heavenly Kingdom. We are no longer citizens of earth. We are no longer slaves in Egypt. We are citizens of heaven. We have been born again from above of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church, as virginal sons and daughters of God. Our life is no longer the biological life of this world that rises from the dust and returns to the dust. It is the life of Christ’s Holy Spirit, hidden in God, that ascends unceasingly from glory to glory. Our life on this earth is a pilgrimage from the font of our Baptism to the ambon of our death, when the Royal Doors open and we pray that we will be found abiding in Christ and Christ in us, united to God in Christ in the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom.
In space-time, of course, we are centuries away from this glorious moment when Christ delivered the Gadarene demoniac from the demons that tormented him. But, the spiritual principles by which the demoniac was delivered and saved to become a lover of God, united to Christ, are eternal; they are not bound by space-time. They are the same principles with us still by which we can be delivered from whatever passion that is holding us prisoner to the evil one and to the darkness of the tombs in the dreariness, the anguish, the terror of death.
One notes first that we are free to respond to the presence of Jesus who became flesh and now dwells among us in His Holy Church. Christ is in our midst. He has united Himself to our nature. He is present to us in our body and all its energies, in our soul and all its energies, and in our mind and all its energies. If we want to, we can present ourselves to Him, even as we are bound by the perverse desires of the passions, even as the demoniac presented himself to Him. Even though He was bound by the demons in all their terrible power, he was still free to present himself to Jesus. For, the image of God in which he was created was not lost; neither is it lost in us. It is the very principle of our being, and in that image, we are free, as God is free, to present ourselves to Christ Our Savior in repentance. We present ourselves to Christ by coming to His crucified and risen body, which is His Church. We come to Christ in His holy Church in the sacrament of confession and in all the other sacraments of the Church, which are the centerpiece of her worship of Christ. We present ourselves to Christ when we turn to Him in prayer, when we present ourselves before the icon of His holy image and of His All-Holy Mother and of all the saints in whom He loves to rest. We present ourselves to Christ when we turn the movement of our hands and feet, our eyes and ears towards the observance of His holy commandments.
It says that the demons drove the demoniac into the wilderness and that He dwelt among the tombs. The wilderness and the terror of the tombs can be found in us already in our inner heart. There we come upon our inner wilderness of emptiness and aloneness because of our turning away from the all-loving Savior in our love for the idols of this world, the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. But, when Christ was baptized, He was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit; and at His death, He was laid in a tomb and He descended into hell. If we turn to Christ, we will find Him present in the fullness of His life-creating glory in the wilderness and tomb of our heart. When we receive the faith of the Church we receive Christ Himself in the inner wilderness and tomb of our heart. Indeed, to take up our Cross to follow Christ is to follow Him into the wilderness and tomb of our heart. And, He makes the desert of our heart to blossom like the rose of His Holy Resurrection. He fills it with the joy and the grace and the fullness of the divine life of His Holy Spirit. And so, He transfigures our sojourn through the wilderness of this life into an inner pilgrimage, working to establish our soul in the love of God, and to nurture the risen body of the new man that He sowed in us at our baptism into the fullness of the stature of Christ, so that we can be ready to stand before Him in the terrible glory of His infinite and unspeakable love for us that led Him to empty Himself for our sake, and to suffer the agony of the Cross even to the point of death for our sake, that He might unite us to Himself, if we want Him to.
Let us leave this morning’s Gospel, then, with this prayer in our heart, that we may come alive in the joy of the pilgrimage, the “Exodus” of the Gospel that would lead us onto the Way that is Christ Himself, the Way to the Father, if we would but take up our Cross and follow Him in the fear of God, with faith and love. Amen.