|11 - Barns and Temples, Nov 18, 2012|
Could we hear a more appropriate Scripture lesson for this first Sunday of the Nativity Fast than these readings from Ephesians and St Luke? As we draw near to Christmas, does not our consumer society seek to seduce us to indulge our lustful desires to build bigger barns for more worldly riches so we can give our life to eating, drinking and making merry?
The bigger barns of the rich fool and the life that goes with it is in stark contrast to the temple of the faithful and the life that goes with it that we heard about in this morning’s epistle to Ephesians.
As we step into the Nativity Fast and begin to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ born of the Virgin on Christmas Eve, our two Scripture lessons this morning set before us the same two trees that were before Adam and Eve. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the life that goes with it is the barn of the rich fool. The Tree of Life and the life that goes with it is the temple that St Paul tells us about, built on the foundation of the prophets and holy apostles, whose cornerstone is Christ.
The life of this temple is set before us in the joy of the feast of the Theotokos’ Entry into the Temple. When we resolve to turn away from the large barns of the rich fool and make our way with the Theotokos into the Temple we should discover that Christmas begins in that very choice. What I mean is that the choice to make one’s way into the Temple with the Theotokos gives birth to a certain joy in one’s soul: it is the joy of Christ coming to the soul who receives Him.
That joy affirms the proclamation of the Church: her mysteries do indeed open onto Eden, for the joy born in the soul from that choice is a seedling of the joy that is the fruit of the Tree of Life that grows in the Garden of Eden. It is the joy of heaven that has come into the world with the appearing of the New Eve, the most blessed Theotokos, and the New Adam, Our Blessed Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, who by His death has opened the gates of death onto the Garden of Eden in the glory of the mystery of His Holy Church.
In the joy of the feast of her Entry into the Temple, the New Eve makes her way “eastward” into the Holy of Holies. She conceives in her womb, by the Holy Spirit the New Adam, Jesus Christ. But, He is the very same Lord who sits enthroned in the Holy of Holies of the Heavenly Temple; and so her womb becomes one with the Holy of Holies of the Heavenly Temple. In her womb, the human body itself opens onto heaven and becomes the garment of the Lord of Heaven who clothes Himself with Light as with a garment. In the garments of His flesh given Him by the New Eve, the New Adam returns to the dust of the ground by His death on the cross, and lo! by the power of His grace, He parts the waters of death as He once did the Red Sea and makes the grave to become the gate that opens onto the other side and to the Tree of Life growing in the Garden of Eden, in the Holy of Holies of His Holy Church, which is His own body, the fullness of Him who is all in all, uniting heaven and earth, God and man in the Joy of His Holy Pascha.
On Christmas Eve, God the Lord reveals Himself to us in the Cave and He becomes truly Immanuel: God With Us! By His appearing, He transfigures the world into a sacred temple that now stores all the riches of heaven. All those who receive this Son of the Theotokos in the fear of God, with faith and with love receive also the Son of the Father now made flesh, the Treasure of Heaven, the Pearl of great price stored in the temple of the human flesh; and, in the mystery of Christmas, those who receive Him become themselves temples of the Lord, temples of Christ Our God.
But, if in the mystery of Christmas we become temples of the Living God when we receive Christ, that means that there is somewhere in us a Holy of Holies that is one with the womb of the Theotokos and can receive Christ and all the riches of heaven. Where is that Holy of Holies to be found in our body? We want to know so that we can become temples of the Living God and live in the Holy of Holies as did the Theotokos, and receive all the riches of the Glory of Our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ in the joy of Eden.
“The heart is deep beyond all things, says the prophet, Jeremiah, and it is the man.” (Jer 17:9 LXX) “Keep your heart with all diligence,” says the Proverb, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov 4:23) These are two of the many biblical passages from which we understand that the human heart, the “inner man”, the “ontological center” of each one of us, is the “Holy of Holies” where we can receive Christ and become holy as He is holy. Here is where we find the origin of our desires and our intentions, the beginning of our will and the root of the erotic force of our love. It is here that we have followed after the seductions of the devil and became children of disobedience, dead in our sins and trespasses so that our heart has become a tomb where our dead soul is laid out like a corpse. Our hearts have become the barns of fools who seek to grow rich in the accumulation of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life, the riches of the world that is passing away.
But, dear brothers and sisters, it is in the tomb of the heart, the Holy of Holies of the temple of our body that had grown dark with the hollow gloom of dread, a spectral barn haunted with the ghosts of what was but is no more, piles of dust that were once glittering worldly riches – it is into the tomb of our heart that the Lord of Glory descended into the womb of the Virgin and was born as a man in the Cave, and when He voluntarily ascended the Cross, was dead and buried in the tomb of His Holy Pascha. It is the tomb of our heart that He made into a bridal chamber; i.e., a most sacred mystery where He becomes one with us even in our death, where we are weakest and most vulnerable, that He might roll the stone away from the tomb of our heart and open us onto the Holy of Holies of the Temple of Heaven in the Glory and the Joy of His Holy Resurrection. You see, then, how He has made the human heart to become the Holy of Holies of our body that is the temple of God, and that it is in our heart that we open onto the Kingdom of Heaven and come out of ourselves in the trembling ecstasy (the transcending of oneself) of the myrrh-bearing women and into the Garden of Eden and to the Tree of Life that grows there. You see how in the mystery of His Holy Church – which is the mystery of His body, His crucified and risen body, the fullness of Him who is all in all – He has made our body to become, if you will, a barn so big that it is more spacious than the heavens because the treasure that it holds is all the riches of the Glory of the Lord of all, the Pearl of great price, even the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, the Treasury of every blessing!
No wonder Our Lord calls this rich man in His parable a fool, for so he truly is! He traded the eternal treasures of heaven for the corruptible riches of the world. He traded the life of the Resurrection for the death of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life that belong to this world that is passing away.
Do you see how the riches of the world draw us away from ourselves when we go chasing after them? They draw us away from the Inner Door of our heart where we open onto Eden in the Resurrection of Christ, and they disperse us throughout the fields of the world so that we become scattered, fragmented, broken up into little, tiny particles of dust returning to the dust. To be scattered into countless shards and particles so that we are separated and lost from ourselves: is this not the very essence of death? The barns of the rich fool are in fact the heart of man that has become a tomb that opens the soul onto the darkness of the abyss of nothingness.
But to turn away from the riches of the world and to go in haste with the shepherds and the wise men to the Cave of Bethlehem to behold this “thing” that has come to pass,” is to go in haste to the Inner Door of one’s own heart. For this great thing that has come to pass is the word, rhma, of God that is “very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Dt 30:14) It is the Word of God, the Thing of God, the Mystery of God, hidden from before the ages, that has come to pass. It is the Lord of All Himself who has emptied Himself and become flesh, born as a little child of the Holy Virgin, so that He can dwell among us richly, as St Paul says in Colossians, teaching us and admonishing us in all wisdom, and giving birth in our hearts to Thanksgiving, eucharistia (Col 3:16). It is the Word of God who comes to call us back to ourselves, away from the big barns of rich fools to the even Bigger Barns that are very deep; they are our bodies that have been made to be more spacious than the heavens because in the luminous glory of Christmas and in the boundless joy of Pascha, they have been made to be the Temple of the Living God, holding within the Holy of Holies of the human heart Him Who is the Treasury of All Blessings. He comes to call us back to where the springs of life, the living waters of the Holy Spirit, flow: our heart where we open onto the Tree of Life growing in the Garden of Eden and onto the Tree of Life, partaking of which, we who were scattered are made whole and where the love of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength are all drawing near to His Holy Temple on Mt Zion in the praise – in the joy, the love, the thanksgiving – of His Glory, to join the wedding feast of all the saints whose food and drink is Christ’s own Holy Spirit, and whose “making merry” is the joy of Christ and His Bride, a joy that the world cannot take away.
O Lord, come and abide in us! Teach us Thy Way that we may be granted to become worthy of the joy of Thy Glorious Nativity and Most Holy Pascha! O Lord, Glory to Thee! Amen.