|41 - PENTECOST, June 23, 2013|
The Feast of Pentecost is the birth of the Church not in the sense that she did not exist before; for, she is the “body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all,” (Eph 1:21) and Christ certainly did not begin to exist when He was born of the Virgin. He is the Word who was in the beginning with the Father, who is Himself God, in whom all things came to be. (Jn 1:1-4). When He was conceived and born of the Virgin, Christ began to exist in a different way. He began to exist in the flesh and He dwelt among us.
So also, Pentecost is the birth of the Church in the sense that she begins to exist in a different way: the Church, the body of Christ, is conceived, she begins to exist, in those who believe and who receive Christ in faith and in love. With the descent of the Holy Spirit on the holy disciples, the mystery of Christ’s Incarnationis made to continue on earth in us, in our flesh – even as His Incarnation continues in heaven, since in His Glorious Ascension He is seated at the right hand of the Father in our human nature that He received from the Blessed Virgin.
With the descent of the Holy Spirit on us who receive Christ in faith and who are united to Christ, so that we become members of His crucified and risen body through the mysteries, the sacraments, of His Holy Church, the life of Christ’s Holy Resurrection is sown in us as an imperishable seed (I Pet 1:23), and we are given the power to take up our cross and follow Christ into the heavens that He has opened by His Holy Pascha. We are therefore sojourners, pilgrims. We are members of the New Israel, setting out on a New Exodus through the wilderness of this life to the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven, guided by the Holy Spirit of Christ as the Israelites were guided by the cloud, nourished by the Living Bread and the Living Cup of Christ’s precious and all holy body and blood that comes to us from heaven, as the Israelites were nourished on the manna that fell daily from heaven.
There is a theological vision revealed in the sacred mysteries of Christ’s Holy Pascha, His Glorious Ascension and the blessed joy of Pentecost that I want to share with you this morning. It is a spiritual, a divine vision of our human nature and destiny that the world simply does not know, and cannot know; for, it is known, it is seen only with eyes that have been opened by the iridescent touch of the Faith of the Church.
Standing at the altar at every Divine Liturgy, as he prepares to invoke the Holy Spirit upon the gifts to transform them into the body and blood of Christ, the priest prays from the 51st Psalm: “Create in me a clean heart, O God; put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.”
St Matthew records that just before Christ ascended in glory from the holy mountain, He gave this command to His disciples: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep everything I have commanded you; for, lo, I am with you every day even to the consummation of the age.” (Mt 28: 19-20) The Lord’s command evokes the command He gave to Abram: “Come away from your land, your family and the house of your father to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gn 12:1-2)
It says in Genesis (in the LXX) that God rested on the Sabbath from all the work He began to do. Then, it says that God placed Adam in the Garden in order for him to work it and to keep it. (Gn 2:8 & 15). Just like He commanded Abram to leave his homeland and family, God made Adam to leave in effect his homeland, since Adam was made to leave the earth outside of Eden where he had been brought into being. Like Abram going up to the land God showed him, like Christ, the Second Adam, ascending from earth to heaven, the first Adam is made by God to ascend from the earth where he had been fashioned into a living soul up to Eden (I say “ascended up to” because Eden was a mountain), there to work the garden and to keep it. It is clear that the life of Adam, together with the life of Abram, is a prefigurement and prophecy of Christ and to the mystery of God that will be revealed in the life, the death, the resurrection and Ascension of Christ, who is the seed of Adam and the seed of Abraham in whom all nations shall be blessed. (Gn 22:18 & Gal 3:16)
I shared with you last Sunday that the work Adam was given to do in the Garden was to glorify the Father. In Christ, the New Adam, we see what that work of glorifying the Father was meant to produce: the union of God and man in love, so that in Adam, God would be glorified; and, in God, Adam would become a partaker of the divine nature in the glory and virtue of God. (II Pt 1:3-4) Reflecting on the history of Israel as recorded in Holy Scripture, I am led to wonder if this work of glorifying the Father given to Adam was the work of making Eden into a beautiful temple in which God would dwell; or, let’s say, rest. In other words, Adam was to work the Garden of Eden so that it would become the Lord’s Sabbath in which God would rest in Adam, and Adam in God.
But, the Garden of Eden has a spiritual meaning. The holy fathers understand the garden to be an icon of man; so that, to say that Adam’s work was to make Eden into a beautiful temple is to say that his work was to make himself into a beautiful temple, as may be suggested in the words of St Paul: “Do you not know,” he says, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you. You are not your own! You were bought with a price! Therefore, glorify God in your body!” Present your body to the Lord, not to the world, as a living sacrifice so that God can make the garden of your body into a holy temple in which He can rest from His work of raising you from death to life and re-creating you as a living soul, a child of God born of the Spirit, and make you an heir of His Kingdom, a partaker of His own divine nature in His own glory and virtue!
In this light, the whole history of Israel becomes an icon of God working in the history of the world to re-create the world and to raise man from death to life as He raised the world from nothing to existence, and raised Adam from the clay as a living soul, and to bring man back to the Garden of Eden to do the work he is called to do of making the garden of his body, soul and mind into a holy temple in whom God can dwell, a holy Sabbath, a saint, in whom loves to rest.
He leads Israel from bondage in Egypt up to the Promised Land as He led Adam up to the Garden of Eden. He commands Israel to purify the land of its idolatry to make it holy, as He commanded Adam to work the garden and to keep it. But, Israel consistently disobeys the Lord’s command, just as Adam did not keep it in the garden. The history of Israel replicates Adam’s expulsion from the garden. Just as God, if you will, expels the darkness to establish the world in light, so He expels Israel from the Promised Land because, like Adam, they disobeyed the Lord and did not work the garden of the Promised Land to keep it holy. Finally, the Lord expels Israel even from the temple when He expels the moneychangers from the temple, because they had made God’s land and even His temple a place of “thieves” – i.e., a place of idolatry where the worship due to God was given to the gods and spirits of the world.
Is it of significance, then, that God, having raised up a new heaven and a new earth in the Holy Virgin – remember: she makes the barren earth of Anna’s womb to be fertile, and her womb is made more spacious than the heavens – and having fashioned a New Adam from the “clay” of the Virgin’s human nature, a “living soul” because He is conceived of the Holy Spirit, that He finishes His work of re-creating the world on the Cross outside of the city? And, He is buried, like a seed sown in the ground, in a new tomb in a garden! So that, the New Heaven and the New Earth that are raised from death to life, from darkness to light – the New Heaven and the New Earth that is Christ’s all-holy Body and Blood – are born from the soil of the old Israel, the Blessed Virgin, but in an altogether New Covenant, a New Exodus, a New Promised Land that is in Israel but not of Israel, that is in the world but not of it.
The New Exodus, of course, is the pilgrimage to the Kingdom of Heaven under the New Moses and the New Joshua – Christ our God. The Kingdom of Heaven is the “land” that God said He would show Abram. It is the Garden of Eden realized. When we stand at the holy altar of the Divine Liturgy – the Divine work of the holy people of God – and pray for a clean heart and a new and right Spirit, we are asking God to raise us up as living souls in His Holy Spirit that we may ascend into the Garden of Eden and live in the blessedness of Christ’s Holy Kingdom. And the work that we are given to keep is the command of the Savior given to us at His Ascension. Go and baptize. This is not a program of indoctrination, but an operation of doing the works and even greater works that Christ performed for our salvation: it is the work of co-operating with God in the deliverance of captives, raising the dead, healing the sick, and teaching them how to walk with us in the light as Christ is in the light as we all ascend up to heaven in this New and Glorious Exodus from earth to heaven, under the pillar of the cloud, the Holy Spirit, eating and drinking our manna from heaven, the holy body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pentecost is the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us that unites us to Christ, making us members of His body, that heals us and raises us to life that we may now follow Christ to His Holy Pascha and ascend with Him in glory. Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen!