|43 - 2nd Sunday of Pentecost, Saints of Russia & North America, July 7, 2013|
This morning, the Church honors the saints of Russia and North America. The Psalmist likens the saints to trees planted by streams of water, whose leaf does not wither. That is to say, they do not die. (Ps 1:1)
A saint, of course, is a righteous person. In Holy Scripture, to be righteous is to live. The wise Solomon says in Proverbs: “In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of error leads to death.” (Prov 12:28) Again, he says: “He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.” (Prov 21:21). The saint lives forever because, as St Paul says, it is Christ who lives in them. (Gal 2:20)
Raising those who are dead to life, i.e., making sinners into saints is the work of the Church. She does this work in the living waters of the Holy Spirit.
On the Sunday of Pentecost we read from St John’s Gospel: “On the last great day of the feast,” – this is the Feast of Pentecost, but it also marks the dawn of the Last Day of the world – “Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" (Jn 7:37-38)
Jesus may have been referring to the prophet, Zechariah, who prophesied: "On that day (the Day of the Lord, the last great Day) a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (which is to raise them from death to life - Zech 13:1). “On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter.” (Zech 14:8)
The prophet, Joel, too, looked for the outpouring of living waters “in that day”. “In that day,” he says, “the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the stream beds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the valley of Shittim.” (Joel 3:18 ; i.e.- cleanse Israel of her idolatry. (cf. Num 25:1))
St John the theologian tells us that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive. (Jn 7:39) St John wasn’t inventing the idea that the “living waters” Jesus was talking about are the gift of the Holy Spirit. St John knew this from the prophets. Joel, the prophet, says: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. (Joel 2:28) This prophecy from Joel, of course, was referred to by St Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, so that those who were in Jerusalem that day would understand that the disciples speaking in the tongues of many languages was not just a freakish spectacle. It was the fulfillment of the word of the LORD proclaimed by the prophets. It was the sign that the “Day of the Lord” that the prophets had looked for was here.
The prophets announced the Day of the Lord that was to come as the Last Day of the world. It would be a fearful day of judgment. But, if Pentecost is the dawn of the Day of the Lord, it means that, before the judgment comes in the evening, let’s say, when the Lord will come to judge all the nations of the earth, the Lord again, is giving not only Israel, but all the nations one last chance to repent; one last chance to turn away from sin and death and to pursue righteousness and life.
Pentecost, then, the “Last Great Day”, as St John the Theologian calls it, when God pours out His Spirit on all flesh, proves the truth of the LORD’s word to Ezekiel: viz., that He desires not the death of a sinner, but that he turn from his wickedness and live. For, the judgment against the wicked God visited upon Himself when He voluntarily took upon Himself the iniquity of us all and suffered death on the Cross, the death that is the punishment of our sins. And, by His death, He destroyed death – He canceled the debt that stood against us, having nailed it to His cross (Col 2:14) – and He made us alive together with Him in His Holy Resurrection (Col 2:13). He opened the gates of heaven so that we, having been cleansed by His precious blood, washed in the living waters of His Holy Spirit and raised to life, healed and whole, restored to the image and likeness of God in which we were created, might rise up in the power of the Holy Spirit that He poured out on us, take up our cross, and with Abraham, leave father and mother, son and daughter, and follow Christ into the Kingdom of Heaven, the Promised Land that He promised He would give to those who love Him.
That is to say, Christ has turned the Last Day of the world into one last opportunity for the nations to turn from sin and live, before the doors are shut forever. Even in this, He fulfills the word He gave to His prophets. Ezekiel, for example, speaks of the doors of the temple’s inner courts, facing east (i.e. the Resurrection) opening on the Sabbath – i.e., on the Last day, and remaining open until evening, when they are shut. (Eze 46:2) From all that is happening in the world, one cannot help but wonder if the evening of the LORD’s Sabbath, the “Last Great Day” is fast approaching, and that the Dawn of the New Day, the Eighth Day, is much “nearer than when we were first believed,” to quote St Paul. (Rom 13:11)
The Last Great Day of Pentecost that we read about on Pentecost Sunday is not just the last day of the eight weeks of of Holy Pascha, so that we now can begin to enjoy the lazy days of summer and prepare for a relaxing summer vacation. The Last Great Day of Pentecost is also the beginning of the Last Day. We are in it. St John says: “We are in the last hour.” (I Jn 2:18)
The Last Great Day is here – measured not, of course, by the 24 hours of the sun’s rising and setting, but measured by the love of God who desires not the death of a sinner but that he turn from his wickedness and live. Christ, the Judge is at the door of our heart, knocking: “Whoever hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” “The night is far gone, the [New] Day [of the New Creation] is at hand,” says St Paul. (Rm 13:12) That does not mean we should despair; for the doors have not yet been shut. It means that we should get sober, wake up, and turn to the LORD before the gates of His temple – the Kingdom of Heaven – are shut. As St Paul says: “Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "Today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and are not able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because of unbelief.” (Heb 3:13 & 19)
On this Last Great Day that the world is now in, Christ, the Judge, sends out His Holy Disciples and Apostles as fishermen to draw the world into His net that would raise those who are “caught” – i.e., those who hear the Word of God and receive it – out of the sea of darkness and into the light of His eternal Kingdom. The sending out of His holy disciples and apostles, too, fulfills the word He gave to His prophets; it is another sign that the Last Great Day is here.
The prophet, Ezekiel, was shown a vision. He was brought to the door of the temple, and he saw water pouring from the temple out into the surrounding lands, all the way to the Galilee (translated as “eastern region” in most all English translations except the OSB. Cf. Eze 47:8). Wherever the water flows it makes what was stagnant to be fresh. The water turns into a river so deep that Ezekiel cannot pass through it. Fishermen line the banks of the river. They are catching fish and drawing them into their nets. And, on the banks of the river grow trees of many kinds. Their leaf does not wither; their fruit does not fail, because they are nourished by the waters of the river streaming from the temple facing east. Their fruit is for food and their leaves are for healing. (Eze 47:1-12)
The mind of faith recognizes the temple at once as the body of Christ – i.e., the Church. The river of water that makes what was dead to be alive and that heals is the gift of the Holy Spirit that was poured out on all flesh on the Day of Pentecost – the Last Great Day. The fishermen in Ezekiel’s vision are the holy disciples, the preachers and teachers of the Church. Their fishing nets are the Word of the LORD, which is a living word. I.e., it is not the expression of an idea or a thought. It is Christ Himself manifesting the will of the Father. When the LORD speaks the world is raised from nothing into existence, and Adam is raised from death to life. When those who are blind and lame, sick and infirm do what Christ, the Word of God, tells them to do, they are healed and made whole. When those who are dead in their trespasses obey Christ’s word, they are raised to newness of life.
The trees on either side of the river bank in Ezekiel’s vision are the saints. Their fruit is the love of God that they have for us. Their leaves that are for healing are their prayers of intercession, soaking wet in the grace of the Holy Spirit, which they offer to God in the sacramental mysteries of the Church “on behalf of all and for all”.
You may believe that you are here this morning not by accident but because something in your soul is responding, even if it is ever so slightly, to the voice of the Lord calling out to you with His Bride: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink! And from his belly will flow rivers of living water!” (Rev 22:17; Jn 7:37)
This Gospel, Good News, is the word of the apostle’s preaching soaking wet with the living waters of the Holy Spirit. On this Last Great Day, let’s reach out and swallow it and eat it as our daily bread so that its life becomes the life that we live even in this world. Let us find ourselves caught in the net of the Holy Spirit, who is raising us up out of the stagnant waters of the world out onto the banks of the river of life that flows from the Temple of God in the Great City of the Lord. Amen.