|13 - Sunday of Christ's Forefathers, Dec 14, 2014|
In our Gospel this morning, the Servant of the Master calls us to come to the Supper of the Master even as the Angel of the LORD calls the shepherds and wise men to the Cave of Bethlehem on Christmas Day. Is it not clear from this parallel that the banquet hall of this Supper of the Master is the Cave of Bethlehem? If we were to answer this call of the Master’s servant, would we not join the shepherds and the wise men making their way to the Cave of Bethlehem on Christmas Day…in a movement that anticipates the myrrh-bearing women making their way to the cave of the LORD’s Tomb on Pascha morning?
We see in the iconography of the Church how the Cave of Bethlehem prefigures the Cave of the LORD’s Tomb. If the banquet hall of this morning’s Supper of the Master, then, is in the Cave of Bethlehem, it is also the in the Cave of the LORD’s Tomb. From this, we begin to understand that the Supper of the Master in this morning’s Gospel is the Holy Eucharist that is served in the Church as in the Cave of Bethlehem and the LORD’s Tomb. See how the first Theophany of the LORD incarnate, Christmas, and the final Theophany of the LORD incarnate, the Cross, are centered on this Supper of the Master in the Cave!
Both the Cave of Christmas and the Cave of the LORD’s Holy Pascha open onto Eden. The garden of the LORD’s Tomb became the Garden of His Holy Resurrection. What other Garden would that be but the Garden of Eden? On Christmas Day, the Church sings: “Bethlehem has opened Eden. Come, let us take possession of Paradise that is within the Cave.” (Festal Menaion 278)
What is this Cave wherein the Supper of the Master is served to which we are being called this morning?
Let St Macarios of Egypt tell us. Speaking of the LORD’s saving Pascha, he says to his disciples: “When you hear of tombs, do not think only of visible ones. Your own heart is a tomb.” (Homily 11.11) Now, hear the prophet Jeremiah. “The heart is deep beyond all things,” he says; “and it is the man.” (Jer 17:9 LXX)
Do you see? The cave of Bethlehem that opens onto the cave of the LORD’s tomb that opens onto Eden is our own heart. We are the cave where this Supper of the Master is being served. This morning’s “Come to the Feast” is calling us to the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us. But it is no other than the call of the Church on Christmas Eve: “Raising our minds on high, let us go in spirit to Bethlehem.” The Church is calling us to turn away from the world and to “turn around” in repentance to make our way to the cave of our heart, there to look with the eyes of our soul, “on the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the LORD of all.” (Festal Menaion 201)
Suddenly, I see a deeper mystery. If we were to make our way to the Supper of the Master served in the cave of our heart, would we not find ourselves entering into the most sacred mystery of the Theotokos? Her holy mother, St Anne, calls out to her at the Feast of Her Entrance into the Temple: “Go into the place which none may enter (the Holy of Holies); learn its mysteries and prepare thyself to become the pleasing dwelling place of Jesus.” (FM 171) And the Holy Virgin, having “opened the gates of the temple of God , the Glorious Gate through which human thoughts cannot pass now urges us to enter with her” into the place none may enter – the Holy of Holies, the Cave of our heart – “and to delight in her divine marvels.” (FM 175)
In the sacred beauty of the Church’s liturgical worship, the Cave of Bethlehem is revealed as the Holy of Holies that opens onto the human heart that has been opened by the Most Holy Virgin so that the God of all may enter her womb as into His Living Temple and become flesh of her and dwell among us as Immanuel, “God With Us!” The call of the LORD’s Servant this morning is to draw near the mystery of the Theotokos in the Cave of Bethlehem as in the Holy of Holies; for in her, my heart is opened that I may receive Christ and be born of her from above as a child of God.
In the divine light that bathes this noetic icon drawn by the sacred texts of the Church’s worship, I am able to see into the deeps of my soul. I see what I was not been able to see before; and, I confess: I am dismayed. For I see that I am one of those in this morning’s Gospel who chooses not to respond to the invitation of the LORD’s Servant to come to the Supper of the Master. I see in my soul what before was hidden from me: a love of worldly things that I don’t want to give up. In my soul, I remain outside the Cave of my heart because I choose to.
In this vision of the Church, I think I better understand why the LORD is angry in this morning’s Gospel when those whom He calls refuse to come to His Supper. The LORD desires not the death of a sinner, yet those in our Gospel this morning choose not to come to the Cave of their hearts with the Theotokos. They choose to remain outside in the dark, lost and fragmented, confused, anxious, afraid, dead in their sins and trespasses absorbed as they are in their love for the world that is passing away and not with the appearing of our LORD Jesus Christ who is our Life on Christmas Day. It’s a replay of the Fall, is it not; except that here, Bethlehem (Christmas) has opened Eden. “Eden offers a cave,” (FM 265) so that “Paradise is opened to us.” (FM 265) “The flaming sword turns back, the cherubim withdraw from the tree of life,” that we might become partakers of the divine nature; and yet, we choose not to enter lest we should find healing for our souls in the joy of the koinonia, the holy communionof the Master’s Supper. (cf. I Jn 1:3-4)
Beloved faithful, it is in the Cave of Bethlehem, i.e., in the “inner world” of our own heart, that we come upon the sacred wonder and beauty of Christmas! Calling us to the Master’s Supper in the Cave, the Church, I believe, is calling us as Christ’s Holy Mother to come with her into the Holy of Holies of our “secret heart”, there to establish ourselves with her in the love of God that Christ may be conceived in the heart of our soul. Established with her in the stillness of our secret heart, we become with her “mothers of God”. Christ “becomes flesh” in our heart; He becomes real and we come to know Him from our own experience as Immanuel, “God With Us”. Centered in our heart with our Holy Mother, the Theotokos, we now follow the LORD Jesus Christ to the Jordan to see the heavens opened as He is anointed with the Holy Spirit and crowned from on high as the King of the Kingdom of Heaven. We see how we became at our baptism His “subjects”, His “disciples”. Now, centered in the prayerful stillness of our heart, we follow Him to His Holy Cross in order to put off the old man with all its worldly deeds, to be crucified and buried with Him in the Tomb of our heart that we might be raised up with Him in His Holy Pascha out into the Garden of Eden and into the Heavenly Banquet Hall where the Supper of the Master is served unceasingly.
Beloved faithful, the call of the LORD’s servant in this morning’s Gospel is the Word of God Himself calling out to each and every one of us to come to the Master’s Supper in the Cave of our heart on Christmas day. This mystical journey to the inner universe of our heart begins here in our life in the outer universe. Beloved faithful, come to the Church as with the Blessed Virgin entering the Holy of Holies; for, when we enter the Church not to be entertained but to stand with the Theotokos in the stillness of the Church’s worship, to hear with her the Word of the LORD and to receive it in our soul and make it our own, we are entering the Cave of Bethlehem that opens onto the Cave of the LORD’s Tomb that opens onto the Garden of Eden in the Holy of Holies of our heart that opens onto the Kingdom of Heaven and to the Supper of the Master in the fellowship of the Holy Trinity, the Most Holy Theotokos, and all the saints. This, beloved faithful, this is what Christmas is all about! Amen! Most Holy Theotokos, save us!