|16 - The Great Supper, Dec 17, 2017|
For audio, click here
“When Christ who is our Life shall appear,” says St Paul. What is Life if it is not the Beauty and Goodness we intensely long for? So, “When Christ, the Beauty and Goodness we intensely long for, shall appear!”
Christ who is our Life, says St Paul. In the Church, we know Christ as the Tree of Life. This is Christ in the mystery of His Incarnation from the Virgin. So, the Tree of Life is not just a Paschal mystery; it is very much a Christmas mystery. That Christ Himself is the Tree of Life is but one indication that Eden is the mystery of the Incarnation; and, the Incarnation is the appearing and opening of Eden.
The Church’s liturgical imagery and the ancient Syriac Christian Tradition shows the Tree of Life at the top of the Mountain of Eden, beyond the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which, so St Ephrem tells us, blocked the Tree of Life from view. I.e., just to see, let alone to get to the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve had to go beyond the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Again, following St Maximus, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is the creation and its biological life. And, the LORD says to Mary and Martha at the tomb of the dead Lazarus: “I (the Tree of Life) am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me (he who eats and drinks my Fruit, my Body and Blood, Jn 6:53), though he dies, yet shall he live” (Jn 11:25). So, “When Christ appears from the Virgin in the mystery of Eden, when the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the creation, gives way and Christ the Tree of Life, our Resurrection, shall appear from the top of the mountain, from beyond the creation.”
Do you hear in this, can you see that the appearing of Christ, who is our Life, takes place at that point or in the mystery, beyond the island of this world, out in the “waters” of the surrounding “sea” where creation and we begin and end? Christ appears, then, at that point where we are “dust” (Gn 3:19, Eccl 3:20 & 12:7), where our origin from nothingness is exposed and we appear to ourselves in our real state: we are like a flower of the field that flourishes till the wind passes over us and we are no more. (Ps 102:16 LXX)
Dear faithful, this is “where” Christ who is our Life appears to us. Do you think of this place where you begin and end as being outside of you, back up the road behind you so many years and down the road ahead of you some day in the future? No, dear brothers and sisters. This point is within you. Following the prophet Jeremiah, it is the heart where we are deep, beyond all things. Beyond, therefore, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or the creation; up the Mountain, therefore, in the Tree of Life. For, listen again to Moses: In the beginning, God created man, male and female, in His own image and likeness” (Gn 1:26-28). Listen to St Paul: “Christ is the Icon of the invisible God, in whom all things were made.” (Col 1:15). Listen to Wisdom: “God created man to be immortal – for, God did not create death (Wisd 1:13) – but made him in the image of His own eternity” (1:23).
We are dust. In ourselves, we return to the dust, following the great St Athanasius (De Incarnatione); but our dust, fashioned in the image and likeness of God, is fashioned into a temple meant to be the House of God; and in the temple of our body formed from the dust is a sanctuary, an inmost chamber or closet (cf. Mt 6:6) that lies, if it is beyond all things as the prophet saw, beyond the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and so beyond our dust; and in the sanctuary, the inmost chamber of the temple of our body, is an altar; the mystery of our heart where we begin and end, and where Christ who is our Life now appears as the Greatly Compassionate One, the Only Lover of Mankind. It is the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, which is neither out here or over there, for it is within you (Lk 17:20-21).
Consider that Christ’s appearing in the flesh began in the Cave, when He was born of the Virgin. His appearing in the flesh ended in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest; and that is where His appearing in the Kingdom of Heaven within you began. For, if it was to the Throne of Heaven that He ascended in the Glory of His Resurrection, and if the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, then “where” did He ascend to if it wasn’t into the sanctuary of the human heart? Is this not the great mystery of God hidden from the ages and the generations that is now made to appear to His saints, as St Paul says (Col 1:26-27); i.e., the Great Mystery of God unknown even to the angels, is the WORD of God in whom all things were made Himself being born of the Virgin, sharing in our flesh and blood and becoming one with us even in our death, so that now the Great Mystery of Christ who is our Life appears within you!
A certain man, it says in our Gospel this morning. This is Christ, the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, who appears to us in the sanctuary of our heart. This certain man gave a Great Supper – a Royal Banquet – and invited many. The invitation is to everyone, written on the Cross: “If I be lifted up from the earth,” He says – when I appear above or beyond all things, in the deep of the heart – “I will draw all men to Myself!” (Jn 12:32)
“And He sent His servant at supper time” – the Hour has come, the Day of our salvation has dawned, for Christ our Life has appeared! Born of the Virgin, He appears not out here or over there, but within you, now, Today! And the certain man “said to His servant: ‘Say to those who were invited: Come, for all things are now ready!’” The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, creation, receives into its roots the Tree of Life. In the mystery within us, where we begin and end, the Son of God is born of the Virgin in the Cave, and God is laid in the Tomb as a corpse. In the mystery beyond all things, Christmas opens onto Pascha, Pascha onto Christmas; the Cave opens onto the Tomb, the Tomb onto the Cave. And, at Midnight, in that precise point where the end cycles back to the beginning, Christ our Life appears. He appears in that point where we begin (Christmas) and end (Pascha); and, in the mystery of His Resurrection, He opens that precise point, Midnight, where we begin and end and raises us up from the earth with Himself. Even as He overshadowed and filled the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon with His Glory, as He overshadowed and filled the Holy Virgin with Himself, so He floods the sanctuary of the temple of our body with the Glory of His Heavenly Kingdom and fills our nothingness with Himself, our dust with His Glory, our death with His eternal life, our darkness with His uncreated Light! For, if God has become man, what can man become if not god – even as the Scriptures say? (Ps 81:6)
The Great Banquet of our Gospel this morning, then, is within you. The banquet hall is the mystery of the Cave of Bethlehem where our life in Christ begins; it is the Tomb of the LORD’s Pascha where our life in Christ ends in the Glory of His Holy Resurrection and eternal life. It is the mystery of the Church, the unseen essence that is within every icon, every word and movement of the Church; this is the Seed of God that was sown in you at your Baptism. The servant is the angel calling out to the shepherds, the stars and the beauty of nature calling out to those who are wise, who ponder the mystery and meaning of creation in sincerity of heart, without guile – calling out to all “of good will” to come to the Great Banquet that is within them, in the sanctuary of the heart where creation and space-time open onto the eternal mystery of Christ, the Image of God in whom all things were made.
“Therefore, put to death what’s earthly in you,” says St Paul. Dear faithful, we take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church, we do the offices and services of the Church not to satisfy some religious requirement or to make God happy with us, but to subject ourselves to the WORD of the Church, that it may work on us and open us inward onto our heart, that we may follow it away out of the vanity of the world that is passing away, beyond the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil or creation, and come or “break through” to the Great Banquet of Christmas and Pascha at the top of the Mountain of Eden and to the Tree of Life in the Kingdom of Heaven that is within us.
What is the meal at this Great Supper? It is the divine nature itself (II Pt 1:4), the divine Beauty and Goodness we so intensely long for. It is the Fruit of the Tree of Life, the Body and Blood of Christ that nourishes us with eternal Life and restores us to our original beauty and goodness so that we may appear with Christ in His glory. Charlie Brown, this is what Christmas is all about! Amen.