|39 - A Mighty River, June 10, 2018|
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Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2 (Saints)
Matthew 4:25-5:12 (Saints)
The setting of the worship of the Church is always the LORD’s Pascha. Liturgically, we are currently in the season of our ascension in the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, which we receive at our baptism and at every Holy Eucharist, and in which we “swim” like “fishes” in the Life and Light of the Church, the Body of Christ.
This is the setting in which I interpret our Gospels this morning. The one Gospel takes us to the vision of Ezekiel (chptr 47), which he sees in the Spirit (Eze 1). His vision is of a mighty river flowing from the East Gate of the Temple, healing all the waters and making everything to live wherever it flows. At once, we recognize the mighty river as an image of the Holy Spirit, from the LORD’s own word for the Spirit as “River of Living Water”. On the banks of that river stand fishermen spreading their nets. The fishermen we recognize as the disciples of the LORD; their nets we recognize as the net of the Holy Spirit woven from the words of their preaching and teaching. But, what is the word of their preaching? It is not their word; it is the word they received from the WORD of the Father. And what is that WORD? St Paul tells us: “I gave to you what I received; that on the night He was betrayed, the LORD took bread and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you” (I Cor 11:24). Their word is the Body and Blood of the WORD of God given to us as our food and drink in Holy Eucharist.
Trees line the banks of that mighty river, it says. We see clearly the Cross of Christ; but if the trees are many, then I believe they are the cross of every believer united to the Cross of Christ from their baptism. The leaves of these trees are ever green, like those of the “blessed man” of Ps 1; for, it is no longer they who live but Christ who lives in them. Their fruit is good for medicine, it says. I see here the ascetic disciplines of the Church, the “flowers that grow from the wood of the Cross,” by which the power of the Cross is made active in us. This power of the Cross is what heals us of the bitterness of our sins and raises us up to live in the living waters of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of these trees, it says, is of the new crop, which will never wither, or be consumed, even as it says that this fruit is good for food or eating. Surely, this is the mystery of Christ; He is the Fruit of the Tree of Life, who gives His Body and Blood to us as our Food, which is “ever eaten yet never consumed.”
At our baptism, the Net of the holy apostles drew us into this mighty river seen by Ezekiel in this vision of the Spirit. This is the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit flowing through the centuries like a mighty artesian river out into all the world from the East Gate of the Temple, the mystery of Christ’s risen and glorified Body that was crucified, dead and buried. In the baptismal Font, we were let down into that living stream, and we were made to live. Caught up in the Net of the Holy Spirit, we were raised up into the Body of Christ, wrapped around us as our Garment, and we were led on a mystical ascent to the summit of the Mountain, the ambon, and we “received the Heavenly Spirit” in the Body and Blood of Christ given us as our immortal Food and Drink.
The other Gospel, the Beatitudes given by the LORD to those who followed Him in His ascent up the Mountain, which is assigned for this Second Sunday of Pentecost on which we commemorate all the Saints of North America, takes us to Mt Sinai, when the LORD gave His Law to Israel through His prophet, Moses. In this, we are given to understand that the Law of Moses has been put to death. It was put to death in the death of Christ, the Lamb of God who was slain from before the foundation of the world. There is now a New Law, a New Covenant, sealed not by the blood of bulls and goats but by the blood of God. Obedient to the New Law, we are led into the “deep that is beyond all things”, the “deep” of our heart, of our inner man, all the way down to its root where it opens onto God – down to the division of soul and spirit, down into the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Heb 4:12) so that we are cleansed at our root. The stony heart, or the dead heart, is created anew and made into a heart of flesh, a living heart.
From our Gospels this morning, we are given to understand that the Church, the Body of Christ, is the mystery of creation that has been healed of death, such that we call the world in the Church the New Creation. Having descended into the Font, we have been raised in the apostles’ nets, the word of the WORD of God that is woven of the Holy Spirit. If we died in our baptism in the likeness of Christ’s death, we died to the world and were raised up in the Church into the New Creation. For, if we died to the world, we died to the death that is active in the world because of disobedience. If we died in the death of Christ, we were raised up, if you will, to a new kind of death, a death that is the death of death, the healing of the world and of our soul, and the beginning of our ascent to heaven in the eternal life, the Glory, of the Holy Spirit. If we were buried with Christ in the baptismal Font, then the tomb of our heart became the “empty tomb”, for the soul that was buried there as a spiritual corpse, through the mysteries of baptism and Holy Eucharist has become one with the Body of Christ, and united to Christ, our soul is not among the dead anymore. The Tomb of our heart has been transfigured into a bridal chamber, for in our heart, we have become one with the LORD Jesus Christ who not as a ghost but in His Body is risen from the dead!
The LORD Jesus Christ is the Great Fisherman. But, by the self-emptying of His incarnation and descent into the waters of death, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, (in the Greek, this, made into an acrostic, spells FISH) is also the Great Fish. The Great Fisherman, the LORD is in heaven. But, as the Great Fish, He is in the depths of the sea of this life – in hell! The net He gives to His disciples for catching us, the fish swimming in the waters of death, is the Net of His Holy Spirit, embodied as it were in the apostles’ preaching and in the sacramental mysteries of the Church. The Bait to draw us into the Net is the Great Fish Himself, who would give Himself to us in His Church’s Holy Eucharist as our Food and Drink. When we “swim” into the Net and eat that bait, we “receive the Heavenly Spirit. Our eyes are open to behold the True Light,” for we now swim or live not in the sea of death but in the Light of God in whom is the Life of men. The Pascha of the LORD, His “exodus” from death to life in the Glory, the Holy Spirit, of His Ascension, becomes the new principle of our life here and now. The Death of the LORD is the death that is now active in us. Living in this death of the LORD, we live in His Resurrection and our life in this world is transfigured into an “inner Exodus”, an ascent to Heaven in the Glory of His Holy Spirit.
This descending movement into the death of Christ in the tomb of our heart, now transfigured into a bridal chamber, where our ascending movement to heaven begins is what I see as the mystery of faith. That is, faith I see as the movement of the heart in love towards the God who first loved us. This faith is expressed in obedience to the LORD’s command: deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. As this inner movement of faith becomes the new principle of our life in this world, expressed in our pursuit to understand and to do the commandments of Christ, that is when we begin to draw near in the fear of God, in faith and love into the Net of the LORD’s Holy Apostles in the deep of our heart where we are sick unto death. As we eat and drink the “Bait” in that net, the very Body and Blood of Christ Himself, given to us as dogmatic teaching, holy commandments, and even as food and drink, we receive the healing of the LORD’s Cross, we come to Life, we become one with Christ. Our life in this world is transfigured into an ascent to heaven. And, finally, our death is transfigured into the Gate of Heaven through which we enter into the joy and love of God forever. Amen!