01 - LIVING CORNERSTONE, Sept 6, 2020

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1 Corinthians 16.13-24

Matthew 21.33-42

‘Have you not read in the Scriptures?’ the LORD says. He is speaking to the chief priests and the elders of the people who had come to Him while He was teaching in the Temple (21.23). In St Matthew, we are in the days that immediately followed Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and so the trial, crucifixion, death and burial of the LORD are imminent. The biblical setting of our Gospel this morning, then, is Great and Holy Week.

‘Have you not read in the Scriptures?’ the LORD says to them. This is a severe indictment; for, of course, the chief priests and elders have read the Scriptures, but not in the Spirit of the Scriptures. The LORD is telling them that they did not know God at all. They are the sons of those Israelites who drew near to God with their lips but who, in their hearts, were far from Him (Isa 29.13). If they had read the Scriptures in the Spirit of the Scriptures, they would have known this Jesus immediately in their hearts as the God of Israel, who appeared to the patriarchs and spoke to the prophets, who led Israel out of Egypt and gave to them the Land of their ‘inheritance’. This very Jesus standing before them was the God for whom the Psalmist hungered and thirsted, whom Moses, and the Psalmist and all the prophets wrote about in the Spirit (Lk 24.44, 1 Pt 1.10-12), the God whom the chief priests and elders of the people presumed they knew and worshipped.

That the God of Israel was now standing before them in the flesh, incarnate, would, to be sure, have been a surprise. For God becoming flesh and ‘pitching the tabernacle of His Body in us’ (Jn 1.14) was the mystery of God hidden from the ages. (Col 1.26) It was unknown even to the angels; yet, they knew something was coming, as did the prophets who were writing about Christ in the Spirit (1 Pt 1.10). St Peter says, the angels and the prophets longed to ‘stoop down and peer into the mystery hidden in God since the world began (Rm 16.25) and that was to be revealed’ in the Last Days (1 Pt 1.12). They longed ‘to stoop down and peer into it.’ Significantly, mysteriously, this is the same verb in St John to describe St Peter stooping down to peer into the empty Tomb. (Jn 20.5)

Catch the beautiful theology: the Tomb of the LORD is the full revelation of the Mystery of God hidden from the ages. It is the ‘wisdom of God that the holy apostles and evangelists spoke in a mystery—i.e., in the fearsome Pascha of the LORD—that was revealed,’ the verb is uncovered (1 Cor 2.7), when the stone was rolled away from the Tomb to reveal that it was empty. This Tomb, the LORD’s Tomb, is no longer filled with death. It has been transfigured into the Root of our Resurrection and is now filled with the angelic and apostolic proclamation of the WORD of Faith, which is the risen LORD Jesus Christ Himself (Rm 10.8). The Empty Tomb is the true mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, as the Church proclaims to us in the Spirit at the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of Great and Holy Saturday (LT 656). Inside the empty Tomb is where the primordial divine secret is revealed to the saints (and so it was being revealed in all those healings the LORD did on the Sabbath!). But, this means that the revelation of the mystery of God hidden from the ages, which is Christ in you (Col 1.26-27), is in you, in the tomb of our heart transfigured in our baptism into a bridal chamber where we unite ourselves to Christ God who has become one with us in the mystery of His death and burial in the Tomb.

So, when they found themselves in the presence of Jesus, the God of Israel in the flesh, the chief priests and elders should have known if, again, they were reading the Scriptures in the faith of Moses and the prophets, if they were reading them in the Spirit, that they were in the presence of the fulfillment of the Scriptures. For, the coming of God to Israel in the flesh, to dwell among them for the purpose of leading them not just to some geographical territory on earth but up, out of the tombs and into the heavens, is what the OT is all about (Lk 24.44-45). For, Moses, the Psalmist and the prophets wrote in the same Spirit by whom God the Son was conceived in the Virgin’s womb, the same Spirit by which He healed all the sick, cast out the devils, even raised the dead to life in the flesh. So when He appeared to them in the flesh, if in fact they had truly read the Scriptures, their hearts should have leaped in the joy of immediate recognition, as did John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth when the Virgin—now carrying God in her womb and so revealed as the True Temple of Israel, the True ‘House of the LORD’, which, again, the prophets were talking about (e.g. Eze 40-44)—came to visit her, and Elizabeth, in the Spirit, in faith, cried out: ‘Blessed are you among women! Blessed is the Fruit of your womb! And how is it that the Mother of My LORD (Theotokos!) should come to me!’ (Lk 1.41-43)

The Stone the builders—the chief priests and the elders of the people—rejected, then, was the very God of Israel they presumed to worship, this Jesus Christ standing before them, the LORD of Glory whom they could not see because of the blindness caused by their idolatry.

The Psalmist says: ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.’ (Ps 127.1) The house the Psalmist is talking about is the Temple, the House of the LORD; but St Paul tells us that the Temple of God is our body. It is the Temple of the Holy Spirit within you, he says, which we have from God. We were bought with a price, he says; we are not our own. We are God’s and from God. We have a command: honor God in your body (1 Cor 6.19-20); that is, in your thoughts, your words, your deeds, in your soul, your mind, with your lips, your hands and your feet, and in your heart.

St Peter calls this Stone the builders rejected the Living Stone. St Peter is saying why this whole business is marvelous in our eyes. The Living Stone was put to death and laid in the Tomb. But this is when all the powers of heaven cried out in amazement: for, the Stone is God, Life Immortal, who, when He descended to death, He slew hell with the splendor of His Godhead. And there, in hell, He laid the Cornerstone of His Living Temple, His own Body and Blood, that reaches from the bottom most depths to the highest heights. And, when from the depths He rose from the dead, He raised Adam with Himself and so transfigured the Tomb, our death, into the Font of our Resurrection, the very Gate of His Living Temple that was opened to all when the stone that sealed the tomb was rolled away. It was rolled away, remember, not by the soldiers, not by any man, but by the angel of the LORD at the command of the LORD.

So, when you were immersed into the Font, you were immersed into the Holy Spirit and into the mystery of God hidden from the ages. Having given your oath to unite yourself to Christ, you were made to become one with Him in the likeness of His death. ‘Likeness’ means you were made to be a partaker of His death, a ‘communicant’ of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4). And, when you were raised from the Font in the likeness of His Resurrection, you were clothed with the same Robe of Glory and anointed with the same Holy Spirit by which the LORD slew hell with the splendor, the Glory of His Godhead.

And so, you became living stones. You are not your own; nor are you a servant anymore of the prince of this age, enclosed in the tomb of death. If the house of our body is a tomb because of our inevitable death, well, it is now united to the LORD’s Tomb, and so it is now the LORD’s House, the font of our resurrection. And so, St Peter, together with the Spirit and His Bride, cries out in his first epistle: ‘Come to the Living Stone.’ (1 Pt 2.4) Walk in the Holy Spirit who is now within you, exhorts St Paul; walk in the newness of life (Rm 6.4) that now lives in you (Gal 2.20). Let the LORD, the Living Cornerstone laid in the ‘midst of the earth’ to work His salvation in your soul (Ps 74.12), build you up into a spiritual House, a Temple of God, so that in you is hidden the mystery of God, hidden from the world, but revealed to you in the healing of your soul as you receive Him into your inner man; and in the Spirit who is within you, who has raised you from death to life and established you on the Living Cornerstone of the LORD’s Holy Temple that stretches from the bottom-most depth to the highest height, strive to walk the Better and Changeless Path that ascends to God, the Path that is Christ Himself. Amen.