|05 - A New Creation, Oct 28, 2018|
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“You were dead in your sins and trespasses,” writes St Paul. “You walked in them following the age of this world and the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that works even now in the sons of disobedience. In this spirit we all of us lived (in all of our turnings, this way or that) when we [lived] in the desires of the flesh, doing what our flesh and our thoughts wanted to do. We were by nature children of wrath, like all the rest. We were outside of Christ, we had no hope, we were godless (atheists) in the world” (Eph 2:1-12). In a word, in our “inner man”, we were not unlike this morning’s demoniac.
Coming out of the tombs to meet Jesus with this Gadarene demoniac is what it is to come to the baptismal Font of Christ’s Holy Church. Coming to the Font, we were coming out of the world, which is centered on the tombs of death, to make our way to the feet of the LORD Jesus, to His Empty Tomb, and to the Chalice beyond, on the other side of the Tomb, in order to become partakers of His precious Body and Blood, to eat and drink the Resurrection and the Life as our food and drink. Our life in the world, now, should be a daily, weekly, even a moment to moment “coming out of the tombs of this world,” a descending into our heart into the Empty Tomb of Our Blessed LORD, to meet the “Resurrection and the Life”, Jesus Christ our Savior, at the Chalice of the Church every Sunday.
It is our great joy to have catechumens. The period of catechesis is, if you will, in its spiritual substance, a “coming out of the tombs” to meet Jesus. We can see in this morning’s Gospel that it is not enough simply to “believe”—for, we see that the demons very much believed. But, in their belief, they wanted to flee, not draw near. Is this event in the life of Jesus what St James had in mind when he wrote in his epistle: “The demons believe and they tremble! Know therefore, empty-headed man that faith without works—i.e., faith that does not turn in the heart to come out of the tombs, running to meet Jesus—is dead!” (Jas 2:19-20)
I wish therefore to make sure we see that this story is centered not on the tombs but on the movement of this demoniac from out of the tombs where he lived to fall down before the feet of Jesus. I see that beneath the surface this is the movement from out of the “tomb of his heart” to the Tomb of the LORD’s Holy Pascha. We see reflected in this morning’s Gospel, then, the movement of that faith that is not dead. It is the movement of the heart, or of our will, or of our choice that longs for the goodness of the LORD Jesus, to sit at His feet, and so to sit in His Light that now illumines those who had been sitting in the region and shadow of death (Mt 4:16).
It also is clear to me that this man comes out of the tombs to meet Jesus not because he is compelled to by the demons, but because he wants to come to Jesus. As I said already, it is very clear that if the demons had their way, they would not be coming to Jesus; they would be fleeing from Him. Here, then, we see the demoniac’s heart moving in faith—and, we see how powerful the heart moving in faith is: in faith, we can overpower even the demons!
Found in the tombs at the beginning of this morning’s Gospel, he is found at the end of the Gospel sitting at the feet of the Savior, clothed and in his right mind. This is baptismal imagery. He has been clothed with the Robe of Light, the Robe of the LORD’s uncreated Glory which He had with the Father from before the world was. The man is in his right mind. He has been led from the tomb of his heart into the Paschal Tomb of the LORD Jesus, and he is no longer tormented, no longer perplexed or confused or disoriented, no longer angry or depressed. He is sane, psychologically whole, illumined in the knowledge of God.
He is an image of the “new creation” that happened to us at our baptism. Coming to the Font, we came out of the tomb of our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses. Immersed into the Font, we entered the mystery of Christ’s Tomb and out into the mystery of His Resurrection
St Paul tells us this morning: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything, but a new creation.” That is, the one uncircumcised in the flesh is no different or better than the one circumcised in the flesh because, beneath the flesh, in the heart, both are still “dead in their sins and trespasses.” In another place, St Paul writes: “[True] circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit and not in the letter, whose praise is not of men but of God” (Rom 2:29).
And, in Holy Baptism, united with Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection, our heart was bathed and made soaking wet in the Spirit even as our body was made soaking wet in the sanctified waters. The Spirit, brooding over the face of those waters as He did at the creation, lovingly fashioned us anew and restored us to our original beauty in the image and likeness of God, delivering us from death, creating in us a clean heart, putting a new and right Spirit within us, so that we became a new creation, seated at the feet of Jesus like the Gadarene demoniac made whole, clothed in the Robe of Light, our mind made right, illumined in the knowledge of faith.
Therefore, as St Paul says so many times and in different ways: “If you have been united to Christ in a death like His, why would you go back to live in the elements of the world?” Having entered into the life-creating Tomb of Christ, why would you return to the tombs of the Gadarenes?
The New Creation proclaimed by the Gospel is not simply replacing one set of ideas for another; it is not simply changing our old mode of living for another; e.g., it is not simply replacing “smoking” for “not-smoking”, cursing with not cursing, fornication for chastity, spiritual laziness for religious rigor. The Gospel is the proclamation of a death and a resurrection, a completely new life, a radical transfiguring of one’s whole being, as different from the old life as life is different from death.
Therefore, following St Peter: “Laying aside every evil thing, and every deceit and hypocrisy and envy (the outward expression of self-love) and filthy speech (this is a baptismal reference, referring to the candidate taking off his old clothes before entering the Font), as new-born babes, long for the spiritual and pure milk [of Christ, given in Holy Eucharist], that you may grow to health and well-being [salvation] in Him.
Take a lesson from this morning’s Gadarene demoniac. No power can keep us from coming to the LORD to become a new creation but the power of our own will! Let’s lay hold of our will and with resolve and vigilance, let us choose to make our way in Christ and follow Him to His Tomb and into the Light and Life of the New Creation that we have been raised up into; for we are no more children of men. We are children of God. In the love of Christ our God, let us turn to our Mother, the Church, and let her be our Mother! In the love of Christ Our Savior, let us turn to God our Father and let Him be our Father! That means, again and again, centering our life in the world on the Church, making the liturgical rhythm of the Church’s life the rhythm of our daily life, such that the rhythm of the Church’s liturgical life becomes the rhythm of our life in the world. Then, our life in the world is transfigured into an Exodus from death to life; for the rhythm of the Church is the movement of “coming out of the tombs” to descend into the LORD’s Tomb that we may ascend with Christ into the New Creation of His Holy Resurrection. Amen!