2 Corinthians 6.16 – 7.1

Luke 7.11 – 17

Our Gospel this morning shows the compassionate mercy of God – His oiktirmos as it is called most often in the OT – becoming incarnate, embodied as splangchna, a visceral compassion, a compassion one feels in the pit of one’s gut. In this, we see the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in a way completely unexpected, even by the angels – as the Theotokion for Tone 7 says: ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.’ [Isa 53:4]

Seeking to enter the inner drama of this morning’s Gospel, the mind may suddenly catch a glimpse of how it was that the LORD was strong enough to take upon Himself ‘the iniquities of us all’ (Isa 53.6) and endure the suffering and humiliation of the Cross. It was His human splangchna united (hypostatically) with His divine oiktirmos that conquered His human nature’s terror of the ‘cup’ the Father had given Him to drink. His suffering on the Cross, the supreme Theophany, proved His compassionate mercy to be so much stronger than the hatred of those who crucified Him that we could with justice change the Paschal Hymn to: ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down hatred by the bottomless abyss of His merciful and visceral compassion.’ And we would be singing the same thing as, ‘trampling down death by His death.’

It says this morning that fear took hold of all the people standing round. It was surely the same fear that threw the Myrrhbearers into a holy conniption, an ecstasy says St Mark, at the LORD’s Tomb when they heard the angel’s proclamation: ‘He is not here, He is risen, as He said!’

But the people could not have understood the fear that seized them in the way the Myrrhbearers did, for the Myrrhbearers’ fear seized them when they saw the empty Tomb. Surely they saw in that instant – in a manner so far exceeding the human mind’s capacity to comprehend that they were thrown outside themselves into an ecstasy, a holy conniption – what the LORD’s death on the Cross meant. Those with the widowed mother of Nain saw ‘only’ a Man raising the widowed mother’s son from the dead. The Myrrhbearers looked inside the empty Tomb, they heard the angel’s proclamation, and suddenly they saw inside the WORD of the prophets: this Jesus was the God the prophets had said would visit His people in the flesh. And they saw that, in the flesh, He utterly destroyed the death, and all the miseries and brokenness that goes with it, that has taken us hostage and thrown us, bound and chained, into the darkness of Hades. Might the word of Isaiah have come pouring like a ‘snow-melt river’ into their ears in that instant? ‘I will break through the strength of kings; I will open doors and level mountains. I will break to pieces brass doors and will burst iron bars.’ (Isa 45.1-2) Perhaps, the words of Isaiah joined chorus in the ears of their soul with the words of the Psalmist: ‘Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had spurned the counsel of the Most High. Their hearts were bowed down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. He shattered the doors of bronze, and cut in two the bars of iron.’ [Psa 107:10-17]

When a bit later, John entered the LORD’s empty Tomb, and he saw and believed, perhaps he remembered in that moment that strange word of the LORD which, at the time, he and the other disciples hadn’t comprehended at all, and that was used by the Jews in their case against Him to justify crucifying Him: ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.’ The Jews thought He was talking about the temple of Jerusalem that had taken 46 years to rebuild; perhaps John, too, wondered. But now, suddenly, John saw what the Scriptures were talking about: that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise again from the dead, and that the LORD was ‘speaking of the Temple of His Body.’

With all of this, we see this morning’s Gospel giving shape to the biblical theology of the flesh. Our body was not made to return to the dust. It was made to become the Temple of God and to live forever, deified by the Glory of God, the Spirit of God dwelling in it. We grieve over the death of a loved one, we cringe with sorrow even when we hear of the death of someone we don’t know, because death – the separation of the soul from the body – is not natural. God did not create us to be ghosts or corpses. He created us, body and soul, to be His Holy Temple in whom He could rest. The LORD loves the righteous, He rests in His saints. He made Man – He made you and me – to be His Sabbath Rest; for in His Sabbath Rest, in the mystery of His Empty Tomb, we come to the beginning of our Resurrection, our being restored to our original beauty, and our Ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church on high begins.

If Jesus is the Son of God become flesh, born of a woman, the Holy Virgin Mary, it means He has become one of us; or rather, it means, since He is the Son of God, begotten of the Father from everlasting to everlasting, and not made, that He is the New Adam who embraces in the mystery of His divine Person (His hypostasis), every human person as did the old Adam. But Christ, the New Adam, is not the door that opens onto death as the old Adam made himself to be. He is the Door who opens onto the Father in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, if Jesus is raised from the dead, if He has destroyed death by His death, then it is our death He has destroyed, and it is now our destiny to be raised from the dead, and our bodies to be reunited with our souls, that we may now become living stones in the Temple of Christ’s Body.

This mystery we begin to see when we reflect on this morning’s Gospel in the light of Christ risen from the dead. The son of the widowed mother of Nain was her only-begotten Son, just as the LORD was the only-begotten Son of His Mother. When the LORD saw the mother weeping in grief over the death of her only son, surely He saw His own Mother standing at the foot of His Cross, grieving … until Her Mother’s heart was illumined. When was She illumined? Perhaps it was when She saw them place His Body in the Tomb, and She saw the uncreated Light of the Sabbath, the Light of the mystical Sabbath, the Light of Resurrection, already beginning to dawn, the Light of the New Heaven and the New Earth beginning already to rise from out of the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest (Lk 23.54 – epephosken). Perhaps it was then that she saw into the incomprehensible depths of the abyss of Her Son’s compassion – His oiktirmos made flesh as splangchna, a visceral compassion of the gut – and She saw, as did the widowed mother in this morning’s Gospel, Her Son rising from the dead, destroying death by His death; but the widowed mother saw only her son raised from the dead. The Holy Virgin saw in the resurrection of Her Son the resurrection of all mankind.

Dear faithful, the essence of the Church is this power of Christ’s Holy resurrection. His Cross is the concrete, embodied manifestation of the abyss of God’s ineffable compassion and mercy. It is this power of the LORD’s Resurrection that begins to work in all those who begin to seek Him with their whole heart. It is this power that begins to work in us the instant we take up our cross – in the ascetical disciplines of prayer – and begin to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. It is in the power of the LORD’s Cross that we enter into the mystery of His Resurrection the instant we begin putting to death what is earthly in us. And it is the healing that begins to work in our soul that gives us our firm hope that the resurrection of Christ is now our destiny. We look forward in this hope to when our bodies will be raised from the grave, as was the Body of Christ, as was the Body of His Holy Mother, as was the body of the widowed mother’s son, and we become the Sabbath Rest of God, Temples of God in whom the LORD dwells, filling us with the Glory of His Holy Spirit. In this joy, the faithful take up their cross now to follow the Savior to Bethlehem, to the Jordan, and finally, all the way to His Tomb and out into the Garden of His Resurrection to begin the ascent to heaven. Amen! Most holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ!