|09 - An Image of the Church, Nov 9, 2014|
This morning’s Gospel presents us with a beautiful image of the Church. It continues directly from our Gospel of last Sunday. In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus has just returned from the region of Gedara that was on the opposite shore of the sea from Galille where He healed the man possessed of the “Legion” of demons so that he was found clothed and in his right mind, seated at the feet of Jesus. That was a prophetic image of His Holy Pascha by which He has destroyed death by His death and given life to those in the tombs. His return to Galilee in this morning’s Gospel is therefore an image of His Holy Resurrection.
But, it also looks like the Church gathered on Holy Pascha night and, for that matter, every Sunday morning at the Holy Liturgy. It says that when Jesus returned [from Gedara] the crowd received Him, for they were all waiting for Him. This is an image of the faithful gathered together on Pascha, and every Sunday morning at Divine Liturgy, waiting to receive the risen LORD when He comes in His Holy Resurrection into their midst. During the week, the faithful are, as it were, in Gedara, in hell or in hades; i.e., in the unseen realm of the soul, where they work and strive to come out from the city to meet the Savior who has come down and stepped onto the shore of the world opposite heaven. They strive to come out of the world ruled by the spirit of disobedience, to meet the Savior and, like the man of Gedara, never to leave Him, to be with Him through constant, inner prayer and in the doing of His holy commandments.
In this morning’s Gospel, as soon as the LORD returned from Gedara, the crowd received Him: i.e., the faithful of the Church received Him when He returned from harrowing hell in His Holy Pascha. The faithful of the Church receive Him in His Holy Resurrection; and, in the liturgical gathering of the faithful, a father whose daughter is dying elbows his way through the crowd to present himself to Him with the plea that the LORD save his daughter. And, the LORD listens to him. On the way to Jairus’ home, a woman with an incurable flow of blood – which means that she, too, was dying – elbows her way through the crowd simply to touch the hem of His garment, hoping against hope that she might be healed. The LORD immediately knows it. He does not rest until she is brought trembling before Him, so that He can say to her: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace!”
See how the LORD attends to these two individuals even in the press of the crowds. In the great crowd of faithful who are gathered throughout the world around the LORD, pressing upon Him, the LORD sees and hears each one of us; but, it would seem that He is especially attentive to those whose hearts are grieving in that spiritual “mourning” He calls “blessed”.
Gathering at St Herman’s this morning, we join the faithful throughout the world waiting to receive the LORD when He comes to us in the Paschal love and joy of Holy Eucharist. And yet, in this great crowd of faithful throughout the world, not one is overlooked or forgotten. The LORD who knows the hairs on our head knows each one of us; He knows us better than we know ourselves. He is that living and active Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword that pierces to the division of joint and marrow and discerns the thoughts and intentions of each and every heart.
In the great congregation of the faithful, the LORD comes to us in His Holy Pascha; and now, He waits for us to come to Him as did Jairus and this woman with an incurable flow of blood.
He has come to us so far that He has shared with us in our death. He has gone down, if you will, into the “Gedara” of our soul to cleanse us from all defilement of body and soul, to chase away the dark spirits that make us unclean, and to destroy the death that enslaves us. He comes to us so far that to those who receive Him, He now gives His own risen and glorified body and blood as their food and drink as He calls out to us to draw near in the fear of God, with faith and love. He wants to make us children of God, born of the Spirit from above. He wants to clothe us with His own divinity, even to make us partakers of His own divine nature in the glory that He had with the Father from the beginning.
We see in this morning’s Gospel that to draw near to the Savior and to receive His Word into our life and into our heart means to receive the power of His Holy Spirit that raises us from death to life. It heals us in soul and body and makes us whole. It transfigures us not just in our outward behavior but all the way down into our deep heart. It effects a total transformation from being dead and darkened in our sins and trespasses to being alive and full of light, glorified in His Holy Spirit who comes to abide in those who receive Him.
So, where is the LORD that we might see Him who has come to us and draw near to Him not just in abstracto but in concreto, that we might see Him with our eyes, hear Him with our ears, handle Him with our hands?
The Church is the Body of Christ. She is the fullness of Him who is all in all. That means that the inmost substance of the Church is the risen and glorified Body of Christ. That means that the Church in her inmost substance is invisible. She is the Spirit of Christ that raised Him bodily from the dead.
But, that does not mean that the Church cannot be seen. Her invisible inner substance is clothed with garments woven from a fabric made from the union of heaven and earth. Those garments are the liturgical rites of the Church’s sacramental worship interwoven with the Spirit of the risen Christ. In the physical movements and gestures of the faithful as they “do” the Holy Liturgy, the Offices and Services of the Church’s worship, we can see the risen Body of Christ in these ritual and liturgical garments of the Church with which the LORD clothes Himself. And so, we touch the hem of the LORD’s garment as did this morning’s woman with the incurable flow of blood when we do the worship of the Church; when, for example, we make the sign of the cross, when we stand in worship, when we prostrate.
With our mind and soul, we touch the hem of the LORD’s garment when we receive the Faith of the Church; for the Church’s Faith is the garment worn by the LORD. It is not the garment worn by human interpretations of the Faith.
In the words of the Church’s doctrines, the words of her prayers, the words of her Holy Scriptures, in the words written as color and images in the sacred art of the Holy Icons, the LORD speaks to us as He spoke to Jairus’ daughter. We receive these evangelical, dogmatic and iconographic words of the Church from the holy fathers of the Church. They received them from the holy apostles and the holy prophets; and they received them from Christ who received them directly from the Father. The words of the Church are therefore divine words united to human words to give them the life-creating and healing power of Christ's Holy Spirit. They are human words filled with Christ, the Wisdom of God, not with the wisdom of human opinion.
And so, when we receive the Faith of the Church, we receive the Word of God Himself. We touch the hem of the LORD’s garment that heals and raises from death to life. When we receive a faith that is not of the Church, we do not touch the hem of the LORD’s garment, and so we are not healed or raised from death to life in our deep heart. That is why for us, guarding the True Faith is such a big deal: our salvation, whether we are transfigured to become children of God or children of men, is at stake.
These Gospels of the last two Sundays comprehend the rhythm of our life in Christ. During the week, we are in Gedara, doing the work of denying ourselves and taking up our cross in the ascetic disciplines of the Church – prayer and fasting - coming out of the city, coming out of Egypt, coming out of the world, coming out of the tombs to meet the Savior, trusting in Him to expel from us the spirits of darkness that make us unclean, citizens of hell who, in our soul, live in the cemetery, in the tomb of our heart. On Sunday, we come to the Church to join the crowd of faithful throughout the world who are waiting to receive Him, the crucified and risen LORD, into their midst, into their house, the house of their “deep heart” so that it is created anew, transfigured from being a tomb to being the House of God, covered in the glory of His Holy Spirit. Amen.