10 Death and Resurrection - November 4, 2007

Ephesians 2:4-10

Luke 8:41-56

This morning’s Scripture lessons teach us that the essence of the Christian Faith is death and resurrection. What is this death and resurrection that are the very essence of the Christian Faith?

In his letter to the Ephesians, St Paul writes that before they were raised up with Christ in their baptism, the Ephesians were dead in their trespasses and sins.[1] To be dead in the biblical view doesn’t mean that one ceases to exist. Even when we were dead in our trespasses, St Paul writes, we were walking according to the “aeon” of this world. Obviously, if to be dead means that one ceases to live as we understand it, one isn’t walking around anywhere. So, it is clear that in the biblical view, to be dead means something else than ceasing to exist.

The Greek word, “Aeon,” can be translated as age or as a long period of time or even as “life.” When St Paul writes, “Before [you were raised up with Christ] you were dead in your trespasses and sins, walking according to the aeon of this world,” he is saying that the life of this world is dead. Just because we’re walking around “alive” here in the world, doesn’t mean we’re alive. St Paul goes on to explain why the life of this world is dead: “You were walking according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now active in the sons of disobedience.” Here is the root cause of the death that the life of this world is: it is walking, living, and acting in the spirit of disobedience to God. This spirit of disobedience, as St Paul indicates, is the very air that the world breathes; it is the “power” of that air. Disobedience as the very air the world breathes is the animating principle of this world, such that to be alive in the world is to live in disobedience to God. That’s why those who live the life of this world are dead even though they appear to be living.

In another place, St Paul gives a short list of the works of this fleshly, worldly life: “fornication, licentiousness, promiscuity, sorcery, impurity, idolatry, enmity, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, prejudice, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like.”[2] We know from our own experience that each one of these carries a certain sweetness and pleasure. We indulge them if not in our body then in our mind through fantasy and imagination. When we repent and begin to think, we may see that we indulge any one of these pleasures in an effort to escape the pain of this worldly life: darkness, confusion, forgetfulness, ignorance, loneliness and despair. But the fruit of this world is the fruit of good and evil, pleasure and pain, life and death. The principle that animates both the pleasure and the pain is greed and selfishness. We therefore cannot indulge the pleasures of this worldly life and escape the pain. When we indulge any of the pleasures of this life, we are planting seeds of greed and selfishness that we will reap in a harvest of pain and misery when those seeds come to fruition – and they will. In another place, St Paul writes: The wages of sin is death. If living in this life – which by its very vital principle is disobedience to God – is death, then we can interpret St Paul’s words to mean: “The wages of death is death.” Only here, the death that the living death of this worldly life pays out is not more sinful living on this earth, but a falling into total darkness, breaking up into so many fragments. The soul breaks off from the body; the body dissolves into countless particles of dust, and the soul breaks up into countless shards of psychic filaments wandering as a terrified schizophrenic, confused and disoriented in the outer darkness of a great, cosmic emptiness filled with the evil spirits of the ruler of this world whose hatred and anger against God has become the very power and life of this world because we, by our own choice, choose to eat of their fruit instead of the fruit of the Tree of Life. We choose, in other words, to nourish our mind and body on the fruit of disobedience and the works of the flesh, rather than to nourish our mind and body on the fruit of the Tree of Life in the works of the Spirit.

Now, to live means to be energized by a power that animates one’s whole being, both mind and body. As St Paul writes: “When you were among the sons of disobedience, living the life of the ruler of this world, you were living in the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind.”[3] In other words, we can’t live one life in our mind and another life in our body. For, as St Paul writes to the Galatians, the life of the flesh and the life of the Spirit are opposed to each other.[4] The one is a life of disobedience against God, the other is a life of obedience to God. The one life hates God; the other life loves God. You can’t walk on two opposite roads at once; you can’t serve two masters. You can’t live two lives.

Therefore, to live the life of God one must die to the life of the ruler of this age. That’s what baptism is all about. In our baptism, we died to the life of this world and we were raised up into the life of God. On the foundation of this new life to which we have been born in our baptism, we walk in the way of the Spirit not just in mind or body, but in both mind and body. That means taking up one’s cross by renouncing the desires of the flesh and of the mind as St Paul lists them – fornication, licentiousness, promiscuity, sorcery, impurity, idolatry, enmity, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, prejudice, envy, drunkenness, carousing and the like – and following Christ in the practice of his commandments.

The point is that the death one dies in the Christian Faith through one’s union with Christ in the sacred waters of Holy Baptism is death to this worldly life whose root is greed and selfishness, whose energizing power is disobedience against God, and whose end is darkness and the disintegration of soul and body. This death of the Christian Faith is total: it is the death of one’s entire being, body, mind and soul to the fleshly life that walks in the way of indulging the desires of the flesh and mind in disobedience against God on the principle of greed and selfishness.

The resurrection of the Christian Faith is to be born “from above,” raised up as a new creation into a life that is not of this world; the life that is of God, a life that breathes not the air of disobedience but the air of love for God in the Spirit of God. In Holy Baptism, God does what we cannot do: he raises us up from our death, our return to the dust of the ground in the waters of Holy Baptism, by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and he re-creates us in the very principle of our being. In Christ, we have died to the life of this world; that’s why St Paul admonishes us no longer to walk in the ways of the world, indulging the desires of flesh and mind, for that is no longer our life. Our life is the life of God; therefore, we should walk in the ways of the Spirit, submitting the desires of our flesh and mind to the teachings and precepts of his only-begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, we have been recreated so that we are no longer sons of disobedience but children of God. We are now strangers, foreigners, aliens in this world. Our citizenship, our life is not in the cities of this world but in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Having died through Holy Baptism to the life of this world in the principle of our life, you can say that we now set out consciously and deliberately for our destination: our own tomb. We need no longer dread our death for we now understand that it is the consummation, the actualization of our having been united to Christ in the likeness of his death and resurrection that was accomplished in our worldly life sacramentally in Holy Baptism. Our life in this world now has been changed to become our sojourn through the wilderness from the Red Sea (our baptism) to the Jordan (the consummation of our baptism in our death) and the passing over into the Promised Land in repentance. This life of repentance, the life of the Christian Faith, is a conscious and deliberate taking up of our Cross with Christ to make our way to Golgotha and the tomb, our tomb, with him by working in this life to crucify the fleshly desires of our body and mind with Christ through the practice of the Church’s ascetical and moral disciplines. The baptized Christian works to crucify the desire of his mind to dwell on fantasies and impure images in order to raise it up to dwell on that which is noble, that which is pure, that which is of God. Let’s say that this aspect of repentance is represented for us by Jairus praying to Jesus to heal his daughter. He is the baptized Christian calling from the depths of his soul in prayer in unceasing remembrance of God. The baptized Christian works to crucify the desires of his flesh by fasting from the pleasures of the flesh in order to train the body in the Gospel way of moral purity and a spiritual, selfless, manner of living. Let’s say this aspect of repentance is represented by the hemorrhaging woman. In the practice of the Church’s ascetic and moral disciplines and in the faithful and regular participation of the Church’s sacraments, we are reaching out to the Savior and touching the hem of his garment. The power that energizes, gives life to the ascetic and moral disciplines of the Church and her sacraments is the Spirit of God, whose breath is the sweetness of divine life that we are granted to breathe so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who is living in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure, which is to raise us up in the resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Christian life of repentance, dying to the life of this world in Christ, turns our death into a martyria, a witness to the life of the Spirit poured out on all flesh through the death and resurrection of Christ. In St Paul’s day, he had to defend this Gospel against those who argued that holiness was fulfilled not in the Cross of Christ but in being circumcised. Circumcision, St Paul argued, affects only the fleshly body that is of the world. It does not touch the spirit of disobedience that animates the body in this world. The commandments of Christ, he argued in line with the prophetic tradition of the OT, have to do with the creation of a clean heart and of a new and right spirit, manifested in humility and compassion. For us today, circumcision is not the issue, but the underlying principle is the same. For us, we have to remind ourselves that baptism and chrismation do not fulfill holiness; they are the foundation for holiness. For we can be baptized and chrismated, we can be going to Church regularly, even partaking of the sacraments regularly, and yet in our heart and in our spirit our love, our treasure, our hopes and goals, what we are living for can still be all about obtaining all that we can of the desires of the flesh and the mind; not about living a life that is uniting itself to the death of Christ on the Cross of Christ in the glorious hope of being raised up with him in his holy Resurrection. Especially as Orthodox Christians, we can be like the Pharisees whom Jesus severely rebuked: whitewashed tombs with a pleasing appearance on the outside but full of stench and corruption and rotting flesh on the inside.

Thanks be to God. Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive in Christ through our baptism and he clothed us with the robe of light in our chrismation. May God help us to take up our Cross and make our way through the wilderness of this life, walking in his ways, dying to the desires of the flesh and mind that we may live for Christ and pass our days living the life of God in the hope of being raised up in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, recreated with a clean heart, a new and right spirit established within us. Amen. 

[1] Eph 2:1-2

[2] Gal 5:19-21

[3] Eph 2:3

[4] Gal 5:17