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Ephesians 4.1-6

Luke 13.10-17

We read this morning of Our LORD teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. This, in fact, was His custom, St Luke tells us (Lk 4.16). As He went throughout Galilee and Judea, He would preach, says St Luke, in the synagogues (4.44). So, every Sabbath Day would find the LORD proclaiming the Kingdom of God in one of the synagogues. And, often, the WORD of His preaching would manifest its fearsome, divine power in the expelling of demons and unclean spirits, as we witness in our Gospel this morning. He sees this woman, afflicted by the unclean spirit for eighteen years such that she was bent over as under a heavy weight, unable to stand upright, unable to ‘attend’! He calls her. She comes to Him, and He expels the unclean spirit from her, and she stands upright and glorifies God.

In the bible, the letter expresses the wordless mysteries of the Spirit, and the visible gives shape and form to the invisible. Let us therefore attend to the visible form the letter of this morning’s Gospel sets before us to discern the spiritual mystery it veils.

‘Synagogue’ is a Greek word. Let’s translate it like this: a gathering together (syn) round a leader (ago). The synagogue was an extension of the Temple in Jerusalem where the various sacrifices were performed for the cleansing of the people. The synagogues were local gatherings of the Jews scattered throughout Galilee and Judea round the reading of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms, all of this centered mystically on the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, the LORD Jesus said to the Jews that the words of Moses were all of Him (Jn 5.46); and He said to His disciples when He appeared to them in His Resurrection that all the words He had said to them while He was with them still on ‘this side’ of His Tomb, were the words written in Moses,  the Law and the prophets. Those words, He told them, were all about Him (Lk 24.44-46) whom St John sets before us as “the only begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father” (Jn 1.18), so that we are given to recognize this Jesus who was found every Sabbath preaching the Kingdom of God in the synagogues as the very WORD of God (Jn 1.1-3) who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and there revealed to Him His Name (Ex 3.14)—and, as it is, one could translate the name, Jesus, as “He Who Is saves.”

Now that you understand this, look again at the visible scene of Jesus preaching the Kingdom of God in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He is Himself the WORD of God the words of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms were talking about. Can you now see, beneath the image of this morning’s Gospel, the words of all the prophets being torn in two, as it were, from top to bottom, as the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom, to reveal Jesus as the WORD of God Himself, incarnate, behind the veil. The words of the prophets read in the synagogues of Israel were but the garments Jesus wore as the WORD of God; and He now stands before them, veiled no longer in the words of Holy Scripture but clothed in the flesh—just as He said He would make happen in the words of His prophets.

Deeper than that, can you see, in the image set before us this morning, in the words of the prophets read in the synagogue on the Sabbath, the mystery of God hidden from the ages? It is the mystery of the Sabbath Day that Moses wrote about! It is the mystery of the LORD clothing Himself in the rags of our death when He was laid to rest in the Tomb on the Great and Holy Sabbath, the true and mystical Sabbath, following the Day He died on the Cross—when, as St Luke says, the Light of the Sabbath began to dawn (epefosken, Lk 23.54). Who do you think is this Light of the Sabbath? Where do you think that Light was coming from if it wasn’t coming from the Body of Him Who Is Himself the Light and Life of all, now resting in the Tomb, on the Sabbath, having finished His creation of the world? And, where do you think that Light is now, today, Sunday, the Day of the LORD’s Holy Resurrection, if it, or rather, if He isn’t in our midst, here in His Holy Church, which is His Body, the very Body that was crucified, dead and buried and that rose from the dead on the Third Day, destroying death by His death and giving life to those in the tombs, expelling all the demons and unclean spirits from all those who receive Him, as did this crippled woman, who are “gathered round” Him as a synagogue, a gathering of the faithful with the LORD in their midst in the mystery of His Holy Sabbath?

The synagogue itself, then, was a prophetic image of the mystery of God hidden from the ages that was about to be revealed in the mystery of the WORD of the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself, descending mystically, truly, into the inmost chamber of the human heart when He visibly ascended the Cross and His Body was laid visibly in the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. And, when they sealed the Tomb with the stone, so that He was no longer visible on this side, was that not the ‘cue’ that He was now visible on the other side? With the eye that is the lamp of the body, we can now see Him in the abyss of our heart, where we all have sinned and become desperately corrupt (Jer 17.9) to the root by the unclean spirits of our idolatry, our greed and self-love.

Standing in the worship of the Church, the faithful become themselves a synagogue, gathered together round the WORD of God incarnate who is the WORD in all the words of the prophets. We are gathered together as a synagogue in the Body of Christ who is risen from the dead. In the flesh, we are still on this side of the Tomb, living in the six days of calendar time. But, on the evening of the Sabbath, at Great Vespers, the faithful make an Exodus out of the Egypt of this world, and begin to gather together to form a synagogue round the risen Christ (cf. 2 Th 2.1, episynagoges ep auton). And, at the Evening Entrance of the Light, the curtains are open, the stone is rolled away. All are called to ‘stand aright, to attend!’ and all who will may enter mystically into the tomb of their heart in answer to the WORD of God calling them. He comes to us from the other side of the Tomb. He comes to us in the Light of His Resurrection, in the Glory of His Ascension, and if we come to Him in answer to His call, He empties our heart, i.e., He cleanses us so that we are emptied of all unclean spirits that would trouble us and weigh us down to the ground, and we are able to stand upright and begin our ascent to heaven in the glorious Light of the Savior’s Resurrection.

There is a Path that leads into the synagogue on the Sabbath Day, the ‘gathering together’ of the faithful round the WORD of God incarnate who comes into our midst from the Day of His Resurrection. It is a narrow Path; if very few find it, it’s not because it’s hard to find. It runs right through the middle of our soul straight into our heart. It’s always right there in front of us. Few find it because few are looking for it. They are like the ruler of the synagogue who couldn’t see the WORD for the words. Yet, even those who find it may easily fall away from it not because it’s narrow but because they are still friends of the world, and to be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God (Ja 4.4). The narrow Path is the WORD of God Himself; the LORD Jesus Christ Himself leads us on that narrow Path and keeps us on it so long as we are seeking Him with our whole heart in true repentance.

We are in danger not from a pandemic or from corrupt politics preparing the way for the antichrist, but from our friendship with the world. This is the unclean spirit that weighs us down to the ground so that we cannot look up to see the LORD of Glory in our midst and walk the narrow Path of repentance to the Cave of Bethlehem that opens to us the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, that in turn opens to us the Garden of His Resurrection in the sacred mystery of His Holy Church. When I’m able through prayer to come in my spirit into the synagogue of the saints, what I begin to be afraid of is not suffering or sickness or death from a virus. What I fear is my own cowardice that comes from my friendship with the world; for, this dries up the spirit of true repentance in my soul and separates me from the Most Beloved Panagia and her Holy Child. I begin to yearn not for a vaccine but for the ‘therapy of repentance’ and the ‘medicine of immortality.’ I do not want to be a worldly man; a worldly man is one whose faculties and powers are ‘scattered’ and ‘dispersed,’ the prelude to his disintegrating in the dust. I want to become myself a ‘synagogue’, all my faculties and powers ‘gathered round’ and centered on Christ who is in me. I am the crippled woman; and, with her I want to become truly ‘Orthodox,’ I want to be raised up, anorthothe, that I may glorify, edoxazen, God. O LORD, have mercy on us! Amen!