17 - When Christ Our Life Appears, Jan 24, 2016 (with audio)

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Colossians 3:4-11

Luke 18:35-43

“When Christ who is our life shall appear, then you also will appear with Him in Glory.” St Paul refers to the LORD’s Second Coming or Appearing; but, at His Ascension, the angels say to the disciples: “This Jesus will come (or appear) in the same manner that you [just] saw Him going into Heaven.” (Acs 1:11)

Here is how Acts describes the manner of the LORD’s Ascension: “While they were looking on, He was lifted up, and a Cloud received Him [into Itself so that He was] hidden from them, and as they were gazing up into Heaven, He went up [into Heaven].” (1:9-10) This Cloud that received the LORD into Itself was the Holy Spirit.

The manner of the LORD’s Ascension takes us back to Epiphany, His First Appearing. St Mark says, “And, as He was coming up from the water, the Heavens were opened, and the Spirit came down upon Him as a dove.” At the Ascension, the Spirit receives Him as a Cloud as He is taken up into Heaven. At His Baptism, the Heavens are opened and Jesus is led by the same Spirit into the wilderness in the same manner that He is taken up by the Cloud into the opened Heavens at His Ascension.

My point is that the manner of the LORD’s Second Appearing and of His Ascension is of the same manner as His First Appearing at the Jordan. It would appear, then, to be of the utmost important that we attend to the manner of the LORD’s First Appearing if we want to prepare the paths of the LORD and be taught by the LORD’s own Spirit what are the paths He made known to Moses (Ps 102:7), which we are to make straight, and so make ourselves ready to appear with Him or to be taken up into the Cloud of His Glory at His Second Appearing.

We read in the Psalms: “Teach me to do Thy will. Let Thy Good Spirit lead me on the path (odeghsei) into the land of righteousness;” (Ps 142:10 LXX) i.e., the Inheritance promised to Abraham. But, we read in the Psalms: “The LORD Himself is the portion of my inheritance.” (Ps 15:5) From this Psalm, St Macarius says: “The LORD Himself is the home [of the baptized]. He is their tabernacle and their City. They are clothed with the habitation from Heaven not made with hands, the Glory of the Divine Light, having been born from above as children of Light.” (Hom 34.2-3) They put on Christ and receive Him in Holy Eucharist: Jn 2:19-22; II Cor 5:1; Heb 9:11.

Again, St Macarius says: “The whole coming of the LORD was for man’s sake – man who lay dead in the grave of the darkness of sin, of the unclean spirit and of evil powers – that now in this world He might raise man up and make him to live, and cleanse him from all blackness and enlighten him with His own light and clothe Him in His own Garments, the Heavenly Garments of His own Divine Nature.” (cf. II Pt 1:4) I.e., the LORD came to take those who receive Him up into Heaven in the Cloud of His Glory, His Holy Spirit, that they might appear with Him in the Glory of His Holy Spirit.

So, where do we find this Path that would take us up to Heaven with the LORD in the Glory of His Holy Spirit?

Of the LORD’s First Appearing, we read that St JnBapt was baptizing in the wilderness (Mk 1:4) when Jesus came or appeared and was baptized. (Mk 1:9) The Church’s liturgical texts tell us also that Jesus was naked when He was baptized.

Remember that when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. The Church teaches us that this means they were stripped of the Divine Glory that had clothed them. The Spirit of God left them. There was no divine life in them anymore. They were naked, they were stripped of the life and glory of the Spirit in which they had come to be (Gn 2:7), and so they became a spiritual wilderness, as we read in the Psalms: “My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh faints for Thee as in a dry and weary land where no water is.” (Ps 63:1)

 “When Christ who is our Life shall appear”! says St Paul. “In those days, Jesus came,” says St Mark. He appeared in the wilderness. Brothers and sisters, if at His conception and birth of the Blessed Panagia, the Word of God united all things in Himself, where did He appear theologically or spiritually when He appeared in the wilderness? He appeared in wilderness of the soul where there were no living waters of the Holy Spirit. He who is the Resurrection and the Life came to that point in our soul where we were “sitting in the region and shadow of death”; i.e., in the tomb of our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses. (Eph 2:1)

The Path that ascends to Heaven is Christ Himself (Jn 14:6), and it, He, the Path is found in the wilderness of our soul. If, then, we are to appear also with Him in Glory as St Paul says, that we may be taken up to Heaven in the Cloud of Glory, His Holy Spirit, where must we appear?

Look at this morning’s blind man together with last Sunday’s rich ruler. I don’t think we see the ruler coming to Jesus in the wilderness of his soul. We see him in the city of his material wealth, which I think is but the face of his idolatry. The idol he worshipped was himself; he himself is the treasure of his heart. He appears before the LORD clothed in the fig leaves of his high opinion of himself which, I say, he wore, like Adam and Eve, to hide from the nakedness of his soul and from God. It made him blind so that he saw Jesus only as another rabbi, a kind of Jewish guru. He could not see that Jesus is Himself the Life he thought he was entitled to inherit. How, then, could he possibly inherit Jesus without selling all that he had in order to follow Him, if he in fact wanted the true eternal life, Christ God Himself?

Now look at the blind man of this morning’s Gospel. He was a beggar. Can we say that his poverty was the face of his inner brokenness, the idol of his ego broken by his suffering? And so, he was naked and in the poverty of his blindness, he could see it. It says that he was sitting by the path, begging. So, was he sitting in the region and shadow of death? He was sitting by the path the LORD was walking on; so he was sitting by the Path the LORD made known to Moses, Jesus Christ the Way to the Father. “When he heard,” it says, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he did not hide in fig leaves of self-esteem nor did he justify himself as did the rich ruler and Adam and Eve. (cf. Gn 3:9) He cried out with the Psalmist: “LORD, I call unto Thee, hear me!” (Ps 129 LXX) His cry was from the regions dark and deep, from the tomb of his heart. (Ps 87:4-6) There, in the wilderness of his soul,he heard the voice of the LORD calling him. And, it says that he was led to him and received his sight. He was enlightened, he was made a child of the Light!

At our baptism we “put on Christ” and were anointed with the Holy Spirit who settled on us like a Cloud of Glory, like the dove that rested on Jesus. Do we now begin to see that when He appears, we will appear with Him in Glory only as we follow Him into the wilderness of our soul, into the lower parts of the earth all the way into the tomb of our heart?

When Christ who is our life appears, says St Paul. We came from the earth, but we were made living souls by breathing in the Spirit of God. If the goal of human life is theosis, becoming one with God in Christ, then our life in this world is all about putting to death what is earthly in us – the thorns and thistles of fornication, wrath, malice, covetousness and all the rest that St Paul mentions in this morning’s epistle – so that the Spirit of Christ would begin to live in us. It is for that purpose that the Spirit would lead us into the wilderness of our soul and into the tomb of our heart. The prayer by which we keep on the path of Christ that leads into the wilderness of our soul is not that of the rich ruler: “All the commandments I have kept from my youth up!” It is this prayer of the blind man, the “prayer of the heart”: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Perhaps we could rephrase St Paul’s words to us this morning to intensify its meaning? Therefore, put to death what is earthly in you that when Christ our Life appears, you may appear with Him in the Glory of His Holy Spirit! Amen!