19 - Sunday After Theophany, Jan 8, 2017 (with audio)

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Ephesians 4:7-13

Matthew 4:12-17

Let me share with you what I see from my contemplative descent into the imagery of the waters and the path as they are “shown forth” in the biblical and liturgical texts for this Feast of Theophany. But first, let’s remember the teaching of the Church: at the conception and birth of Our LORD Jesus Christ of the Most Holy Virgin, earth is joined to heaven, time to eternity, man to God; for, God clothes Himself with His creation in the human nature He receives from the Panagia Theotokos. That reveals to us a divine treasure in the earthen vessel of our human nature. The mystery of God hidden from before the ages is now shown forth “in the midst of the earth” (cf. Ex 8:22 & Ps 74:12). In the midst of this earthen vessel of ours is the mystery of “Christ in you!” (Col 1:27) “What is outward and visible is earthly,” we hear in the Praises for the Matins of Theophany. “What is inwardly understood is higher than heaven” (Festal Menaion, p. 383). The baptism of Jesus in the Jordan is the outward and visible earthen garment of space-time that clothes the inward mystery of the Spirit, the eternal, heavenly mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” It is a deeper understanding of this mystery of the Spirit shown forth by the Feast to be “in the midst of the earth,” in the midst of the Jordan, inside the event of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, that I seek because I want to know what I must do to be saved, how I go about fulfilling the oath of my baptism to unite myself to Christ.

At the Seventh Ode of the First Canon for the Matins of Theophany, we hear: “The sea and cloud in which the people of Israel were once baptized by Moses the lawgiver as they journeyed from Egypt prefigured the wonder of the baptism of God. The sea was an icon of the water (of our baptism) and the cloud an icon of the Spirit whereby we are initiated and cry aloud: ‘Blessed art Thou, O God of our fathers!’” (FM 376) Do you see how our baptism is united with the Exodus of Old Israel through Christ’s baptism in the Jordan? That tells me that to live the Christian Faith is to enter upon an Exodus of some kind that has the shape of the Exodus of Old Israel.

Now, the Jordan was at the end of the Exodus when the Old Israel came out of the wilderness and, led by Joshua, entered into the Promised Land by passing over the Jordan in the same manner they had passed over the Red Sea. But, the LORD’s baptism in the Jordan marks (for St Mark) the “Beginning” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The LORD’s Baptism in the Jordan picks up where the Old Exodus ends. That tells me that in the Christian Faith, the Exodus of Old Israel has descended to a deeper dimension. I believe we can say that it has descended from what is outward and visible into what is inwardly understood; i.e., it has descended into the interior depths of the soul. The Exodus of the Christian life is an Exodus of the soul in the Spirit; and, its inner shape is made outwardly visible in the Exodus of Old Israel.

When Christ is raised out of the waters, it says that “he” saw the heavens “split open” (Mark 1:9), and the Spirit descending upon Him, and “he” heard the voice of the Father speaking the words of the Psalm, which also evoke the WORD of the LORD to Isaiah the prophet: “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” (Ps 2:7; Isa 42:1) Liturgical texts and the Gospel of St John make clear that “he” is not Jesus but St JnBapt. Liturgical texts inform us that the LORD was baptized naked. What we are seeing is the coronation of the New Adam as the King of heaven and earth.

Now, St Matthew describes the death of the LORD on the Cross in this manner: “Jesus cried out again with a great voice and He let go the Spirit. This is the same word the LORD says to St JnBapt when He says: “Permit it for now!” which would seem to show that letting go of the Spirit was not an involuntary “death rattle” but a conscious, intentional and profoundly theological act, and that the “spirit” He let go or sent forth was the Holy Spirit. “And, behold! The curtain of the temple was split in two from above (from heaven) to below (in hell). The earth quaked, the rocks were split open, and the tombs were open and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming forth out of the tombs after His Resurrection, they entered into the Holy City (the Heavenly Jerusalem!) and were seen by many. And, the centurion (St Longinus) and those with him who were guarding Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, were greatly afraid and said: ‘Truly! this was the Son of God!’” (Mt 27:50-54) It seems clear to me that what the centurion saw in the opening of the temple curtain and the rest is what JnBapt saw (and what we are given to see at our baptism when we are given the Creed to confess as our own faith); and that his “Amen!” was his answer to the same word spoken by the voice JnBapt heard: “This is My Beloved Son!”

The deeper Exodus of the Christian Faith, i.e., is from our union with Christ at the font of our baptism to our union with Christ in the tomb of our heart – our heart that is “beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX), and so a fortiori, beyond the Jordan! The waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Red Sea, are the waters of death; but, if we are dead in our sins and trespasses, and if the tomb St Macarius says we are to understand when we hear of the LORD’s tomb is the tomb of our heart (Homily 11.11), then the waters of death, dear faithful, are the hidden depths of our heart!

The Christian Faith, dear faithful, is a spiritual Exodus into the wilderness of our soul. From the font, we are led by the Cloud of the Spirit, as was Israel from the Red Sea, as was the LORD from the Jordan, into the desert and to Golgotha and to the Tomb of the LORD outside the city. I.e., we are led inward – this is repentance – to face the emptiness and loneliness of our spiritual death and to do battle with our fallen will that wants to escape the terrors of our spiritual death by fleeing outward “into the city” thinking it will find refuge there in the visibility of the “city’s” empty sensuality.

Sacred texts of the Church tell of us of two paths. The one leads to death, the other to life. But, both are paths of death: the one path leads to death inside the city, in the tombs of the world. The other leads outside the city, into the desert of the soul and into the tomb of the heart. Might this be the path JnBapt is speaking of in the word of the prophets? “Prepare the Way of the LORD, make straight His paths!” Is it the path the Psalmist speaks of? Listen and hear Theophany and Pascha! “The waters saw Thee, O God, and feared. The deeps were troubled. There was a great sound of waters; the clouds uttered a voice (Jesus cried out again with a great voice). The voice of Thy thunder was abroad (the Voice of the Father at the Jordan?). The earth trembled and quaked (Mt 27:51). Thy Way is in the sea, and thy paths in many waters, yet Thy footsteps cannot be known (they are invisible, inwardly understood). Thou didst guide Thy people like sheep, Thou who dost lead Joseph like a flock” (Ps 76:16-20, Ps 79:1 LXX).

And, in this morning’s Gospel, we hear from the prophet: “Land of Zebulon, Land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.” I see this speaking of the waters of death we “swim” in for it is joined to “Those who sat in the region and shadow of death have seen a great light.” And so, its referent is the realm of the soul in which the LORD takes up His dwelling and “pitches His tent among us” (Jn 1:14) after He has triumphed over the devil in the “wilderness”.  So, when it says that He began to preach and to say, “Repent! The Kingdom of Heaven is near!” we now see the inward, heavenly mystery of the LORD “hastening to bear all creation down into the stream” of His death-destroying and life-creating death and bring all creation to the “better and changeless path” (FM 377). This is the Way of the LORD that is in the sea, i.e., in the tomb of our heart where we are dead. It is the Way of the LORD by which we would “ascend to God” if we would but “repent” and descend with Jesus inwardly into the tomb of our heart as into the waters (FM 383) of the Jordan, the waters of death that He splits in two to lead us out onto the spiritual Exodus of the Christian Faith to walk on this better and changeless path found inwardly, in our soul, this “Way of the Sea” Beyond the Jordan that ascends to God in the triumph of Our Heavenly King, the Son of God, our LORD Jesus Christ in the Glory of God the Father! Amen!