20 - Jesus Goes UP to Galilee, Jan 12, 2020

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Ephesians 4:7-13

Matthew 4:12-17

Holy Scripture itself is a Theophany; or rather, it is the witness to the manifestation of God in the flesh. And, the biblical testimony makes clear that the Incarnation of Our LORD is an epiphany of the immaterial, unseen, spiritual foundation of heaven and earth and the root of man’s body and soul.

For example, it says that when the LORD arose up from the Jordan, the heavens opened. The opened heavens show where He is going. He is going up to Heaven—not up into the sky but into the interior, hidden depths of the human soul. The WORD of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, He descends down to the heart where we are deep, beyond all things (Jer 17:5 LXX), down to the division of soul and spirit (Heb 4:12), to destroy that wall of enmity which, like the stone that sealed the LORD’s Tomb, shuts us off from the mystery of God from before the ages, even from the secret chamber of our own heart where is found the mystery of Christ in you. (Col 1:26-27)

Holy Scripture shows that Christ’s baptism in the Jordan is one with His death on the Cross. As the heavens at His baptism are “split open,” so are the rocks and the tombs when, on the Cross, Christ “cries out with a loud voice and sends forth His Spirit,” as it says (Mt 27:50 & 53). The curtain of the Temple, where earth opened onto heaven, is split open from top to bottom, it says (Mt 27:51). That is, the Path to heaven has been opened not ‘out here’ somewhere but within the humanity of God the WORD incarnate, and so within us, in the unmeasurable and ungraspable depths of our soul. The ‘inheritance’ of this New Exodus up to the opened heavens is not a geographical region; it is the Kingdom of God that is within you (Lk 17:21). The Path of this New Exodus is the narrow Path; it is Jesus Christ Himself who ascends to Heaven by first descending into the depths of creation and into the human soul by way of His Tomb and so into our heart where we are dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:2), and where we are separated from God.

Descending into the Jordan, Jesus, the New Adam, descends beneath the ‘dust’ and into the root of the human heart where we are dead and separated from God; God Himself, becomes the immutable Root of our being; He establishes Himself as the Rock on which heaven and earth now stand so that the world shall never be moved (Ps 92:1 LXX). Wearing the creation as a garment, it says, He hastens to bear all of creation down into the Jordan to a better and changeless Path. His crucified and risen Body is that Path. Descending into hell, He carves out the beginning point of that Path in the darkness of our death, at that point where we are separated from God. His Body is the ‘narrow path’ that was prefigured of old in the Israelite’s passage through the Red Sea as though on dry land. There is now, in the pit of our soul, in the darkness of our death, a better and changeless Path, God the WORD incarnate, that ascends from the depths up even to the Right Hand of God the Father.

Let’s stand here for a moment. Let’s come alongside Sts Peter and John in the LORD’s empty Tomb, and let us, too, look around closely at what we see.

Holy Scripture testifies to two righteous ones who did not die, but were translated up to the heavens that opened to them: Enoch and Elijah. Here at the Jordan—near the spot where Elijah was taken up into the opened heavens—the heavens open to the God-Man, Our LORD Jesus Christ.

But, He does not immediately ascend up into them as did Enoch and Elijah! Instead, led by the Spirit, He turns and goes into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasts for 40 days. Understand that the fast is the ascetic form of the Cross (Lenten Triodion, pp. 230 & 232). So, by His fast in the wilderness, the LORD already is taking up His Cross. His Holy Pascha has begun! Can we appreciate how weakened from hunger He was at the end of the 40 days? This is when the devil assaults Him!

Can you see that His temptation by the devil in the wilderness is but the extension of His going down into the darkness of our death as one of us (Heb 2:14)? By fasting, He clothes Himself in the weakness of our flesh and takes upon Himself all the temptations that assail us, and all their strength. There is not, therefore, a temptation known to us that the LORD does not know; for, He was tempted in all points as we are (Heb 4:15). He is with us, suffering with us in our temptations. If in our temptation we turn to unite ourselves to Christ, we find that He is the narrow Path, the better and changeless Path, the ‘way of escape’ (1 Cor 10:13) that leads us up out of the temptation as from the Jordan and up into the opened heavens. We need only to call on Him and unite ourselves to Him. How do we do that? By attending mindfully, in faith, to the liturgical and sacramental worship of His Church. There needs to be a symphony between the inner, unseen work in our soul and the Grace that is poured out on us in the prayers and sacraments of the Church. That Grace must be received into a soul working out her salvation in fear and trembling, i.e., in the mystery of the LORD’s death, through prayer and fasting. By these, our soul learns to cleave to Him in the wilderness, in the arid barrenness of our soul, where we are assailed by temptations, trials and afflictions, and to follow Him into the tomb of our heart where we are hurting, afraid, and weak from our enslavement to the passions—into our heart where, by His death and three-day burial, He has united Himself to our death, to our emptiness and meaninglessness, and has put our death to death by His death. He leads us out into the Garden on the other side, our hearts transfigured into the joy, the Life, the Light of His Resurrection.

It says that when He comes out of the wilderness, having defeated, even in His fleshly weakness, the devil, He goes up—not yet into the opened heavens, but into Galilee. Galilee in the OT is an image of the LORD’s Bride; and so, it is an image of the human soul. That is, He does not abandon us by ascending into the heavens at the Jordan, leaving us behind. He comes to each one of us in the deep of our soul where we sit in darkness, in the region and shadow of death, in meaninglessness, in emptiness, in confusion, in anger, in fear. He is the True Light. (Jn 1:3) Christ is in our midst means: the Light of God is in our midst; the Path up to Heaven shines in our darkness! It says (v. 23) that He went throughout the whole of Galilee. He is moving in the soul of each one of us, like the Holy Spirit brooding over the face of the waters. (Gn 1:3) And, it says, He was teaching and healing every manner of sickness and every malady that was in the people: blindness, deafness, paralysis, demon-possession, withered hands, mute tongues. He even raises people from the dead. These are all sicknesses that come from idolatry; they are visible images of what idolatry does invisibly to our soul. (Isa 1:4ff.)

The LORD Jesus turns from the opened heavens to go get His Bride, the human soul. He seeks us out to heal us, to restore us to our original beauty, that we may rise up and follow Him into the Bridal Chamber of His Tomb and become one with Him as He has become one with us in our heart, the Holy of Holies of our soul. Only now, having cleansed and illumined His Bride in the root of her being, her heart, having deified her, having become one with her, only now does He ascend into the opened heavens. He ascends in the flesh, in the same Body that was crucified, dead and buried. He ascends with His Bride!

To enter the Church, then, the Body of Christ, is to enter upon this New Exodus of the Gospel, to descend always into the death of Jesus by taking up the cross of the Church’s ascetical disciplines and sacramental worship in order to turn away from the darkness to come into the marvelous Light of Christ (1 Pt 2:9). Uniting ourselves to Him on His Cross, we bring to Him the sicknesses of our soul, our brokenness, our impurities, daily. In the deified waters of the Jordan, in the ascetical and sacramental life of the Church, we are healed, daily; in the LORD’s empty Tomb, in the prayer of the heart, filled with Light and Life, our darkness is illumined, daily; our hearts are raised from death to life, daily; our impurities are burned away, daily, and our whole life, transfigured, becomes an Exodus, always descending into the LORD’s Tomb where the better and changeless Path is always ascending to God with us. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!