20 - Prodigal Son, February 8, 2015

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Luke 15:11-32

At the center of this morning’s parable is the House of the Father; i.e., the Temple. But, the Temple in whom God dwells bodily is the Body of Christ. (Col 2:9) The House of the Father that is at the center of this morning’s parable, then, is the Body of Christ; and the Body of Christ is the Church, the fullness of Him who is all in all. (Eph 1:23) So, at the center of this morning’s parable is the Church.

St Paul tells us in our epistle this morning that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit whom we have received from the Father. Remember, God “built” man from the earth, and then He breathed into Him the Breath of Life so that man became a “living soul”, i.e., a Temple of God. If man’s body was built as a temple of God, man’s heart, then, is the Holy of Holies; there in his heart, God dwelt in him bodily through the Holy Spirit. But, Adam disobeyed God. The Spirit of God withdrew from him, and he was expelled from Eden. According to the Psalmist, we were brought forth in iniquity. In sins did our mother conceive us. (Ps 51:5) We live in the world outside of Eden. Living in the world, we live outside of Christ, the Image of God in whom we were made.

In the world outside of Christ, our body, then, is not a temple of God because we have built our bodies into pagan temples in whom not God but idols of the world dwell. And our heart is not a Holy of Holies; for, bereft of Christ’s Holy Spirit, our heart has become a tomb in which the spiritual corpse of our soul is buried. In this morning’s parable, then, I would say that our body and heart are not the Temple of God because they have become the pigpen of the prodigal’s dissipation or the arid field of the elder son’s spiritual pride. They are the “anti-centers” to the House of the Father.

So, let’s look more closely, at the Father’s House at the center of this morning’s parable. At the end of the parable, we learn that a feast is taking place inside. A bullock has been slain, or rather sacrificed like the bullock prescribed in Leviticus to be offered as a sin offering. (e.g., Ex 29:14; Lev 4:20)  I believe the bullock in this morning’s parable is Christ who became our sin offering. He who knew no sin became sin for us (II Cor 5:21), and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Eph 5:2), who offered His Body on the Cross as a single sacrifice continually for sins. (Heb 10:10 & 12)

So now we see at the center of this morning’s parable the Cross and the Tomb of the LORD’s Pascha, and inside the LORD’s Tomb a feast taking place from the sacrifice that has been offered by Christ once for all. The prodigal has been robed, a ring has been put on his hand, shoes on his feet. Think Robe of Light of Holy Baptism; think Holy Chrismation, even Holy Matrimony! Do you begin to see, now, that what is at the center of this morning’s parable is the Holy Eucharist, even the Wedding Feast of the Lamb that was slain? That means that at the center of this morning’s parable, in the House of the Father, in the Temple of the Body of Christ, is the Cross on which Christ our sin offering was slain – think of the curtain of the Temple being split in two from top to bottom when the Savior dies on the Cross, so that the Holy of Holies is His Tomb wherein the Feast of His Holy Pascha is held continually and where He is in our midst, not as a corpse, but as the Resurrection and the Life!

In our parable this morning, both sons are found outside the Temple of the Father’s House that is the Body of Christ. In the imagery of Pascha, both are outside the LORD’s Tomb. For, the one finally ends up in the pigpen, which is unclean according to the Law of Moses, and so would be its own kind of tomb; and the other ends up in the field, as in a desert, which is another kind of tomb. But, when we come to the end of the parable, only the servants are found in the house, and only the one son who made himself a servant to his Father when he came to himself in the pigpen.

Why does not the elder son find his way into the Father’s House? It isn’t because the Father wouldn’t let him. To the contrary, the parable ends with the Father imploring His elder son to come into the House and join the Feast. It was not the Father’s will that kept the elder son out; it was the elder son’s own will. In his spiritual pride, he is like the chief priests and the Pharisees, rolling a stone over the tomb of his heart so that he wouldn’t “find himself” and learn, as did his younger brother, that he was a sinner, not worthy to be called a son but a hired servant.

Only the prodigal “came to himself”; and, he came to himself in the pigpen, in his heart where he was estranged from God and, until that moment, from himself. Can you feel the stillness of soul that had been attained in this simple phrase: “He came to himself”? In the stillness of his heart, he saw that he had become a pagan temple and that his heart had become a pigpen, and, that this was not his real identity. He remembered that he was his Father’s son, and he began to yearn to return to his Father and to be reconciled to him not as a son but as a sinful, unworthy servant. And, so he said: “I will arise and go to my father as a hired servant.” It’s as though he was answering a call that he heard when, in the inner stillness of his heart, he came to himself there in the pigpen. Beloved faithful, I believe we can say that that call was the call of the Savior when he called out to Lazarus in the stillness of his tomb on the Sabbath before the LORD’s Entry into Jerusalem: “My Child, come forth!” It’s the call we would hear when we attain inner stillness and come to ourselves in our heart. He arose and came forth from the pigpen as Lazarus will come forth from his tomb. He leaves the pigpen and makes his way to his Father’s House – to the Temple of Christ’s Body, His Tomb – in repentance. Study the Path of Salvation set before us in this morning’s parable. The prodigal’s dirty, stinking clothes are removed, and he is robed as in Holy Baptism and Chrismation. The pagan temple of his body is destroyed. He partakes of the bullock that was sacrificed, Christ our God, and he becomes one with Christ in the likeness of His death. His heart is created anew, a new and right spirit, the Holy Spirit, is breathed into him so that his body becomes a temple of God for he has become one with the Temple of Christ’s Body. His heart has become the Holy of Holies where God dwells in him bodily.

Beloved faithful, on each of these Sundays that is leading up to Great Lent, we see how the Church is gently drawing us away from the Pharisee, away from the elder son and towards the contrite humility of the publican, towards the humble compunction of the prodigal son because it is in the humility and compunction of the publican and the prodigal that we attain to inner stillness and find ourselves in the tomb of our heart as in the tomb of Lazarus. And, it is there, in our heart, that we hear the Savior calling out to us as He does to Lazarus: “My Child, come forth!” Come forth and unite yourself to Me in the likeness of My death and be buried with Me in My Tomb!

To get into the stillness of our heart as into the stillness of the tomb of Lazarus: this is the work of the Great Fast. Let’s check ourselves this morning and turn away from the spiritual pride of the Pharisee and the elder son that would believe that the Father owes us. “LORD, all your commandments I have kept! I am not unrighteous! I am a good person!” Our work is to take up our cross, to deny ourselves, to come down from spiritual pride and lose our life for the sake of Christ, that we may enter the “pigpen” of our heart as into the tomb of Lazarus, and “come to ourselves”. For, then we will hear the voice of Christ calling out to us: “My child, come forth!” that we may unite ourselves to Him in the likeness of His death, be buried with Him in His Tomb and join the publican, the tax collector, the sinners whose bodies have been created anew as temples of God in the Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection and whose hearts have become the Holy of Holies where “Christ is in our midst”, and the paschal joy of those who keep festival in the LORD is unending. Amen.