1 Corinthians 6.12 – 20

Luke 15.11 – 32

We are now inside the Lenten Triodion; we are in the narthex of Great Lent; we are like the Israelites of old encamped on the western banks of the Red Sea, getting ready to pass over to the other side, while Pharaoh and his armies are in hot pursuit of them, the devil and his demons of us.

This morning, we hear the parable of the Prodigal Son. When it says, ‘but when he had come to himself!’ (v. 17) we suddenly hear, coming to us from inside the Nave of Great Lent, the hymn that will be sung at the Canon in the first week of Great Lent: ‘Arise, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping? The end is at hand! Destruction hangs over you! Come again to your senses!’ That is, come to yourself and begin making your way to the Father’s House!

St Paul writes to us this morning: ‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ, that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?’ This is nuptial language. It means that you are the spouse of Christ, for you were espoused to Christ in the Church’s spiritual marriage of Holy Baptism. You were made to become one body and one spirit with Him; and you received the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit into your body when you were led to the Chalice and you became a partaker of the divine nature. (2 Pt 1.4)

‘You are not your own,’ writes St Paul. Here, St Paul’s reference is the biblical doctrine of our origin: we were created by God the Father in His own Image and Likeness—that is, in the only-begotten God, Jesus Christ, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, and in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. Do you hear? Do you understand? Our origin, our true Home, is in the Holy Trinity! So, we are the sons of the Father in this morning’s parable. We are not our own, for we did not create ourselves; we did not make ourselves to exist. We were made according to a definite, ‘ontological’ principle that is inviolable, for it is of God. It is the very Image of God, Jesus Christ (Col 1.15). As St Paul writes to us this morning from this biblical doctrine of human origins: ‘The body is made for the LORD and the LORD for the body.’ And should we set out to fashion ourselves according to any other image, we succeed only in cutting ourselves off from ourselves, and cutting ourselves off from God, and so defiling ourselves. We become shattered like glass into a thousand shards; we become spiritually schizophrenic, split off from our root.

That is, the principle of our being is to become the loving spouse of Christ who first loved us; to receive Him into our soul and body as the beloved wife receives Her loving husband into her soul and body.

We were not made for sexual immorality, says St Paul. We were not made to be the mistress or the concubine of any other lover but He Who Is the only-begotten God in the bosom of the Father. We were not made to be joined to a harlot. A harlot in the bible is the image for an idol, or rather, for the demonic spirits that dwell in an idol whether that idol is visible and bodily or invisible and spiritual. And the spirit of a harlot, as of an idol, hasn’t a shred of loyalty or fidelity to anyone but itself. A harlot exists perpetually in a state that is contrary to her nature, for she exists in the spirit of harlotry or idolatry, and not in the Spirit of the Father and of divine faithfulness; and so the harlot is perpetually split off from herself, crippled and deformed and darkened in an unrelenting schizophrenia. Join yourself to a harlot, then, join yourself to an idol whether visible or invisible, and you join yourself to a dark spirit that will break you mercilessly like glass into a thousand pieces and destroy you without pity.

In all of this, can you begin to see that this morning’s parable of the Prodigal Son is the complement to Friday’s Gospel of the sinful woman, the harlot? And in Friday’s Gospel of the sinful woman, the harlot (Mary Magdalene?), we are hearing the Hymn of Cassiane coming to us all the way from inside the Sanctuary of Great Lent, from inside of Great and Holy Week, even as we stand here in the narthex of Great Lent, still on the western shore of the Red Sea.

What makes these hymns of the Church—the hymn from the Canon of St Andrew, and the Hymn of Cassiane from Great and Holy Week—so inexpressibly beautiful is that they are love songs of the Bridegroom singing out to us in wordless words too deep for words, words that are sharper than any two-edged sword because they pierce us all the way down to our core, down to the division of our soul and spirit, all the way to our inner man in the tomb of our heart where we lie dead in our harlotry, our idolatry, our sins and trespasses, all the way down to the core of our being in the sanctuary of our heart where we come upon who we truly are, and where we discover an opening there on the east wall of the temple of our body, that opens onto the deep beyond all things (Jer 17.9). The Spirit that fills these hymns of the Church with such longing and beauty is the Living Spirit of Christ, the Bridegroom, the Only Lover of Mankind, who comes to us at Midnight—at that moment when night passes over into day, the old to the new, the created world onto the uncreated mystery of God. I believe that the soul who comes to herself, to her senses, is the soul who, like this morning’s Prodigal, lays aside every excuse, every defense, and with the myrrhbearing women at the LORD’s Tomb, turns downward into her inner depths—not in order to understand or to ‘figure it out’, not in order to comprehend the mystery of God in the confining, puny conceit of one’s own wisdom, but in order simply to listen, to listen, to listen, to these hymns of the Church. It is this soul that may begin to feel something deep within her beginning to stir as though rousing from a deep sleep.

And I believe that the Church, in Her hymns and in Her biblical lectionary, is telling us what the soul feels stirring within herself. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, it is our spiritual kinship with God the Father that defines the principle of our nature; and in the Gospel of the sinful woman, it is the erotic longing of our heart for her true Lover, her true Spouse, the LORD Jesus Christ, the Only Lover of Mankind, the Bridegroom who would come to her at Midnight!

For, broaden the gaze of your prayerful contemplation to take in the whole liturgical setting of the Church’s Path that has led us into the narthex of Great Lent and into the pigpen on this Sunday of the Prodigal Son, into our soul’s harlotry that has given birth in us to all kinds of brokenness, to disorientation, confusion, anxiety, guilt, shame, fear, despondency if not despair!

We are in the narthex of the Church’s Great Lent; we are on the western banks of the Red Sea. (Perhaps it’s at the tomb of Lazarus that we reach the banks of the Jordan to prepare to enter the Promised Land, the sanctuary of Great Lent, Great and Holy Week and the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest!) And if we are in the narthex of the Church’s Great Lent, then the liturgical Path of the Church has brought us into the mystery of Christ’s Body. And the LORD Jesus Christ, as we have seen in the Church’s biblical lectionary over the last few weeks, is now making His way up to Jerusalem, to His Cross and His three-day burial in His Tomb. But the Path of Great Lent, the Path that is Christ Himself, does not end there. It continues out into the Garden of His Resurrection, and from there, up to the top of the mountain and beyond in the mystery of His Ascension into Heaven. What I mean for you to see is that the LORD Jesus Christ Himself is making His way back to the Father’s House; and He is carrying us prodigal sons on His shoulders as the Shepherd carries His lost sheep; He is wearing us prodigals, body and soul, as His Garment so that we, if we are prodigals who, like this morning’s prodigal, are fleeing the corruption that is in the world through carnal lusts and sexual immorality—idolatry—and are striving to join ourselves to Him, then it is the LORD Jesus Christ Himself who will bring us back to the heavenly Father on the Path of Great Lent, the Path that is Christ Himself.

Remember, the Path back to the Father was closed when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden. It was blocked by the flaming sword, and no one could enter the Garden to partake of the Tree of Life. But for the joy that was set before Him, the LORD Jesus endured the shame of the Cross. What was that joy? It was the joy of finding Adam, His son; it was the joy of finding His spouse, the sinful woman, Eve, longing to flee her false lovers who have broken her and defiled her, so that she could be joined to the true Adam, uncreated and only-begotten Son of God, her true Lover, and to Him alone! And when the LORD ascended the Cross, He destroyed that death that has separated us from Him. And when the LORD was laid in the Tomb, He found us in the tomb of our heart, there in the pigpen of our misery, so that we could find Him, and let down our hair, and join ourselves to Him as the wife becomes one with her husband and become, as we were meant to be, one body with Him, to become His Holy Temple filled with the Glory of His Heavenly Spirit. And when the LORD was raised from the dead, the stone was rolled away, and the Path leading into the Garden of Resurrection and even beyond, all the way to the Father’s House, was opened again so that all who receive this true Lover of mankind can be carried on His shoulders back home again.

So, let us not close without pointing out how this journey of Great Lent, this Exodus through the Red Sea, through the Jordan, and into the Promised Land, how it begins and how we walk in its Light as He Who Is Himself the Light illumines the Path before us: it is through the confession of our sins, acknowledging that we have done nothing good on the earth and are no more worthy to sit and eat at the Father’s table as His sons and daughters. And yet, we read last Thursday from 1 John, that if we confess our sins, the LORD Jesus Christ, with His blood, washes us and cleanses us of our sins. He makes us whole, He clothes us again in our original beauty, and He brings us to His Table in the joy of fellowship with Him, with His Holy Mother (and ours!), and with all the saints, our brothers and sisters, and all His angels and archangels, our menservants and maidservants, in the Heavenly Home that is our true Home: the Holy Trinity. To Him who alone heals the incurable wound of our souls and saved us be all glory, honor and worship. Amen!