Hebrews 11.24 – 26, 32 – 12.2

John 1.43 – 51

You’re lost in the woods on a dark, moonless night. You become aware of a soft light shining around you. The light is strangely warm. It carries a fragrance. You turn, looking for the light’s source. It seems to be coming from the eastern horizon far away. And yet, it is softly shining all around you. It is far away, but it is very near you.

You begin picking your way through the dark woods toward that light. If you turn away from the light one way or the other, you find yourself in darkness again, so you learn to be attentive to stay in that light.

At length, you break out from the trees. You’ve come into a clearing at the top of a mountain, and there you come upon the Source of that Light. It shines more brilliantly than ten thousand suns, and it illumines all!

Dear faithful, on the Thursday before Great Lent, we read from St Luke: ‘And taking the Body of Jesus down from the Tree, Joseph of Arimathea placed it in a Tomb cut out from the rock, where no one had yet been laid. It was the Day of Preparation, and the Sabbath dawned.’ (epephosken, Lk 23.53-54)

Ponder this deeply. Dare to stoop down with angels, with Peter and John, and peer into the mystery (Jn 20.5, 1 Pt 1.12)! The Light was dawning from within the Tomb of God’s Sabbath Rest! The Light of Christ shines from His Cross, high and lifted up, His arms stretched out like rays of the sun to embrace the whole of His creation north, south, east, and west, past, present, and future, to draw all men to Himself, into His Light. From atop the mountain, He shines so brilliantly that the sun is darkened in mid-afternoon; for, the sun hastens to disrobe in his longing to be baptized in the New Day of the Savior’s New Creation!

The darkened world takes St Luke to mean that Jesus on the Cross breathed His last. The verb is exepneusen, He breathed out. (Lk 23.46) Faith hears St Luke proclaiming the fulfillment of prophecy: ‘You send forth Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth!’ (Psa 104:30). From His death on the Cross, the Savior breathes out His Spirit and sends forth the Light of Life into all the world (Jn 1.3). A sword pierces His side; blood and water pour forth as incarnate rays of Light and Life and soak the earth, and the LORD works His salvation in the midst of the earth (Ps 74.12). His Body is placed in the Tomb and soft, fragrant Light streams forth from His Corpse, illumining the darkness. It rests on the Tomb of His Sabbath Rest as the Sun of Righteousness resting on the eastern horizon, heralding the dawn of a New Creation!

Here is the Source of that Light shining all around us in the dark woods: it is the Body of the LORD God, Jesus Christ, resting in the New Tomb of His Sabbath Rest. And it is before the Body of Christ in the Mystery of His Tomb that we are standing, mystically, these 40 days of Great Lent.

This is the Light whose Glory ‘the heavens declare, and the foundations of the earth proclaim! Its Song goes forth into all the earth; its Melody to the far ends of the universe.’ The myrrhbearers saw how His Body was placed in the Tomb. The Psalmist saw how the LORD ‘placed His ‘Body’ in the sun;’ i.e., in the Bridal Chamber of His creation. And as a Bridegroom, the Sun of Righteousness comes forth from His Bridal Chamber! Exulting like a Giant, He runs His course from horizon to horizon. And there is not one who is hidden from the warmth of His Light!’ (Ps 18/19.1-6)

There is not one whose name He does not know. Before you were under the fig tree, He saw you. He knows your sitting down and your standing up. He knows your thoughts from afar off! Your life that runs like a skein of yarn through the course of your days on the earth, He has traced it out (Ps 138/139).

For, He fashioned you in His own Image. He placed the Hand of His Holy Spirit upon you when your bones and your substance were being formed in secret in your mother’s womb. You were never hidden from Him. In your body and soul, in your outer man and your inner man, you are shaped in His Likeness as a Temple of Light, made to be filled with the Light of His Glory. (Ps 138/139)

You were created in God to know God, to be like God. You were made in Light to be Light, to be a partaker of God’s own uncreated Light, a communicant of Life Eternal! You were made an icon of God; you were made a mirror to be filled with the Light of the Face of God!

The LORD says to Nathaniel: ‘You will see the heavens open, and the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

We stand these six weeks, these 40 days of Great Lent, before the Tomb of our God in the Garden at the top of the mountain! We stand at the precipice of time and space. We are looking, mystically, out into the abyss of eternity. For ‘He Who Is’ the Source of all, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End, has been placed in the Tomb dead, a corpse, at the top of the mountain—that mystical point where night passes over into day, where time passes over into eternity, where earth opens onto heaven, where darkness receives and is bathed in Light!

With the myrrhbearers descend into your soul. Stoop down in prayer and peer into the dark stillness of your heart as into the tomb of your death. Stand with Moses, with Gideon and Barak, Samson and Jephthah, David and Samuel, with the prophets and the holy women and all the faithful righteous who sought the Face of the God of Jacob, and call on the LORD in sincerity of heart! For He loves those who love Him. Those who seek Him diligently will find Him! They will see the curtain of the Temple torn in two from top to bottom—from the height of heaven to the depths of hell. They will see the earth quake to open the tombs of the dead onto heaven. They will see the stone rolled away from the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, and they will behold the Dawn of the New Day in the Face of the True Light, fragrant and warm, coming forth from His Tomb as a Bridegroom from His Bridal Chamber to illumine all, to shine on those sitting in the darkness and shadow of death. He comes with healing in His wings, for He comes to raise the dead and to give life to the fallen, to shepherd them and to lead them to living fountains of water, to wipe away every tear from their eyes in the Land of the Living in the deep, beyond all things.

And yet, the Savior says to Nathaniel: ‘Greater things even than these you will see! You will see the Angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ The image is of a ladder. It is the Ladder Jacob saw in his dream reaching to heaven, and angels of God ascending and descending upon it, and the LORD standing above it. The LORD spoke to Him from above the Ladder and renewed His promise to give to Abraham and His seed the Land of Promise. (Gn 28.12ff.)

Stoop down, peer with the angels into the mystery! It’s in His Tomb—at the top of the mountain, in the Garden [of Eden], in the deep, beyond all things—that Jacob saw the LORD standing above the Ladder in his dream. The Ladder Jacob saw, then, is the Cross, the Marriage Bed of the Heavenly Bridegroom by which He has become one with us! And the Land of Promise is the Land of the Living in the Heavens, that one enters through the brilliantly luminous Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. This is the House of God, the Gate of Heaven that Jacob saw! (Gn 28.17)

But not yet, I believe, do we see the mystery that is ‘greater even than these things.’ The mystery greater than these things is seen in the fact that Jacob saw the Ladder of God as he was on his journey in search of Rachel, his beloved bride!

The Light that shines all around us, warm, soft, and fragrant, is God searching for us in His love for mankind. The Light of His Love takes form in His Church: in Her prayers, Her theology and Her doctrines, Her ascetical disciplines, in Her saints, and above all in Her Savior’s Cross and in Her suffering for the world. These are all visible, tangible, audible forms of God searching for us in the darkness, to shepherd us and lead us back to His living Fountains in the Land of the Living.

The greatest mystery of our nature and destiny is that we are icons of the Icon of God, created to become children of God, sons of the Most High. To see this greatest mystery is what Great Lent is for. Having led us to stand before the LORD’s Tomb, the Church now sends us ‘downward and inward’ with the myrrhbearers, to follow the LORD Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom, into the Bridal Chamber of His Tomb, to see with Nathaniel this greatest of all mysteries.

For, we are icons of the Icon. The fiber of our soul is the heart sighing for God, longing to know Him as we are known by Him, to love Him because He first loved us, and to join the choirs of heaven and earth singing His Glory on Pascha Night: Behold, the Bridegroom comes at Midnight! Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by His death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life! Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ! Most Holy Theotokos, save us!