|27 - ON THE FOLLOWING DAY, March 5, 2023|
Hebrews 11.24-26, 32 – 12.2
John 1.43 – 51
Jesus, it says in our Gospel this morning, on the following day wanted to go to Galilee. According to John’s Gospel, what happened on the day previous? On that day, John the Baptist pointed Jesus out to two of his disciples and said: ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ (Jn 1.36) But, on the day before that, the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him at the Jordan to be baptized, and said: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn 1.29) ‘On the following day’ in John’s Gospel, then, is the third day after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, which is the image of His death on the Cross when the curtains of the temple were split open as were the heavens when the LORD came up from the Jordan. ‘On the following day’ in John’s Gospel, then, corresponds to the Day of Christ’s Resurrection, Sunday, when, as the angel told the myrrhbearing women, ‘Tell His disciples, and Peter, that He goes before you into Galilee!’ The day after the LORD is baptized by John and before this ‘the following day,’ therefore, corresponds to Great and Holy Saturday.
So, this ‘following day’ in our Gospel this morning sets before us three sequential days as three sequential events. The first is Jesus’ baptism, which corresponds to His death on the Cross on Great and Holy Friday. The second is the day after His Baptism when the Baptist bears witness to Him as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This second day corresponds to the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in the Tomb. And, the third day, this ‘following day’ in this morning’s Gospel, corresponds to the LORD’s Resurrection when He goes before His disciples into Galilee.
Now, this second day in St John’s Gospel, the day after His Baptism, which corresponds to Great and Holy Saturday, corresponds in Mt, Mk and Lk to the 40 days that Jesus was in the wilderness, which took place immediately following His baptism. And, in Mt, Mk and Lk, after the LORD triumphs over the devil in the wilderness, He ‘goes up’ from the wilderness into Galilee (Mt 4.12), which corresponds to the third day of His Resurrection. And, this movement of the LORD from the Jordan into the wilderness and then into Galilee in Mt, Mk and Lk corresponds to the Exodus of Israel when Israel went up from the Red Sea and journeyed through the wilderness for 40 years before ‘going up’ to enter the Promised Land. And again, according to St John, it is this second day, the day that corresponds to the 40 days that Christ was in the wilderness and to the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in the Tomb on Great and Holy Saturday, it is on this second day that the Baptist bears witness to this Jesus who triumphs over the devil in the wilderness and whose body was placed in the Tomb on the Sabbath as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’
And so, this seemingly innocent phrase in St John’s Gospel, ‘on the following day’ turns out to be a mountain of theology. Through the witness of John the Baptist, it is telling us that the inner identity of Jesus as the Lamb of God, and the meaning of His coming into the world, to take away the sin of the world, is revealed to us in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb!
Perhaps now we begin to ‘get’ why Great Lent is 40 days long: if we deny ourselves and take up our cross through the ascetical disciplines of Great Lent, we join the New Israel following the LORD in the Holy Spirit on the New Exodus foretold by the prophets, the ‘inner Exodus of the Gospel’ into the wilderness of our own soul and into the tomb of our own heart and, as we unite ourselves through prayer and Holy Eucharist to the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, we are granted to triumph over the devil, and to purify our senses that we may ‘come and see’ Christ in His Holy Resurrection on the Third Day!
Going back to the second day in John’s Gospel that corresponds to the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in His Tomb, when the two disciples of the Baptist ask the Savior where He was staying, He says to them: ‘Come and see!’ Can you hear the angel saying to the myrrh-bearing women: ‘You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is risen! He is not here! Come and see the place where they laid Him!’ (Mk 16.6) Where had the risen LORD Jesus gone? The angel told them: ‘Lo, He goes before you into Galilee! There you will see Him as He said to you!’ (Mk 16.7)
And what if this word of the LORD and His angel to the two disciples and the myrrh-bearing women is to us here today? If so, there is a timeless theological teaching here that we want to understand so that we may know how to ‘come’ to see here and now, today, with the two disciples where the LORD is staying, and to see with the myrrh-bearing women the ‘place where they laid Him.’
St John says that on this, the ‘following Day,’ when the LORD wanted to go to Galilee, He finds Philip and says to him: ‘Follow me!’ Follow Him where? Would it not be into Galilee? What does ‘into Galilee’ mean? If Galilee is where the LORD goes from the Tomb of His Resurrection, would it not mean to follow the LORD into His Resurrection, by way of the wilderness, by way of the LORD’s Tomb?
Philip now finds Nathanael and says to him: ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets spoke! Jesus from Nazareth!’ And when Nathanael replies, ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Philip answers Nathanael as the LORD had answered the two disciples of the Baptist two days earlier: ‘Come and see!’
Seeing now that the day on which the LORD finds Philip and Philip finds Nathanael corresponds to the Day of Christ’s Resurrection, to Sunday, ‘Nazareth’ comes into view as a veiled reference to the LORD’s Tomb. Can anything good come from a Tomb? Only a corpse can come from a tomb! How do you persuade someone that this Jesus who has come from the Tomb is truly risen from the dead in the flesh, that He is not a corpse—or a ghost, i.e., nothing more than a religious or mythological symbol? You can only say: ‘Come and see!’
The LORD sees Nathanael coming to Him—or even, coming into His presence—and says, ‘Behold an Israelite in whom is no guile.’ Nathanael says, ‘How do you know me?’ This exchange between Nathanael and the LORD has the shape and feel of prayer: descending or coming with the mind into our heart, our true self (Jer 17.9), into the ‘place’ where they laid Him, the ‘house’ where He is staying, there to come into the presence of Jesus and to see Him ‘face to face.’ St Paul says, ‘Now (in this world) we see in a mirror, as in an enigma, but then (in the world to come) face to face. Now (on this side of the grave), I know in part, but then (when I come into the tomb, the house of my heart and stand in the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb on the other side), then I shall know Him just as I also am known by Him. (1Co 13:12)
‘Come and see!’ Great Lent is this hidden journey inward, into our soul to the tomb of our heart; for this is the ‘place’ where they laid Him mystically. It is the place where He is staying unseen in the dread mystery of His Sabbath Rest. Here we come to see the mystery of God hidden from the ages; it is the mystery of ‘Christ in you, our hope of glory.’ Great Lent is the way of repentance in the prayer of the heart, an inner Exodus of 40 days in which we are led by the Church, the crucified and risen Body of Christ, into the wilderness of our soul that we may come to know the LORD as we are known by the LORD.
And now the LORD says to Nathanael, ‘You will see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ The LORD is referring to the dream of the patriarch, Jacob, before he was called Israel, ‘seer of God.’ Jacob had left his father’s house in search of his bride, Rachel. It says that Jacob came to a certain place (he would later realize it was the ‘Gate of Heaven), and spent the night there, using a stone for his pillow. And while he slept, ‘he dreamt that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants.”’ [Gen 28:13]
Jesus is telling Nathanael, and us, that He is the LORD who was standing above the Ladder in Jacob’s dream. Like Jacob in search of his bride, Rachel, the LORD has left His Father’s House in search of His Bride. The Holy Virgin (the Ewe or Mother of the Lamb—Rachel) is the Ladder by whom the LORD, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, descends to earth looking for the lost coin, the man He created in His own image as male and female, lost in the corruption that is in the world through lust (2 Pt 1.4), which is idolatry (Col 3.5).
The certain place where Jacob slept, using a stone for his pillow, was a prefigurement of the LORD’s Tomb where Jesus, the Heavenly Bridegroom, the Icon of the invisible God, comes to His Bride, the human soul, the icon of the Icon, where she has fallen, to share in her death that she might be raised from her grave and taken in the arms of the Bridegroom to the Land of her inheritance, the Land that is Christ God Himself.
This morning’s Gospel reveals a depth of meaning in the restoration of the icons in the 8th and 9th centuries that we commemorate today, which we might not otherwise see. Christ is the Icon of the invisible God (Col 1.15), and man is created in the image of God; he comes to be, as male and female, in communion with God in the Icon of God, which is Christ. The Icon is a nuptial mystery. It proclaims the union of the Heavenly Bridegroom, the LORD Jesus Christ, with His Bride, the human soul. Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh (1Jn 4.2), and so He can be depicted in word and in images. Deeper than that, the Incarnation is the Marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church. God becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones so that we can become flesh of His flesh and bone of His bones, members of His Body, the Church. The Triumph of Orthodoxy , then, is the triumph of the Gospel proclamation that Christ in the flesh has destroyed our death by His death. In the triumph of the Icon, Christ, on the Cross, the darkness cannot extinguish, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against the love of God for man created in His image as male and female.
Great Lent is taking up the prayer of the heart: descending with our mind into the bridal chamber of our heart to come face to face with Our LORD, Our Heavenly Bridegroom, who loved us and gave Himself for us, that we may see and come to know Him as we are known by Him. In the joy of Christ’s Pascha, we are called to follow Him into Galilee—into our daily life, triumphing over the devil in the wilderness of our soul as we descend with Christ into the ‘tomb’ of our heart as into the bridal chamber, and from there, follow Him as a Bridegroom in procession, ascending with Him in the power of His Resurrection to our own grave as to the summit of the Holy Mountain of His Glorious Ascension and into the Land of our inheritance, the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen!