28 - In the Light of the Darkness, Mar 28, 2021

Hebrews 1.10-2.3

Mark 2.1-12

Let’s remember where we are. In the Church, we have withdrawn from the world to step onto the Lenten Path, the inner Exodus of the Gospel, that is leading us downward into the secret chamber of our heart and into the stillness of the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest in His Tomb. The LORD’s Tomb, it says, was a New Tomb. It was a New Wineskin! (Mk 2.22 par) And there is a delicious wine in that wineskin, thirsting to be thirsted for! (St Maximos Confessor) It is the precious Blood of the LORD Jesus Christ, precious because it is the Life of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life (cf. Lev 17.11), and whoever drinks it from the New Wineskin of His Body that has destroyed death by His death, eats and drinks the ‘medicine of immortality’!

If we are to drink this New Wine without ourselves bursting, well, the tomb of our bodies must also become a new tomb, a new wineskin. And so, the Church leads us onto the Lenten Path of the Gospel’s inner Exodus to accomplish in us this exchange of our old wineskins for the New Wineskin of Christ in the Bridal Chamber of His New Tomb deep within our own heart. Our Mother, the Church, gives us the ascetic disciplines of her own virginal purity to bring us down into our heart as into the tomb of Lazarus. We follow Christ, we unite ourselves to Christ as we lay aside the old wineskin of our soul and body. This we accomplish by denying ourselves and our friendship with the world, and by losing our life for His sake; that is, by putting to death all that is earthly in us, our greed, our anger, our lusts, our conceit. And on Lazarus Saturday we look forward in confident hope that we will hear Him call out to us with a great voice; “Come forth!” and lead us into the Bridal Chamber of His New Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection, where He clothes us with the New Wineskin of His own Body and gives us to drink the New Wine of His own precious and life-giving Blood.

It says in our Gospel this morning that the LORD came again into Capernaum, and it was heard that He was ‘In House’. Read this mindful of where we are, liturgically, in the Church. Christ Jesus is in the Tomb! He is in our house! But, in the Church, we are in the house of our death under cover of the darkness of the Father’s unfathomable compassion that covers all His works (Ps 144.9 LXX), that covered the waters of creation, that covered the whole earth when Jesus was crucified (Lk 23.44). In that Darkness, we are in the Light that shone forth from the LORD’s Tomb; the Light of His Sabbath Rest that epephosken” (Lk 23.54), that was dawning upon…the whole earth. (It is in the hymns of the Matins for the Second Friday of Great Lent that we are given “the whole inhabited earth” as the direct object of the verb, epephosken. Lenten Triodion Supplement, 109&110).

That Sabbath Light dawning from the LORD’s New Tomb upon the whole earth was Christ Himself. That Light was Christ, the True Light “going out into the world,” the Light the darkness cannot extinguish, the Light of Life (Jn 1.4-9) that cannot be destroyed by the darkness of death. And so, behold with the myrrhbearers, study closely how His Body was placed in the Tomb! If that Light is Christ Himself, if He is that Sabbath Light now dawning upon the whole inhabited earth, then with the myrrhbearers we are seeing Christ coming forth from the Tomb already on the Day of Preparation! He is not yet coming forth in His Body that was crucified, but He is going out from the Tomb in the uncreated Light of His Divinity. He is going forth not just into Galilee but into the whole inhabited earth. That is, within the mystery of His New Tomb, He is going forth into the unseen world of the human soul! And, if this is the Light of Christ who destroys death by His death and who gives Life to those in the Tombs, it means that even in the Tomb, even in hell, He is raising the human soul up into the Light of His own uncreated, eternal Life! This Light flashing forth from the brilliant darkness of the Father’s compassion (Ps 17.9-15 LXX) is the wonderful mystery of Great Lent we are now in!

He came again into Capernaum, it says. He had made Capernaum His earthly home after He triumphed over the devil in the wilderness. As it says, He went up to Galilee, coming down from Nazareth into Capernaum by the sea (Capernaum is actually north of Nazareth; and, it so happens, there are traditions in the Near East that Eden was to the north!), so that the word of Isaiah would be fulfilled: “The people sitting in darkness have seen a great light; and those sitting in the region and shadow of death, on them Light has risen!” (Mt 4.12-16) Good LORD! Can you not feel the theology? It’s like a warm sun breaking through the clouds and epephosken—beginning to shine, to dawn upon us in the unseen deeps of our soul!

He went down from Nazareth to Capernaum! Christ the True Light went down from the Cross into our home, the grave! And there, in the House of His New Tomb, He bathed even the nethermost regions with the Light that is He Himself; He filled all things, the Paschal hymn says, not some things but all things with joy! He didn’t shine from the New Tomb of His Sabbath Rest just on that Friday evening or just there on Golgotha. He shone over the whole of space-time, He shone over the whole inhabited earth. He covered all His works, He covered the whole of creation, the whole of space-time from beginning to end with the uncreated Light of His own divine Life!

Does not this supreme Theophany of the LORD’s Passion warm the body and stir the soul with a joy that longs to rise up and do exactly as they did in this morning’s Gospel! They heard that He was ‘in house’—in the tomb of their heart (St Macarius) and they flocked to Him! Can you see, in this Light that is dawning upon us here in the Church, in the Lenten joy of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest, that they are we coming together this morning in the Church—in the House that is the Body of Christ—so that we can hear Him speak to us the WORD, which alone is the WORD of Life (Jn 6.68), alone the New Wine that is the medicine of immortality! But, remember, liturgically, if we are in the house the LORD is in this morning, then, by way of anticipation of Great and Holy Saturday, we are somehow already in His New Tomb! We gather this morning with the myrrhbearers, and with the ‘people, around the Savior in His Tomb thirsting for the New Wine that He is pouring into our souls already, and we haven’t even come to Pascha yet! And yes, the old wineskins of our body and soul burst from longing to be clothed with the New Wineskin of the Savior’s Robe of Light!

Perhaps now we can see why these four men, out of love for their friend the paralytic, were so resolved to get inside that house, inside that New Tomb, that New Wineskin where the LORD was, teaching His WORD, pouring out His New Wine, His precious Blood from the Font of His lips to all who would receive it unto their healing and eternal life, that they tore open the roof!

It says that Jesus knew in His Spirit what was in the hearts of the scribes sitting in that house. How were they in the house? Well, how could they not be in the house if the house is the grave? Behold the compassion of God, that He would pour out the Life of His WORD even upon those who would crucify Him so that if they would but repent of their wickedness, they could yet be saved!

But, if the LORD knows what is in the hearts of those who hate Him, He surely knows what is in the hearts of those who love Him; that is, of those who believe in Him, whose hearts yearn to reach out just to touch the hem of His Garment, the New Wineskin of His Body brimming with the New Wine of His Blood, overflowing with the brilliance of Christ, the Light that illumines all, shining in all directions.

Understand that a paralytic, because he can’t move, is as good as a corpse. The paralytic this morning takes us back to the Second Biblical Canticle, Dt 32, recited only at Tuesday Matins of Great Lent, but here it is given a new formulation! “The LORD,” it says in Deuteronomy, “saw that His people were paralyzed (because of their idolatry).” (Dt 32.36) Now, this is the Song of Moses, his last word and testament, sung to the people just before his death, when they were about to enter the Promised Land under Joshua, Jesus! Can you not feel the theology of the biblical Theophany shining even brighter?

But, here is the new formulation. Our Gospel this morning says: “When He saw their faith! He says to the paralytic: ‘Your sins are forgiven!’”

Now, this word, ‘to forgive’, means to ‘send forth’ or to ‘let go,’ and it is the word used by St Mark when he recounts the LORD crying out on the Cross. I will translate it rather literally: “Jesus sent forth a great voice and He breathed out!” (Mk 15.37)

Dear faithful! The Greek word for voice, phone, is formed off of the root, phos, Light! Lift the veil of the ‘letter’, then, and behold the mystery of the Cross and burial of Christ beneath it. From His Cross Jesus spoke (as He did at creation) and He sent forth His Spirit, as St Matthew says. He spoke with a great voice, the same voice in which He would call out to Lazareth to “Come forth!” From His Cross, He sent forth the great Light of forgiveness, and that Light, His voice, was carried over the whole earth in His Spirit. Here we have St Mark’s formulation of St John: In Him was Light (His voice), and His Light was the Life of men, carried in His Spirit over the whole earth!

This is the same Light that darkened the sun when the Savior was on the Cross, as we are taught in a verse from the Matins of this past Friday (LTS 110). In this Light, we are given to see that the real Light that gives life to the world is not the impersonal light of the sun but the personal Light of Christ that can never be put out! The Light went out from His New Tomb into the whole inhabited earth, the liturgical text says (LTS 109). It went forth from out of the darkness of the Father’s unfathomable compassion. (Do you now understand why Pascha is done in the darkness of early morning?) That Light was the compassion of His forgiveness, healing us through faith, through His faithfulness, through His steadfast love, of the paralysis of our idolatry, destroying our death by His death!

With whatever measure of faith we have in our heart, then, let us step onto the Lenten Path of prayer and fasting and let us begin working with determination and resolve to open the roof of our heart that we may be let down into the House where the LORD is, that He may see our faith, our longing to be clothed in the New Wineskin of His precious Body, to drink His precious New Wine, so that when we come to our Lenten destination on Lazarus Saturday we may hear Him call out to us with a great voice as He called out to Lazarus: “Come forth! Your sins are forgiven! Rise up and take up your bed! Join the bridal procession led by my Mother, the Theotokos, and follow me into the Bridal Chamber of my Sabbath Rest, and be clothed with the Robe of Light, the Wedding Garment of the New Wineskin of my Body and let your soul become a well-spring of praise singing out in the uncreated Light shining in the darkness of Pascha Night: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by His death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!” Glory to Jesus Christ! Amen!