32 - Palm Sunday (Two Sermons in One!) April 12, 2020

Sermon is posted on YouTube : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0D1myFuWfU

Genesis 49.1-2, 8-12

Zephanian 3.14-19

Zechariah 9.9-15

Matthew 21.1-11, 15-17

Philippians 4.4-9

John 12.1-18

[I offered two sermons today on YouTube, one for the epistle, one from the morning Gospel]

Sermon 1, from the epistle for the day:

Philippians 4:4-9

YouTube Sermon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0D1myFuWfU

April 12, 2020

St Paul writes: The LORD is at hand. Be anxious for nothing. But, [instead], by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Who is this LORD that is at hand? Who is this Christ Jesus who will guard your hearts and minds if, in your mind, you are going beneath the words coming at us in the world and going into the closet of your heart and into His presence and are sharing with Him all that you’re anxious about, and presenting the desires of your soul to Him?

He is the Resurrection and the Life who became flesh. He is ‘at hand’ because He clothed Himself in the garment of our flesh and blood. He is not outside of us. He is near us, in our hearts. He is “the Mighty One who will save, who will calm you with His love, who will rejoice over you with singing”—with the beauty of music, the music of the Song of the Dance (I’m drawing this from the OT lesson for today, Zephaniah 3.17).

He is the Resurrection and the Life. This is a title that obviously refers to His Holy Passion, His death on the Cross and His Resurrection from the Dead, His rising from the Tomb in Glory. This is not a historical event that has come and gone, and is now but a memory that we call to mind. As it says in several places in the epistles of the New Testament: this is the foundation of the world. The LORD who was crucified, dead and buried, is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. The world was established on this Rock of the LORD’s Holy Pascha from the beginning.

I see the LORD’s historical appearing in the flesh as this Rock rising from the bottom of the sea of life and breaking the surface to become visible in His birth from the Virgin. If, this morning, He is recognized by His own people to be their King—precisely because He is riding on the foal of an ass, in other words, coming to His people, Israel, in humility, which is exactly as He showed Himself to Israel throughout her history in the prophets—it’s because He is their King. He is in procession to His Kingly Throne. But, His Throne is not in the sanctuary of the earthly Jerusalem. His Throne is in the mystery; it’s in the deep beyond all things. It’s in the Tomb and beyond, on the other side, in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Perhaps we could say (since the prayers of the Divine Liturgy, in which we ask the Spirit to consecrate the gifts and unite them to the LORD God as His Body and Blood, now risen from the dead, since the prayer of the anaphora, as we call this consecratory prayer, reveals to us that the LORD voluntarily gave Himself up to crucified on the Cross for our salvation), perhaps we could say that it was the LORD, not the soldiers, who fixed Him to the Cross by the nails. He permitted it, if He did not even guide it; for, it is an image, an epiphany of the LORD fixing Himself to our body and blood, imprisoned by death and corruption and all the maladies of body and soul that are the ‘blooms’ of death and corruption, of the LORD fixing our body and blood to Himself all the way to the point of death on the Cross and the placing of His Body in the Tomb, in the place of the dead. For it is in the Tomb, on the other side, even in the place of the dead, that His Throne is found. That is, the Resurrection and the Life—not as ‘things’ but as the very Person of Jesus Christ Himself—has established His Throne in the Tomb, which is no more the place of the dead, but the Gate that opens out into the Garden of Resurrection on the other side, the Garden of Resurrection that itself sits at the top of the mountain that rises up into the heavens and into the mystery of the deep that is beyond all things.

The LORD rules over all from His Throne that reaches from the bottom of hell to the height of heaven. He is the Creator of life. He is the Firstborn of the dead. He is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, the mystery of God hidden from the ages. His Throne, which becomes His Cross, is the Foundation on which the world was established so that it shall never be moved. It is the Throne on which the Rock, who is the Resurrection and the Life, sits, on which He judges the earth, on which He rules over all things. It is the Foundation of the world from its beginning to its end. And the King who sits, triumphantly, on that Throne holds the world in His hands. He embraces it in its totality in His arms outstretched on His Cross, bringing all things close to Himself. His breath, that went forth like an arrow of lightning from the Cross, is the Consuming Fire of His Love that fills the world, like the fragrance of the oil filled the house, with which Mary Magdalene anointed Jesus’ feet.

And this mystery, says St Paul, is in you. The Kingdom of Heaven, says the LORD, is in you.

Your mind is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit dwell in your mind. How? Bring the WORD of the Scriptures, which we are hearing in these sacred services of Lazarus Saturday, Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Pascha, bring this WORD into your mind and let your thoughts dwell in the images drawn in your mind by that vision. For, these are images of the Really Real. They are biblical images, icons; that means they don’t just imitate the Really Real like a painting imitates whatever is drawn. They participate in the Really Real. They reflect like mirrors the Really Real that is there. The Really Real is the LORD sitting, triumphantly, on His Throne in the Heavens, in you.

And so, as St Paul says, be anxious for nothing. In your mind, put yourself in the presence of God. Be talking with Him and not with yourself or with the fantasies that run through your mind. Whatsoever is pure, lovely, of good report, think on these things; for these things are real. They are real because they are of the Light that shines from the LORD’s Tomb, even as they placed His body in it. And then, may the peace of God be with you, the peace the world cannot take away, for this is the peace on which the world is established from its foundation. Amen.

Sermon 2, from this morning’s Gospel:

John 12.1-18

Let it not escape our attention that Great Lent ends with the resurrection of Lazarus. Great Lent began outside the Tomb of the LORD. After the Gospel readings for the two weeks before Great Lent began took us through the trial and crucifixion of the Savior, we stood with the myrrhbearers as they looked and saw how His body was placed in the Tomb. Then, we turned ‘downward’, as the Greek word, upostrefo, literally says, into the stillness of prayer (the Greek word here is hesychusan), because we were descending into the Mystical Sabbath, the True Sabbath Moses was talking about, the mystery of God resting in the Tomb of our own heart, the mystery of the Consuming Fire of God consuming the chaff of death and corruption that darkened our soul.

The Lenten journey, then, does not take place in inner darkness. When the LORD’s Body was placed in the Tomb, it says, following the Greek verb, epefosken: “It was the Day of Preparation, and the Light of the Sabbath already was beginning to dawn.” (Lk 23.54) The Sabbath is the true and mystical Sabbath of the LORD’s Rest, which is now revealed to be His death on the Cross when He becomes completely one with us. But, the Light that is beginning to dawn, even as the sun had been darkened at about the sixth hour, and the darkness of night had fallen over the land, what would it be if not the uncreated Light of the Consuming Fire that the LORD Jesus is as God?

But, what is that Consuming Fire if it is not the Love of God (1 Jn 4.8/16)? So, if the LORD, high and lifted up (Isa 6.1), emptying Himself on the Cross, is the supreme Theophany of God as Love, what would that Light already beginning to ‘rest’ on the Tomb of the LORD be if not the Love of God being poured out, its fragrance diffused throughout the world like the fragrance of that perfume, with which Mary Magdalene had anointed His feet, filled the house?

That Light, then, already spilling out of the Tomb even as they placed His Body on the bier inside of it, was the fragrance of the Love of God filling the world. It followed the “Spirit” that the LORD had ‘breathed out’ and ‘sent forth’ (following the Greek verbs in the Evangelists) on the Cross. For, the One whose Body was buried in the Tomb is Himself the Resurrection and the Life incarnate, as we heard in our Gospel yesterday morning in the raising of Lazarus. As God, He is the Consuming Fire incarnate, the “unquenchable Fire” incarnate of whom St John the Baptist spoke (Mt 3.12 & Lk 3.17), who consumes the chaff of death by His death as Man, which is the inexpressible expression, the supreme Epiphany of His unquenchable love.

So, our Lenten Journey does not proceed in darkness; it proceeds in this Light spilling out from the LORD’s Tomb. The journey of Great Lent is the tangible image of the interior Exodus of the Gospel, which “finishes” the geographical Exodus of Israel. Christ Himself is the Path of that Exodus, and so the Path of Great Lent is Light. When the LORD in His soul descends into death, when He in His body disappears into the Tomb, the Path of Israel’s geographical Exodus disappears. Or rather, it disappears from view; for, it does not end. It becomes spiritual. It becomes the inner Exodus of the New Testament, the Exodus through the wilderness of one’s soul to the Gates of the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven in one’s heart.

The darkness of the Tomb does not quench it (Jn 1.4). Quite the opposite, the uncreated light and warmth radiating from the Consuming Fire of God illumines the darkness. The Great Light of the LORD Jesus Christ shines on those sitting in the region and shadow of death. The Consuming Fire of God’s Love is now released, as it were—like the fragrance of the oil was released and filled the house when Mary opened the jar that contained it; it illumines the whole world invisibly. It becomes immediately accessible to everyone. Even though it is hidden, it is near everyone, for it is now diffused throughout the heart of man.

For, that Path, which is Christ, the Resurrection and the Life in the flesh, is itself the Song the human soul has been singing to the LORD from the beginning, with all of creation, in all the righteous, from Enoch to the righteous Joachim and Anna. It is the Song of the Dance set to words and to music, for example, in the Psalms of David and in the visionary hymns of the prophets—and, I would say, in the beautiful hymnody of the Church’s sacred worship.

And there, in the Tomb of the LORD, where the geographical Exodus of Israel ends and disappears from sight, it becomes the spiritual Exodus of the nations. Israel was led on her geographical Exodus by the pillar of fire by night and the Cloud by day. All the nations now are led by the Light of the Consuming Fire pouring out from the LORD’s Tomb on the inner Exodus of the Gospel to the Garden on the Mountain of the LORD’s death and Resurrection outside the camp, outside the city.

In His death, the LORD becomes one with all of mankind. In His Holy Pascha, all the nations are called to come on the Gospel’s inner Exodus to the LORD’s Temple on His Holy Mountain, the New Zion. The Temple of Israel no more is the Temple of stone in Jerusalem. It is the Temple of the LORD’s Body. The LORD’s Body, placed in the Tomb on Golgotha, the New Zion, is the cornerstone of the New, Heavenly Temple. By the LORD’s descent into hell, the foundation of the New Temple is laid in hell, in the place of the dead, in the region and shadow of death. By His Resurrection and Ascension, His Holy Temple reaches into the heavens, even to the Right Hand of God the Father.

On our Lenten journey these last six weeks, if we have followed the LORD Jesus up to Jerusalem, we have followed the Consuming Fire of God, and He has illumined our Path. He has revealed to us as much of our brokenness as we are able to bear or perhaps willing to admit, not for the purpose of condemning us but to heal us, to raise us up as He raised Lazarus that we may now follow Him outside the camp and even into His Tomb, that is, into the Sabbath Rest of God.

And so, here we are this morning, Palm Sunday, at the end of Great Lent and the beginning of Holy Week. According to our Gospel reading this morning, we are in the Temple of Jerusalem. Let us understand, even though we cannot come to the Church this morning, even at home, we are in the Temple of Jerusalem, for in the Gospel, the Temple of Jerusalem is the theological reality that opens onto the invisible Temple of our heart. The inner Exodus of the soul is being mapped out before us in the images of Holy Scripture and in the prayers of these Holy Week services. There is nothing that can separate us from that inner Exodus because that inner Exodus is not something over there outside of us or way back when, long, long ago that now has no more substance than a memory. If it begins in the LORD’s Tomb ‘outside the camp,’ that means it begins in our soul outside of, away from, the eyes of the city. It is the hidden but the very real movement of our soul in the Consuming Fire of the Love of God.

As the LORD comes triumphantly into the Temple of Jerusalem this morning, He comes triumphantly into your home this morning. This week, as best we can, to the degree that the Spirit of the LORD illumines the eyes of our soul and opens our mind to the understanding of His Gospel teachings, we’ll follow the movements of the Savior as they are set before us in Holy Scripture, looking to see how they are tracing the movements of the Savior in our own soul here and now, even in the confinement of our homes. It’s because the Gospel is the witness to the ‘Kingdom of Heaven that is within you,’ to the ‘Christ who is in you,’ that, even though we are confined to our homes, we can still experience the mysteries of Holy Week and the joy of Pascha, because they are the mystery of Christ ‘happening’, ‘coming to be’ not over there but in you.

The Temple of Jerusalem, understand, was God’s Home; it’s where God dwelt visibly among His people in the Glory that several times filled the temple in the history of Israel. It’s where God spoke audibly to His people, Israel, as He told Moses He would do. (Ex 25.22: ‘I will make Myself known to thee from above the Mercy Seat [in ark in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle], and I will speak to thee above the mercy seat between the two cherubs.’)

As we progress through Great and Holy Week, my hope is to set before all of us something of what might be the spiritual meaning for us here and now, the theological significance of the fact that after He enters His Home, the Temple of Jerusalem, triumphantly, this morning, the people having hailed Him as their King—for such in truth He was—the LORD does not stay there. He leaves. He goes to the Mount of Olives opposite the City, to the north and east of the City. And the last time we will see Him on this side of the grave will be on Golgotha, “outside the camp,” opposite the City just north and west, as they place His Body in the New Tomb in the Garden that was nearby.

Geography is theology in the Bible. Why wouldn’t it be? The world is God’s creation, His ‘poem’—from the Greek word, poema, which the English tends to translate as ‘something made.’ The earth proclaims His handiwork. The heavens are telling His Glory. But, we are His handiwork; and, His Glory is the Hope of Christ that is in you.

So, let’s now ‘lift our minds on high’ and prepare ourselves to go outside the camp with Christ where He suffers outside Gate for us. With the myrrhbearers still, let’s turn ‘downward’ into the stillness of prayer in the closet, the ‘tomb of our heart’, in the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest, and let us listen and absorb the Scriptures and prayers of the Church this week to discern the WORD of the LORD calling out to us from His Cross “with a great voice” as He cried out to Lazarus: “You and you and you! Come forth, follow Me on the inner Exodus of your soul, and lose your life for My sake in the tomb of your heart that you may find it in the Garden of My Resurrection on the other side, outside the camp in the deep beyond all things! Amen!

Two Sermons, posted on St Herman's YouTube