|33 - ST THOMAS SUNDAY. INTO THE LORD'S EMPTY TOMB, May 9, 2021|
If we preach Jesus Christ risen from the dead, then we preach Christ crucified. This is foolishness to the Greeks, says St Paul (1 Cor 1.23); it’s foolishness because it is neither philosophical nor scientific. It’s not philosophical because it has to do with victory over death, which makes no sense to philosophy which conceives of reality in terms of being, not of living and dying. And, it’s not scientific because it’s not according to the laws of nature. If Jesus Christ is the root of the Christian Faith, then the whole Christian Faith is foolishness for the entire Christian Faith is not according to the laws of nature. The Body of Jesus was conceived and born of a Virgin; and the Body of Jesus that was crucified, dead and buried is risen from the dead.
For a different reason, the Christian Faith is a stumbling block to the Jews, says St Paul (1 Cor 1.23). If Jesus is the Son of God, it means that the Son of God has become a curse for us (Gal 3.13), because according to the Law of Moses, everyone who hangs on a tree is cursed of God. (Dt 21.23)
To believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God born of a Virgin, crucified, dead and buried and risen from the dead one must enter a completely different ‘mind,’ a completely different ‘vision’ that sees even the laws of nature to be governed by the will of God, and the Law of Moses, which is the Law of Creation, even the codifying of Abrahamic Faith, as but the shadow of a much deeper reality. All the resurrection stories are like so many gates that open onto this completely different vision of the world.
One of my favorite resurrection stories is that of the disciple, John, coming into the empty Tomb. He entered, it says, and when he saw the turban that was on His head, and the linen cloth neatly folded and lying off to the side, ‘he believed.’ (Jn 20.8) Take note of where the disciple sees and believes: inside the empty Tomb. Dear faithful, neither philosophy nor science can enter the Tomb, nor have they any interest for what’s inside the tomb, for in the tomb, what is, is no more and isn’t worth knowing because, well, there’s nothing to know! It doesn’t exist! Yet, it is precisely in the Tomb of the LORD that John saw and believed!
The Gospel indicates the illumination that is beginning to dawn in the mind of St John when he sees and believes when it says: “Not yet did they know the Scriptures, that it was necessary for the Christ to rise from the dead.” (Jn 20.9)
This reference to the Scriptures is in all the resurrection stories. Note that we are not taken to philosophy or science to prove the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. We are taken out of the world beyond all philosophical or scientific reasoning as into the LORD’s empty Tomb, and there, we find ourselves in the vision of Moses, the Psalms, and the prophets.
Note that when the risen LORD comes to Cleopas and Luke on the Road to Emmaus, He rebukes them for the mindlessness and slowness of their heart, as though there is no good excuse for not apprehending immediately, not in their mind but in their heart, all that the prophets have spoken. And then He begins from Moses and proceeds through all the prophets to explain the meaning of all the things they wrote about Him (Lk 24.25-27). When He comes into their home and breaks bread—the Holy Eucharist that proclaims His death and resurrection, as though they’re in the LORD’s empty Tomb—that’s when their eyes were opened and Luke and Cleopas, it says, knew Him, and immediately, it says, He vanished. It’s very much like St John in the empty Tomb where John believed in the risen LORD he did not see. Cleopas and Luke saw the LORD who was vanished from their sight, and that’s when they knew Him, that’s when they believed!
Again in St Luke, when the risen LORD comes into the midst of His disciples, again in the Eucharistic setting of a meal, just before He ascends into heaven, He opens their minds so that now they can understand what He had been telling them all along: that it was necessary that all the things written about Him in the Law of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms be fulfilled, that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead on the Third Day (Lk 24.36-47).
When St Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, preaches to the thousands of Jews gathered in Jerusalem (this sermon of St Peter was our assigned reading last Tues-Thurs), how does he demonstrate to them that the Jesus they crucified is the Christ, the Son of God, risen from the dead? Not by logical reasoning but by interpreting to them the words of King David in the Psalms (Acs 2.14-36).
Let’s go back to Luke and Cleopas. After the LORD disappears from their sight in the Eucharistic breaking of the bread, they say to one another: ‘Did not our hearts burn within us as He was expounding the Scriptures to us!” (Lk 24.32)
For, listen to this: the Eucharistic meal of the Church takes us to Mt Sinai! There, Moses and Aaron and the seventy elders of Israel saw the ‘Place where the God of Israel stood, and under His feet something like sapphire slabs and the appearance of the firmament of heaven in its purity, and they ate and drank in the presence of the LORD’ (Ex 24.9-11). How can we read this and not see the mystery of God the Son standing on the Cross, and His Mother (the slabs of sapphire, her womb more spacious than the firmament of the heavens) standing at the foot of His Cross!
Understand that the top of a mountain is like the tomb, and both are images of the heart. In neither of them can you go any further without leaving the earth and ascending into the heavens or entering the other side to come into the “place where the LORD stands!” This explains why the hearts of Luke and Cleopas burned within them when the LORD was taking them through the Scriptures, as though they were Moses and Aaron whom the LORD was leading up the mountain, and when they ate and drank in His presence as though at the top of the mountain. They were mystically, truly, in the mystery of Mt Sinai and the empty Tomb, the ‘Place where the LORD stands’. They were in the invisible place of their heart.
Now, on Mt Sinai, God commands Moses to make the tabernacle, in which the LORD will appear to Israel (think Jn 1.14), with all its appointments and all its rites of washings and sacrifices, as a copy of the heavenly pattern God was showing Moses on the Mountain (Ex 24.9&40). And, this heavenly pattern included as its essential element the mystery of creation, which Moses wrote down in Genesis.
This means that the primary principle of creation, of nature, the movements of sun, moon and stars, is not physics but the worship of God in Spirit and in Truth. This means that even the laws of nature are a copy of the heavenly pattern God revealed to Moses on the mountain. The laws of nature are rooted in the will of God. This is why, when God wills it, nature is overruled. So, when His Son is conceived by the Holy Spirit of a Virgin, and when is raised from the dead, this in no way is against nature. It is rather the fulfillment, the perfection, the deification of nature. Creation is revealed in the Law of Moses to be in its primary essence the cosmic Temple in which God wishes to dwell and to appear among us! This is the vision of the world that one sees in the belief that Jesus is risen from the dead!
So, understand that what Cleopas and Luke were seeing, what St John saw, what all those who saw the risen LORD were seeing, is what Moses saw on Sinai, what Isaiah saw in the Temple (Isa 6.1), what Ezekiel (chptrs 44-47) and all the prophets saw in their visions: not the copy of heavenly things but the heavenly reality itself—the Icon of God, the LORD Jesus Christ—of which the whole worship of Israel in the OT, the whole of creation and all the laws of nature, is but the copy, the shadow (Heb 8.5&10.1). They were seeing the LORD Himself in the very place where the LORD stood: at the top of the mountain, in the heart of the tomb or in the tomb of the heart where earth opens onto heaven.
But, there is a deeper beauty we must not miss. It’s what’s indicated in St Thomas placing his hands into the wounds of the risen LORD’s Body. I believe this takes us to Mary Magdalene in the Garden, which in turn takes us to the nuptial imagery of the Song of Songs. Remember that the ‘woman’, Mary Magdalene, is the Gospel image of Eve, the ‘woman’ built by God from Adam’s rib. She is therefore a theological image of the human soul and the Church that once was barren but now, in the beauty of the Virgin and her Son, is made truly to be the ‘Mother of the Living’. Remember that Mary did not recognize Jesus until He calls her by name. And then she wants to do as St Thomas wanted to do: she wants to reach out and touch Him, to hold Him, as a lover longs to hold her beloved Bridegroom close to her, never to let Him go (Sg 3.1-4).
When the LORD invites Thomas to place his hands into the wounds of His Body, I think St Thomas, together with Mary Magdalene, shows us what it is to worship the LORD Jesus, and therefore, what it is to ‘come to life’, to be raised from the dead and to begin truly to exist! They both fall down in worship. St Thomas can say only, ‘My LORD and my God!’ Note that it does not say that Thomas actually placed his hands into Jesus’ wounds, so that we have, biblically, an exact parallel between St Thomas and Mary Magdalene. (The reason, by the way, the LORD prevents Mary from holding Him is suggested in the Song of Songs; it’s because the time is past for Him to go down into the tomb again, the house of the bride’s mother. Rather, the time now is for her to ‘Come forth!’ (Jn 11.43) and to follow Him, her ‘kinsman’, the divine Image in whom she was made, up to the bosom of His Father. (cf. Sg 3.1-4 and Jn 20.17))
In these resurrection stories, we are seeing the reality one enters when one ‘believes in’ the LORD Jesus risen from the dead. It is not the visible, empirical world of physics or biology. It is the unseen world of the Bridal Chamber, the invisible ‘inner universe’ of the heart, as Fr Roman Braga calls it, a ‘world’ of nuptial intimacy and tenderness, where we come upon our true name, our true identity known only by God and in God, and in which the Heavenly Bridegroom, out of His unfathomable love for us, calling us by our true name that He knew even before we were born (Ps 139.16), has become one with us in our death, in our brokenness, in all the traumas and wounds of our soul and body—for the LORD’s wounds are the concrete epiphany of His love for us—so that by loving Him, by holding Him dear in our hearts, by placing the hands of our erotic love into the wounds of His Body, we are healed, raised from death to life, born again from above as a new creation, as children of God born not of the flesh but of the Spirit. It is in this unseen mystery of love regenerating us in the invisible realm of the heart, not in the logical demonstration of philosophy or the empirical proofs of science, that the soul comes to know the LORD Jesus and suddenly to understand the Scriptures and together with that, the hidden mystery of creation—and her own true name that the LORD knew even before we were seen under the fig tree (Jn 1.48).
How, then, does one place the hands of one’s erotic longing into the wounds of the risen LORD Jesus, without seeing Him? Would it not be by coming to know our true name, in which we ourselves are unseen? And how do we come to know our true name? It would be by coming out of ourselves in the self-denial of erotic love to follow the LORD by following His commandments, by studying the writings of Moses, the prophets and the Psalms, by ‘purifying our senses,’ by denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Jesus, to lose our life in Him, as He commands. For the LORD is present in His commandments. His Cross is active in His commandments; for His commandments are centered on erotic love, which becomes active and true to itself when one denies oneself and loses one’s life for the sake of the beloved. This movement of erotic love is the very essence of our coming to be in God; and it is the very essence of God coming to be in us in the mystery of His Incarnation, the Cross, the Burial and Resurrection of Christ. All of these are the epiphany, the incarnation of God’s own erotic love for us, in which He emptied Himself and took upon Himself the form, the schema of our flesh and blood (Phil 2.5-11; Heb 2.14-15)! Therefore, by striving to do as He commands, we enter our own heart as St John entered the empty Tomb; and we place the love of our soul into the Sabbath Rest of the LORD Jesus as St Thomas placed his hands into the wounds of the LORD’s Body. When we do this, a healing begins to happen in our soul. And, in the erotic love of our soul, we find ourselves beginning to live as though we are dead to this world, for we are now living in the LORD’s love for us. In repentance, we enter the Faith of His empty Tomb. And in Faith, in true vision, we now begin to see that the garments of this world that He once clothed Himself in, He has laid aside, for they have grown old, they burst when He filled them with the New Wine of His Blood and Water; and He has clothed Himself with the garments of His New Creation (Heb 1.11-12), with new wineskins, and uniting ourselves to Christ, the old wineskins of our body are beginning to burst as we eat and drink the New Wine of His Body and Blood; and in the sweetness of that bursting, we begin to live in the hope, full of joy, that when He comes again, we shall then become fully like Him, then we shall truly know our name—for we shall see Him as He is, and we will enter not just into His empty Tomb but into the joy of His Holy Resurrection, the Bridal Chamber of His Sabbath Rest. Amen!