|33 - THE LORD'S HIGH AND HOLY MOUNTAIN Apr 17 2020|
Posted on YouTube: https://youtu.be/VgI_-0-kbug
Fr Paul’s PASCHAL MESSAGE
Great and Holy Friday, April 17, 2020
So, on Palm Sunday, why does Jesus enter the Temple only to leave it?
We need to review who Jesus is and understand what the Temple is to appreciate the force of the question.
The Temple of Jerusalem and a Bit of Christology
Without taking you through all the terrain I’ve had to traverse to come to this place of understanding, the Temple of Jerusalem, in a word, is, let’s say, a mirror of Adam—Adam as male and female. That is, the Temple exterior, including all its outer courts, represents the theological meaning of Adam. The inner sanctuary of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, is the spiritual mystery of Eve. Or, again, the Temple and its outer courts is a three-dimensional mirror of the human body; the inner sanctuary of the Temple reflects the soul; the Holy of Holies, the human heart.
Jesus is God the WORD, the only-begotten Son of God incarnate. In His human nature, He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. In the flesh, He was crowned King of Israel, indeed of all creation, by the Holy Spirit who descended and rested on Him in the form of a dove at His Baptism. In His divine nature, He is the uncreated Light who shines forth brilliantly from the uncreated Light who is the Father (Heb 1.3). He is Light from Light on whom and in whom the Consuming Fire of the Holy Spirit rests. We see that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are inseparable. Conceived in the flesh of the Holy Spirit, and bearing the Holy Spirit in His Body, Jesus ‘exists’ in His human nature exactly as He ‘exists’ in His divine nature. In both His divinity and humanity, He is the Glory of God in whom the Consuming Fire of God’s Holy Spirit dwells and on whom the Holy Spirit rests.
All this is to say that when Jesus enters the Temple of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the Glory of God enters the Temple. The Glory of God comes to Adam and Eve.
Contemplating the Gospel image of Christ entering the Temple, I see the Holy Spirit entering Adam when the Father breathed His Spirit, the Breath of Life, into his face, making him a ‘living soul,’ filling him with His Glory. So, Christ, the Glory of God, entering the Temple on Palm Sunday is not the first time the Glory of God came to Adam in the Temple. The very same mystery happened before in Israel’s history, several times, when the Glory of God filled the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon such that no one could enter them.
But, this time, Scripture records the Glory of God leaving the Temple. Why? Is He leaving Adam and Eve?
Looking for Adam and Eve
My mind goes back to the beginning when the LORD God came looking for Adam and Eve in the Garden after they hid themselves, because they had done what He told them not to do. The LORD cried out: ‘Adam, where are you?’ (Gn 3.9) I see the LORD entering the Temple of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday showing the same shape as the LORD coming to look for Adam and Eve in the Garden.
When the LORD leaves the Temple, we know that He is making His way to the Cross on Golgotha—and to His Tomb, His Sabbath Rest, that was in the Garden nearby. (Jn 19.41) One notes how St John is very careful to connect the LORD coming into the Temple on Palm Sunday with the raising of Lazarus. The LORD comes to Jerusalem as He came to Bethany, to find Adam and Eve in the Temple as He found Lazarus in the tomb. Seen, or let’s say, listening to the Gospel from within this theological or spiritual chamber, we hear in the raising of Lazarus and the LORD entering the Temple of Jerusalem the same Song, the same “Song of the Dance.” You who know music theory will catch this metaphor: we might say that the raising of Lazarus is the ‘A’ theme of that Song; the LORD entering Jerusalem is the ‘B’ theme. As He did when He came to Bethany to find Lazarus in the tomb, on Palm Sunday, the Glory of the LORD comes to Jerusalem ‘in His Spirit’ to find Adam and Eve in the Temple, or in their ‘heart,’ which has become a tomb because in their heart, even though, according to the wisdom of the world, they live, even so, in their heart they are dead in their sins and trespasses with respect to the Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ. So, when He leaves the Temple, He isn’t leaving Adam and Eve; He is leading them, together with Lazarus and all those of Israel and all the nations (a very great throng indeed!) who would follow Him into the Garden of His Resurrection and into the Kingdom of Heaven that is within them where they are deep, beyond all things. (Lk 17.21, Jer 17.9)
The Exodus Begins
Genesis 2 shows man’s creation beginning with an Exodus within the Sabbath Rest of God. (Gn 2.1-7) For, it appears, from the way the text reads, that it is on the Seventh Day, in His Sabbath Rest, that God fashions Adam from the clay outside the Garden of Eden. He breathes into him the Breath of life, the Holy Spirit. The Glory of God enters the temple of man’s body and he is filled with the Glory of the LORD; he becomes a ‘living soul.’ Then the LORD God places Adam in the Garden as though leading him on an Exodus into Eden.
Can you see in this the outline of the LORD coming to Adam and Eve in the Temple on Palm Sunday, then leading them to the Temple of His Body, resting on the Sabbath in the Tomb, in the Garden? Here, also, by the way, is the spiritual reality that shapes the historical events of the LORD leading Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land of Canaan.
Can you see in this how the earthly Temple of Jerusalem, in its sanctuary, was meant to open onto Eden, just as the temple of man’s body was meant to open, in the sanctuary of the heart, onto the Temple of the LORD’s Body? The one temple is meant to dwell in the other, as the LORD says to His disciples in the Upper Room: “Abide in Me, and I in you; for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (Jn 15.4-5) “I in them, and Thou [O Father] in Me, that they may become perfectly one [with Us].” (Jn 17.23).
Ezekiel’s Vision: The High and Holy Mountain of God
It’s the vision of Ezekiel, actually, that I’m looking at in my mind, studying it as an icon drawn by the prophet, and seeing in it what might be the meaning of Jesus’ entrance and then His departure from the Temple of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon when the Spirit of God brought him to Jerusalem. He saw the Glory of God to the north of the City, Jerusalem (8.3-4). It so happens that Golgotha is north of the City. A bit later, he saw the Cloud of the Glory of the LORD entering the House of the LORD, the Temple, in Jerusalem. (10.4-5) Then, he saw the Glory of the LORD departing from the Temple (10.18), and going up from the midst of the City (Jerusalem) to stand on the Mountain which was outside of, opposite or facing the City. (11.23)
To this mountain, the ‘high and holy mountain of God,’ the LORD tells Ezekiel, He will bring His people on a new Exodus. (Eze 20.33-42) Ezekiel sees a plain or a desert. It would seem the desert is at the foot of this mountain on which the LORD will gather His people, Israel, out from the nations as He did in the days of Moses. There, He will judge His people, and as they pass under His judging scepter (one thinks immediately of the faithful passing under the Shroud as they come back into the Church on the evening of Great and Holy Friday), He will separate the ungodly and rebels, these are the idolaters (one thinks of the goats and the sheep in Matthew 25) from His faithful ones (the sheep). This plain or desert looks very much like the valley of Ezekiel’s ‘vision of dry bones’ recorded in his 37th chptr, and that we read on the evening of Great and Holy Friday, after we have passed under the Shroud back into the nave to stand mystically now inside the LORD’s Tomb, in front of the bier. The desert or valley of dry bones, therefore, looks like an image of the grave wherein one comes out of the ‘city’ of one’s life on earth and into the desert of one’s death, in the valley at the foot of the LORD’s High and Holy Mountain—an image of the deep beyond all things? There, in the plain, in the ‘grave,’ both in chptr 20 and chptr 37, having judged His people, the LORD leads them into the Land of Israel. This is clearly an outline of the Resurrection in which those who love the LORD ascend the high and holy Mountain of God up to the Kingdom of Heaven; and there, His faithful ones will serve Him forever. (Eze 20.40)
You can see how Ezekiel’s vision follows exactly the events of Holy Week and the LORD’s Pascha. My eyes clearly see in this prophecy of Ezekiel the outlines—like the outlines an iconographer sketches out on the gesso board before he begins to fill it in with colors—of the LORD Jesus, the Glory of the LORD, entering and then departing from the Temple of Jerusalem. The Savior makes His way to Golgotha, which was outside of, opposite or facing the City to the north, as I said. On that mountain, Christ, the Glory of the LORD, stood on the Cross, facing the City.
Let me take you back to Genesis. At the end of the third chapter of Genesis, following the Greek Septuagint, we read: “The LORD God cast Adam out of the Garden and made him to dwell opposite or facing the Garden.” The word for ‘facing’ or ‘opposite’ used here is the same word in Ezekiel 11.23 to describe the ‘mountain’ that was facing the City, apenanti. Our passage from Genesis continues: “He stationed the cherubs and the fiery sword that turns about to guard the Tree of Life.” (Gen 3.25)
Eden was cut off from Adam and Eve by a flaming sword. It so happens that the Old City of Jerusalem was ringed by a thick stone wall, so that Golgotha and its Garden were cut off from the Temple of Jerusalem by that wall.
The services of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Great and Holy Friday show us two temples. The one temple is the body of Adam, the other Temple is the Body of the LORD (Jn 2.19-21). The one temple, the earthly temple, is ensconced behind the stone walls of the city; the other Temple, the Heavenly Temple made flesh, is outside those walls, in the Tomb in the Garden on Golgotha, the high and holy Mountain of the LORD—because the LORD is standing on that Mountain, high and lifted up on the Cross (drawing from Isa 6.1). The two temples are cut off from each other; but they were created to abide one in the other as one, as the Bridegroom and His Bride.
In the darkened sky of Great and Holy Friday, the LORD’s Passion illumines brilliantly the fatal spiritual fissure that runs down into the foundation of the earthly Temple, and therefore, also, of Adam. Exactly as the stone wall surrounding the Old City of Jerusalem cuts the Temple off from Golgotha, so a wall of enmity, a wall of greed and covetousness, the essence of idolatry, cuts it off from its theological, spiritual meaning—indeed, from its LORD and King and High Priest high and lifted up on Golgotha. It cuts Adam off from God. It cuts the outer courts of the temple of Adam off from the inner sanctuary of Eve. It cuts the body off from the soul, and the soul from the spirit or the heart. The body it afflicts with an array of crippling maladies. The soul, it shatters into a myriad of disorders like shards of glass; the human heart, it breaks into pieces like a stone broken into pebbles before it disintegrates into a fine dust.
But, even as the sun is darkened, even as the LORD’s Body is laid in the Tomb on Great and Holy Friday (Lk 23.54), the vision Ezekiel saw of the New Temple on the LORD’s high and holy Mountain (20.40 & chptrs 40-44) descends from the Mountain and begins to come to be in the flesh! On the Cross, the Light of Christ, the Glory of God, illumines all. At least one hymn of the Church sees the sun darkened because of the brilliance of the Glory of the LORD, Jesus Christ, shining forth from the Cross in the theandric (divine-human) Light of His compassion the darkness cannot quench.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself,” the LORD had cried out. (Jn 12.32) Standing on the Cross on the mountain facing the City, the Glory of the LORD sends forth, He breathes out, His Spirit (as it is given in the Gospel witness of His death on the Cross). The earth quakes, the rocks are split, the tombs are opened, the curtain of the Temple is split in two (as were the heavens at His baptism), and the wall of enmity is destroyed. Heaven and earth are joined as one; the visible Temple of Jerusalem opens now, in the invisible temple of the heart, onto the Heavenly Temple of the LORD’s Body as He is placed in the New Tomb, exactly as Adam was placed by God in the Garden.
There, at the top of the cosmic mountain of Golgotha, death meets the Resurrection and the Life. Like a mighty wind, the Spirit of God rushes through the plain of Sheol—the dark region of the dead—that lies beneath the whole of creation, for the whole world of space-time, the worlds of both the living and the dead are now embraced in the outstretched arms of the Glory of God high and lifted up on the Tree at the top of the mountain where creation ends and opens out onto the deep beyond all things.
The Consuming Fire, the Glory of God, the Spirit of Christ, consumes the chaff of death and corruption and purifies heaven and earth. He reaches out to the ends of the universe and gathers the dry bones of Adam. He joins to them the muscles and sinews from which they had been ‘cut off.’ He joins the body to the Breath of Life, from which it had been cut off. And, from the dust of the ground, He fashions man anew. He breathes into him, and man becomes, again, a ‘living temple,’ a living soul, filled with the Glory of the LORD who is now his Hope of Glory because Christ God is in him. (Col 1.27)
It is the Body of the New Adam, Christ, that now lives in those who cleave to the crucified and risen LORD, and no more the body of the old Adam, the body of death. And, the Law that now animates their bodies is the crucified and risen LORD, the Righteousness of God, the LORD Jesus Christ risen from the dead, and no more the law of sin and death.
PASCHA, The New and Everlasting Covenant
This union of the two temples of God and man in the Body and Blood of the LORD Jesus Christ is the ‘everlasting covenant’ that Ezekiel and the other prophets saw in the Spirit of Christ (e.g., Eze 11.19). This is the New Covenant that consummates all the old covenants of Israel’s ‘younger days’ (Eze 16.60) because this New Covenant is sealed not by the blood of bulls and goats but by the Blood of God Himself. (Heb 10.4) It is the Church’s Holy Eucharist, and it realizes what was at the heart of all the other covenants: God becomes man so that man can become God and the heart of stone, the heart of death, is replaced by a heart of flesh, a heart that lives in the Breath of Life, the Spirit of God, the Glory of God—a heart that lives no longer in herself but in Christ who is in her. (Gal 2.16)
The flaming sword of the seraphim gives way. Following the New Adam who comes forth with His Bride, the New Eve, the Church, from the Tomb like a Bridegroom in procession, Adam and Eve and all their children make their way from the temple in the “old city” to the Heavenly Temple in the Garden set high on the LORD’s Holy Mountain in the Heavenly City, the Heavenly Jerusalem.
This image, drawn in our minds by the pen of Ezekiel and filled in with the colors of the Gospel, is it not the reality of the Church’s Holy Pascha? Is not this the spiritual mystery that the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Church pours into our hearts? Let’s say that this is the cosmic ‘Song of the Dance’ that melts the heart of stone in the Consuming Fire of the Love of God, and raises up the heart of flesh ‘dancing’ in the Love of God!
May the risen LORD Jesus Christ overshadow us with His Spirit and lead us on the inner Exodus of His Gospel to His High and Holy Mountain and into His Holy Tomb, His True Sabbath Rest, the Font of our Resurrection and our Life. May every day, every hour, every moment of our worldly life become our Exodus into the Garden of the LORD of Glory’s Holy Resurrection on His High and Holy Mountain. Amen!
A blessed Pascha to you all!
Christ is risen!
A Paschal Meditation