|34 - Afterfeast of Ascension. Sunday Before Pentecost. June 9, 2019|
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Acts 20:16 – 18, 28 – 36
Last Tuesday for the Leave-taking of Pascha, we read from St John’s Gospel. Watching the LORD’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Pharisees say amongst themselves: “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after Him!” (Jn 12:19)
The Gospel of the LORD’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem opens onto deeper meaning in its liturgical setting of preparing for the LORD’s Ascension. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem comes into view as the image of His Ascension into the Heavenly Jerusalem. And, the words of the Pharisees now take on deeper meaning: Look, the LORD has established the world in the Glory of His Ascension so that it shall never be moved. For He has carried our nature on His shoulders up into Heaven, and there’s nothing you can do about it! The mystery of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, and His Ascension into Heaven now constitute the fundamental principle of the world, and there’s nothing you can do about it!
That means that it doesn’t matter a whit whether you believe it or not, whether you like it or not. For, this is not an abstract idea or theory. It is the fundamental fact of the world’s being. The world is rooted not in the darkness of unbelief but in the divine mystery of the LORD’s death and resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven. Whether you receive it or not; whether you co-operate with it or not, it remains the principle of creation, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
In fact, the world was never rooted in any other principle. For, the Cross of the LORD Jesus Christ our God, the “Lamb that was slain” is somehow “from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8); it is the “mystery of God hidden from the ages, that has now been revealed” in the terrifying work of the LORD Jesus Christ on the Cross; and, that mystery is “Christ in you, the Hope of Glory.” (Col 1:27) The world, that is, and you are now rooted in hope, a hope that is real and concrete, not theoretical, because it has been fully accomplished by God Himself in the mystery of His glorious Ascension.
“Blessed are those who are blameless in the Way,” says the Psalmist (Ps 118:1 LXX). “I am the Way,” says the LORD Jesus Christ. The Way, Jesus Christ, is the “better and changeless Path that ascends to God”. He is found, following the teaching of the Church, in the depths of the Jordan, in the waters of creation, in the waters of the baptismal font, in the mystery of the human heart (Jer 17:9 LXX).
“Blessed are those who walk in the Law of the LORD” (Ps 118:2 LXX). Jesus Christ is the Law of the LORD. If we walk in the Law of the LORD, Jesus Christ, we ascend to God in the Way who is Christ. And, we ascend to Christ by uniting ourselves to Christ through obedience to the Law which is Christ.
The Ascension of Our LORD Jesus Christ completes His self-emptying descent. It is the glorious issue of the consummation of His union with His Bride, the Church, the human soul. The holy fathers call it the ‘spiritual marriage’. To acquire the Holy Spirit and to be born from above as a child of God from the loving and sacred union of Christ and His Bride, the Church, is the purpose and meaning of human life. The LORD’s Ascension is accomplished in union with His Bride. The holy fathers call it an “erotic union,” or a union of “loving desire” (agapetikon erota). The Psalmist says that the LORD fills with good (kalos) things our [erotic, even sexual] desire [epithumia, Ps 102:25 LXX]. And this is the principle of creation, the mystery in which creation moves and has its being. It has been accomplished. It has been consummated. The whole world has gone after Him; for He has taken it on His shoulders up to Heaven. The world has been cleansed and washed, deified and glorified, and there is nothing you can do about it! (You cannot unbelieve it out of existence. If you try, you believe yourself into blindness!)
“Blessed are those who search out His testimonies” (Ps 118:2 LXX). What and where are His testimonies that one could search them out?
“The whole earth is full of His Glory!” (Isa 6:3); “His Glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His Glory!” (Hab 3:3) So the angels and the prophets cry out. Would not this “Glory” be the summation of all His testimonies; but, is it not the wonder of His Ascension into Heaven? His Ascension is the Crown of His conception and birth of the Holy Spirit and Virgin Mary, and which is the Glory of His Holy Pascha?
“His Way was through the sea,” says the Psalmist. “His Path was through the great waters” (Ps 77:19). The LORD’s Christ was in the waters of the Jordan, the creation, the waters of death. The “testimonies” of God, then, are written into the very nature of creation. But,” the Psalmist says, “His footprints—let’s understand these to be His testimonies—are unseen.” (Ps 77:19) How, then, does one search out the LORD’s testimonies if they are unseen?
Again, at the Leave-taking of Pascha, the Church tells us: “Thine incorporeal Angels knew not how Thou wast incarnate; the soldiers who guarded Thee did not perceive when Thou didst arise.” (Pent. p. 186) The unseen testimonies of God bear witness to the great and unseen mystery of His Holy Pascha, unseen because it was accomplished “in the midst of the earth,” (Ps 74:12) in the deep, or in the “tomb” of the human heart (St Macarius, 11.11). These testimonies “are sealed fast against the inquisitive.” Let’s say they are sealed fast against those whose soul cleaves, or is wedded to the dust (Ps 118:25), to the wisdom of their own opinions; who, in the arrogance of their own reasoning, set themselves up as the judge and arbiter of these unseen testimonies, these works of the uncreated God, even to the point of subjecting the testimonies of the uncreated God to the judgment of their puny, created intellects. My thoughts, says the LORD, are not your thoughts. (Isa 55:8). The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.
How, then, does one search out the LORD’s unseen testimonies? The Psalmist tells us: “Blessed are those who seek Him out with their whole heart.” When the risen LORD appears for the first time to the eleven, you remember that He rebuked them because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. Here is now the unseen testimony of the Church: it is the testimony of the myrrh-bearing women, the proclamation of those who had seen the risen LORD with their own eyes. The LORD rebuked the eleven because the reason they did not believe this testimony of those who had seen Him was the hardness of their heart. (Mark 16:14)
“The wonders of God,” and so the wonders of creation, the wonders of your own being, of your own nature and destiny—I am drawing again from the same passage in the Pentecostarion (p. 186)—“are made manifest (the unseen becomes seen) to those who worship the mystery with faith,” to those who love the LORD God with all their heart, who search out His testimonies, who seek Him out with their whole heart, who cleave or unite themselves to Him, who wed themselves to the testimony of all the LORD’s testimonies (Ps 118:31), the wonder of His Ascension.
Dear faithful, the Psalmist tells us—and perhaps we may take this as one of the unseen testimonies bearing witness to the LORD’s Glorious Ascension—the Psalmist sings to His Beloved LORD God: “I pursued the Way of your commandments (in love, I ran after Your Son and my God, the LORD Jesus Christ incarnate) when my heart was enlarged.” (Ps 118:32)
The unseen testimonies of the LORD Jesus Christ are not outside of us precisely because they are unseen. For they are the mystery of God hidden before the ages now made manifest to His saints, and that mystery is Christ in you, the Hope of Glory! They are the testimonies of divine love which, when we receive them, enlarge our hearts; and we come to know these testimonies of God in our heart when we live according to the principle of creation: to love God with our whole heart and our neighbor as ourselves. Amen!