34 - High Priestly Prayer, June 12, 2016 (with audio)

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Acts 20:16-18, 28-36

John 17:1-13

Let’s go back to Pascha Night. I’m beginning to believe that here is where we may begin to discern the theology of the LORD’s Ascension. I’m thinking we should attend not only to what we read on Pascha night, but to when we read it. “In the beginning,” we read, “was the Word….All things were made by Him….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1-14). We read this Gospel only on Pascha Night. I think maybe we should not overlook this because it may tell us what the beginning might be in its spiritualdepths. And this, I think, may open to us the spiritual reality veiled in the LORD’s Glorious Ascension.

We read this Gospel in the ekstasis (Mk 16:8), if you will, of the LORD’s Resurrection. We read it, therefore, in the LORD’s tomb that has now been opened, for the stone was rolled away; and so, we read it in the mystery that the LORD’s tomb now opens onto. This is the mystery of the ekstasis, which I think is somehow related to the beginning,a mystery of the Spirit that is beyond our life in this world of life and death. Following the LORD to His Holy Pascha, we have been led with the Myrrhbearers into the mystery of the ekstasis or the beginning. We stand with them in the beginning, in the tomb; i.e., outside that point where our life and our deathin this world begins and in the mystery of the LORD’s death, or that point of ekstasis in which the LORD’s Resurrection and Ascension begins.

Here, in the mystery of the LORD’s Fearsome Resurrection, standing in the realm of ekstasis where we are beyond our life and death in this world, we have passed over into “the beginning”. “He is not here” in the tomb, the angel says to the myrrhbearing women. He is “in the beginning” with the Father, in that “place” of ekstasis in which He created the world and everything in it. The uncreated life of God is in Him, the life that has no beginning; and this life is the uncreated light that has no beginning, which illumines men so that, in this light in the place of ekstasis, they may come to “know the only True God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent” (Jn 17:3); and, in this knowledge, receive the words He has given to them through His holy apostles (17:8), and so attain to the uncreated eternal life of God Himself and so become one with Him even as He is one with the Father in the Holy Spirit (17:11. Cf. Jn 14:20).

To be raised to the Life of God, which is Christ Himself, by receiving and believing in the words that the Word of God, Our LORD Jesus Christ, has given to us and so to become one with Him so as to become children of God, deified, this, I’m thinking, is the theology of the LORD’s Ascension.

The root or beginning of this mystery is that the LORD became flesh and dwelt among us. This is the work He was given by the Father to do. Is the Church telling us through St John’s Gospel read on Pascha Night that He did this work in the beginning, understood not just as a point in space-time in the past but as a mystery of the Spirit that is eternally present to us as the point at which we begin to be – and where, because of our idolatry and disobedience, we end. Following such holy fathers as St Macarius the Egyptian and St Isaac of Nineveh, that point of our beginning and end is found in the “tomb” of our heart; which, following Jeremiah the prophet, I see as the “place” of ekstasis – the heart that is “deep beyond all things” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX) – where we begin to exist as that irreducible someone that was and is and always will be who we truly are beyond all things – beyond the world and beyond our biographies.

He became flesh and dwelt among us. Without changing, He became what we are. Without ceasing to be God, He became man. He became one with us in the beginning, in the place of ekstasis, in the place where we begin and end, in the womb of the Virgin and in the tomb of our heart.

Receiving this Word – both as proclaimed and as the incarnate God – is the beginning for catching the wonder of the Gospel! It proclaims that by His birth from the Most Holy Virgin, God is with us! By His voluntary death and burial, God is intimately one with us absolutely and perfectly! He is not outside of us sometime in the past. He is not somewhere up there but here. He is in you! By the mystery of His Virgin Birth, His death and burial – i.e., His incarnation – He no longer presents Himself to us in words of command but as the divine, living and life-creating, healing and sanctifying and deifying principle of our life that illumines us in His uncreated Light that has become one with us in the beginning, in the ekstatic mystery of our heart where we begin and end.

“He came to His own,” we heard on Pascha Night, “and to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, born not of the blood, the desire of the flesh (biological lust)or the will of the man, but begotten of God” (Jn 1:12-13). “I am no longer in the world,” we hear this morning; “yet, they are in the world; and, I am coming to Thee. O Holy Father! Keep them in Thy Name (the Glory or Spirit of Thy Life and Light) which Thou has given to Me.” (Jn 17:11)

I am caught by the descending and ascending movement of Our LORD Jesus Christ, how He descends from the Father to us in the beginning, in the root of our being, the tomb of our heart, and how He ascends back to the Father … in the beginning; which I now take to mean that He ascends back to the Father not just as the Son of God, which He never ceased to be, but as the Son of Man, which He became and now never ceases anymore to be. It means that when He ascends, He doesn’t leave us; for, He ascends in the beginning, in the ekstasis of our heart where we begin and end deep beyond all things and where He became one with us when He “pitched His tent among us” and shared in our flesh and blood even to the point of death on the Cross (Jn 1:14; Heb 2:14; Phil 2:8).

I am caught by this Gospel proclamation because it is, so St Paul teaches us, the mystery of God that is in you! (Col 1:27) Beloved faithful! That means that there percolates in us, as it were, a mustard seed that acts like a small grain of leaven that leavens or rather enlivens the whole lump of bread, this Word of God who was in the beginning descending and ascending in the deeps of our heart where we are deep beyond all things. Ezekiel describes it as a mighty stream of living water cascading from the Temple of the LORD on the Mountain to wash over us if we would but draw near, and then catching us up if we would but immerse ourselves in it, and make us completely one with the God if we would drink it. For the Father to “keep us in the Name that He has given to His Beloved Son so that we could become one even as the Father and Son are one in the Glory, the Spirit, that the LORD had with the Father from before the world was” (Jn 17:11 & 4) therefore means to make us one with this descending and ascendingmovement of the LORD’s Holy Pascha and Glorious Ascension. This sacred movement of the Divine Word then becomes the inner principle of our life working in us in the beginning of our heart to make us one with the LORD Jesus Christ in His own Glory that He with immeasurable grace and compassion gives to those who receive His words and believe in Him, who in their mind, their will, their moods, their emotions, their bodies, in all their worldly relations and actions live in and for the mystery of God who is in them so that they are shaped and refashioned in the beginning – in the deeps of their heart where they begin and now open onto the Love of God that abides forever – in the life-giving joy of the LORD Jesus Christ and begin to radiate from within, from in the beginning, the beauty, the love, the joy, the goodness of the LORD Jesus Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, He who is Himself all the riches and wisdom of God,  for us.

Beloved faithful: in the joy of the Feast, hear the call of the Spirit and His Bride: “Come, you who are thirsty!” Drink the words of the LORD Jesus Christ in the beginning, in the deeps of your heart, and watch in wonder and thanksgiving as He transfigures our living and dying in this world into a never ending ascent from glory to glory in the love and joy of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen!