35 - Holy Pentecost, May 31, 2015

Acts 2:1-11

John 7:37-52 & 8:12

 In Christ’s Holy Ascension, Christ as the New Adam completed the work of the Father – the creation of the world which He had begun to do (Gen 2:4 LXX) – in a way so far beyond expectation that even the angels were amazed. On the evening of Great and Holy Friday, we heard from Ezekiel: “I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, and I will bring you home into the land of Israel.” (37:12) In the Ascension of Christ, we see the prophecy of Ezekiel fulfilled far beyond all expectation.

For, the Ascension of Christ manifests the nature and destiny of man to be nothing less than to be taken up into the bosom of the Father and deified. The LORD in the bosom of the Father is revealed as the “Land of Israel” Ezekiel was speaking of. St Macarius the Egyptian confirms this: “The LORD is our home,” he says, “our tabernacle and our city…He Himself is the portion of our inheritance.” (Homily 34:2&3)

And now, the LORD on this Feast of Holy Pentecost sends down His Holy Spirit upon His disciples from where He is seated at the Father’s right hand. This is the power from on high the LORD said they would be clothed with when He was separated from them and taken up into heaven. We who have received Him through faith, who were dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1), are “His own people” (Jn 1:12) whom He has raised up from the grave in Holy Baptism that we may follow Him up into the “Land of Israel”, the Kingdom of Heaven, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Jn 1:12); i.e., that we may be taken up in the same cloud in which the LORD was taken up. This power of the Holy Spirit, I believe, is the eternal life the LORD said He would give to those who believe in Him. (Jn 6:27)

According to the Word of the LORD, it is given to us as our food and drink in the Holy Eucharist of the Church: “Unless you eat My flesh,” He says, “and drink My blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53) Partaking of Christ in Holy Eucharist, then, we partake of His Holy Ascension and we enter “Eden that has been opened to us;” for, Christ is the Tree of Life that grows in Eden. And so, we receive Life Eternal, for “we have received the “Heavenly Spirit” in the Living Bread that came down from Heaven; i.e. the “power from on high”  that strengthens us as we follow Christ through the wilderness of this earthly life to the “Land of Israel,” to the Heavens that He has opened. The darkness of this life is illumined for us by the Light of Christ. And, the Path we walk is Christ Himself who was taken up into the opened heavens in glory.

The LORD said to Nathaniel, “You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (Jn 1:51) “By descending, we ascend to God!” the Church sings at Holy Theophany. I think these are the same riddle given us in the LORD’s proverb this morning. “Let him who thirsts come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture says, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37) “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness but he will have the Light of Life.” (Jn 8:12) He will be overshadowed, i.e., by the radiant cloud of the Holy Spirit.

I will incline my ear to a proverb,” says the Psalmist. “I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre.” (Ps 49:4) “Propound a riddle,” the LORD says to Ezekiel, “and speak an allegory to the house of Israel.” (Eze 17:2) So, the LORD has done in this morning’s Gospel. Now, let us call on the grace of the Holy Spirit – the “music of the lyre” – to help us “solve the riddle.”

Christmas is when we hear: “Bethlehem has opened Eden. We have found joy in secret. Let us take possession of the Paradise in the cave.” (FM p. 278) Significant it is, I think, that Eden is opened and found in the cave. At Holy Theophany, the heavens are opened when the LORD rises from the Jordan; but this opening of the heavens refers us to the LORD’s death on the Cross; for at that moment, the curtains of the temple were “opened” or “rent in two”. The opening of the heavens at the Jordan, then, points to the Cross of Christ, and so to His Tomb that was opened on the Third Day when He rose from the dead. The LORD’s tomb, moreover, was in a garden, (Jn 19:41) and what should we say that garden was theologically in the LORD’s resurrection if not the Garden of Eden?

Now, beloved faithful: St Anthony the Great identifies Christ as the “Tree of Life”. Thus, when the shepherds drew near the cave “in the fear of God”, they were approaching Paradise. And, when the myrrh-bearing women drew near the cave of the LORD’s Tomb, they were drawing near the Garden of Eden. When we “draw near in the fear of God” to the Chalice, then, we draw near the cave of Bethlehem and the Tomb of the LORD and to the Paradise that is found in them.

See how the path of the LORD leads to the Cave of Bethlehem and to the Tomb, i.e., to Eden, in His descent from the Father to us. See how it leads from the cave and the tomb, i.e., from Eden, to Heaven in the LORD’s ascent from us to the Father. The cave and the tomb are the heart where Christ’s descent in humility and His ascent in glory meet. But, St Macarius tells us: “Your own heart is a tomb!”  (Homily 11.11) On the plane of the Spirit, the descending and ascending movement of Christ, then, meets in Eden, i.e., in the heart.

While He was blessing them, it says in Luke, He was separated from them and taken up into heaven. (Lk 24:51) But, the LORD Himself says: “The Kingdom of Heaven is within you!” (Lk 17:21) St Paul says to the Colossians that the mystery of God hidden from before the ages is “Christ in you, the hope of glory (i.e., deification in the Holy Spirit)!” (Col 1:27) Jeremiah the prophet says, “The heart of man is deep, and it is the man!” (Jer 17:9 LXX) I.e., it is you, your true self. “Christ in you,” then, and, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you,” means that Christ and His Heavenly Kingdom are in your heart. That’s why  Paradise is found there.

From this, I wonder if Christ is “separated” from us when He ascends, and “taken from our sight” (as it says in Acts) not because He leaves us (for He says, I am with you even unto the end of the age!) but because He descends into the spiritual depths of our heart! He becomes in His Ascension, then, as if it were possible, only more one with us, because He plants the unfathomable deeps of our heart absolutely firmly in the unfathomable abyss of His own personal (hypostatic) Being. He encloses it within His erotic love for mankind (cf. St Denys in 5th Theological Chapter 88ff and Prov 4:6 LXX.) as within a fortress, and He exalts it, He makes it to go up (see Prov 4:4 & 8 LXX). He becomes, i.e., the Font of the font of the heart (Prov 4:23 LXX) and from the infinite depths of the love of God that abides forever, which have been opened by His Holy Cross, His Holy Spirit flows out from the Temple of Heaven (cf. Eze 47:1ff) and into the garden of our heartas a mighty river that grows deeper and deeper until it fills to overflowing the unfathomable deeps of our heart with the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit that cleanses and makes fresh and alive everything it touches. (Eze 47:8 & 9) Perhaps now we begin to see why our heart is so deep: it opens onto the Holy Trinity and out into the Mighty River of the Holy Spirit that rushes over us and cleanses us, that makes the desert of our soul to blossom like a rose, that satisfies our thirst so that we never thirst – even as we thirst for more! – in the love of God that abides forever and in the joy of God that the world cannot take away. 

Beloved faithful, this is our natural destiny that the LORD is calling us to. We attain to this destiny by descending into our heart. There, we find the Joy of Paradise in secret – it is Christ, the River of Joy who loved us and gave Himself for us so that we could become gods, children of the Most High! In the joy of this glorious proclamation of the Church’s heavenly call, let us love one another and together deny ourselves and take up our cross as the active expression of our love for Christ who first loved us, and of our gratitude to the Savior who clothes us with power from on high when we repent and seek Him with our whole heart. Amen!