36 - Seventh Sunday of Pascha, June 1, 2014

Acts 20:16-18, 28-36

John 17:1-13

We are today in the Afterfeast of the LORD’s Ascension; we commemorate the holy fathers of the First Ecumenical Council, who established the “Nicene Creed”; our Gospel this morning records the high priestly prayer of the LORD. In the Gospel He offers this prayer before His Passion; but, in the liturgical life of the Church, it is shown forth as the prayer of the ascended LORD. Finally, we are but one Sunday from Holy Pentecost. The Church this morning is the Garden of Eden in springtime, ready in the joy of the LORD’s Holy Pascha to burst into flower in an infinite variety of verdant colors and fragrances.  

The Church is the spiritual mystery of the world. The themes of this morning sing the Church’s glorious Gospel proclamation of Christ and His Holy Mother. As best as I’m able, I’d like this morning to share with you a measure or two of this musical score in the hope you may hear something of its beauty and desire to seek the LORD Jesus Christ with even greater resolve.

The earliest philosophers observed that everything in the world is in movement. The world is constantly changing, growing, developing. The mind of man is in movement; we call it thinking. The soul of man is in movement; we call it feeling and desiring. The body is in movement; we call it growth when we’re talking about a living body; we call it disintegration when we’re talking about a corpse.

But, what moves this movement of the world? Man, it seems, has always known that it is erotic desire (which is not the same as carnal desire). It is given, e.g., in the ancient mythopoeic image of the cosmic parents, Apsu and Tiamat, of the great Babylonian myth, the Enuma Elish; in the image of the cosmic seed of eros from which all comes to be according to the Rig Veda, the, sacred scriptures of the Hindus in the Far East.

Myth gives birth to philosophy, and the poetic image of myth becomes the prosaic concept of the philosophers. “Zeus, when he was about to create,” goes a saying attributed to one of the Seven Pre-Socratic sages, Pherecydes of Syros, “transformed himself into eros and so united the opposites into one cosmic harmony.”

What moves the erotic desire that moves the world is desire for absolute Beauty, the One or God. The One itself does not move. In the perfection of its absolute Beauty, it has no need or desire to move toward anything. Why would it desire to move toward the world that is inferior to It? And so, the One does not move; but, the world moves in erotic desire for union with the One.

And what, precisely, is the character of union with the One, the goal of erotic desire in the vision of the philosophers? Generally speaking, if Empedocles is representative, who said that what makes being to be what it is is love,it is to be dissolved into the One. The lovers, i.e., the many, dissolve into the Beloved, the One.

Love, then, disappears: it dissolves. For philosophy – and its child, science – love is ephemeral, a phenomenal by-product of an impersonal, mechanistic essence or “energy” that finally dissolves as lover and beloved dissolve into their underlying “esse”, the One. But, if love is not eternal, it is not real. It seems to me that in this, the mind of philosophy has betrayed the soul by denying what the soul’s erotic desire knows intuitively.

The Gospel proclaims quite the opposite. It keeps faith with the soul, revealing the purpose and the Way her erotic desire moves to its goal. Love, says St Paul, abides forever because, as St John says, God is love. He is love because He is both Many and One, both Lover and Beloved. The Three Persons are never dissolved into each other or into the divine essence that they are. They are eternally divided indivisibly and indivisibly divided, as the holy fathers say in fidelity to the Church’s doctrine embodied in the Nicene Creed.

The Feast of Ascension shows that the erotic love that moves the world is the love of God for man and of man for God. That means that the erotic desire in each one of us, impelling us to move out of ourselves to become one with a beloved is the eternal principle of our nature.  It originates in God, and yearns to return to God. It is of divine origin and moves toward a divine destiny. It is therefore eternal and finds its eternal rest only in Christ, the Image of the invisible God in whom we came to be and for whom we were created.

In His glorious Ascension, Christ ascends to where He was before in the Glory He had with the Father before the world was. But, He does not ascend as He was before. He ascends in the human body that He received from His Holy Mother. That is to say, before He ascended, He descended; He moved out of Himself toward us. He emptied Himself and became flesh like we are, even to the point of moving in His overflowing love for us to death on the Cross that He might save us. He took thought of us in His love for us and did not cease to move, to do all things until He had raised us – made us to move, to ascend – to heaven with Him.

Do you see now that the LORD’s Incarnation is the embodied movement of His love for us? Moreover, the flesh that He became was not dissolved into His divinity. It was suffused with His divinity like red-hot iron suffused with fire or a sponge made soaking wet with water. It was deified even as His divinity was humanified. The Incarnation of the LORD reveals that what moves the world is God’s love for man and man’s love for God in the theandric Person of the God-Man, Our LORD Jesus Christ.

In the Body, the LORD sits at the Right Hand of the Father. He is not dissolved into the Father, even as He is suffused entirely with the divine nature of the Father in the love of God the Father for the Son and of God the Son for the Father. And the Holy Spirit that He sends upon those who receive Him is likewise not dissolved into the Father even as He proceeds from the Father; nor does He dissolve into the Son even as He is suffused with the same divine nature of the Father that suffuses the Son.

So, when the Holy Spirit descends on those who believe, He begins immediately to suffuse them with Himself. But, He does not dissolve them into Himself or into the divine nature. He burns as divine fire but He does not consume us, because what He burns away is not us but our impurities. As Living Water, He makes us “soaking wet” through and through with the Life of the Father so that Christ becomes the Life that moves us, so that we live and move and have our being in Christ, the Resurrection and the Life. The God who is love, whose love “abides forever”, that never dissolves even as it unites, begins to move in us.

In His Incarnation, the LORD suffused human nature with His own divinity. When we receive the LORD Jesus Christ, we receive the very humanity that He deified. And in that deified humanity, so far are we from dissolving into Christ that we are taken up in the LORD’s Ascension. As we are in the Church, we are forever ascending from glory to glory in the grace of Our LORD Jesus Christ, in the love of God the Father, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. How so?

Christ, the Word of God, is the creative, moving force of God that brought the world into being and sustains it by the Word of His command. The Word by which God brought the world into being reveals and expresses the love of God, for God is love. The commandments of Christ, then, reveal and express the love of God. To observe the commandments of Christ, then, is to move, or rather, to ascend in the love of God as the love of God moves, or rather, descends on us to suffuse us with the power of His Resurrection and His Life, whose inner essence is the movement of His love that unites us in Christ to the Father in His love that abides forever.

In the joy of this hymn, the faithful work to put to death the desire that is earthly and carnal in us, which weds us to the dust in the tomb, and turn our erotic desire to Christ who weds us to His Holy Spirit in the living bridal chamber of our secret heart. Amen!