|36. The LORD's Pascha Beneath the Veil, May 7, 2023
On the evening of Great and Holy Friday, when we passed under the shroud and came back into the Church, we came invisibly into the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. On the afternoon of Great and Holy Saturday, when we were visibly inside the Church, we were invisibly inside the Tomb with the Women disciples. With them we heard the Angel say: ‘He is not here! He is risen as He said! Lo, He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him’ (Mt 28.6-7). And on Pascha Night, we beheld the visible image of Christ rising from the dead. That was an icon, a mirror, reflecting the invisible reality of Christ rising from the dead, the reality that is the foundation of the world, the timeless and eternal reality that holds within His outstretched arms the whole of time from the first to the last Day of the world, and the whole cosmos from the uppermost height to the lowermost depth.
It is in that invisible, eternal reality of Christ risen from the dead trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life, that we sing: ‘Having beheld the Resurrection of Christ!’ And it is in that mystery of Christ risen from the dead that we greet one another: ‘Christ is risen! Indeed, He is risen!’
In the Church, our reading of the bible is transfigured. For in the Church, our reading of the bible is from inside the Tomb of the LORD’s Resurrection. The letter of Holy Scripture we now discern, in the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection, as a veil that hides even as it reveals the Spirit of Christ’s Resurrection. This is the spiritual substance that the words of Holy Scripture carry; and the Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ, the Son of God incarnate, risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
One cannot lift the veil of Holy Scripture with the light of the world’s intelligence. (Cf. Isa 5.21: Woe to those whose wisdom comes from themselves!) As the Psalmist says: ‘When I took up the labor of understanding, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I understood the true end of things.’ That is, not until I came into the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest with the women disciples, with Peter and John (Jn 20.1-9), did I begin to understand the Scriptures, that the true end of all things is the triumph of the Good and the Light in the Resurrection of Christ. For it was not human wisdom, but the Wisdom of God in His Holy Resurrection, following St Luke, who opens the mind of His disciples to understand the Scriptures, that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead on the Third Day to fulfill all that was written about Christ in the Law of Moses and in the prophets and in the Psalms’ (Lk 24.44-46).
My aim in laying all this out before you is to bring our understanding out of the world, and into the LORD’s Tomb, which we see in the Church to be the Font of His Resurrection, in order to lift the veil of the letter, and to hear this morning’s Gospel from beneath the veil, from inside the LORD’s Tomb filled with the Light and the Fragrance of His Resurrection, and to see this morning’s Gospel as an icon, a mirror, that reveals the ‘mystery of God’ hidden beneath our visible body in the invisible deeps of our own soul, the mystery of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’ (Col 1.27)
What, then, do we see when, in the Light of the Wisdom of the Church – the Light of Christ the God-Man – we peer beneath the veil of the letter to see into the theology of this morning’s Gospel that is hidden beneath the veil of the letter? It says, ‘Now there is in Jerusalem;’ that is, in the ‘navel’, at the center, of the universe, ‘by the Sheep Gate, a pool, called in Hebrew, Bethesda.’ Bethesda means ‘House of Mercy.’ Sheep Gate: does that have anything to do with the Door through which the True Shepherd leads His sheep to green pastures? (Jn 10.7-9)
It says, ‘And there was, lying among the porches, a multitude of sickly people, blind, crippled, and withered.’ Is this not an image of mankind?
And now it says, ‘There was a certain man who had been possessed of his sickliness for 38 years.’ ‘Certain man’ can be a biblical idiom for Everyman – for you and me. No doubt there is theology in the number, 38, but I don’t know what it is. Let’s be satisfied that he was sick for a very long time. As it says in Ecclesiasticus: ‘All flesh grows old like a garment, for the covenant from the beginning is, thou shalt die the death’ (14.17). Ben Sirach takes us to the curse Adam and Eve brought upon mankind when they disobeyed the commandment by giving their love to idolatry and so chose to ‘cleave’ to the dust of death (Ps 22.15). And St Paul says: In Adam, death spread to all men, and in death, all sinned’ (Rm 5.12).
And indeed, the ailments listed in our Gospel are what come upon us in our idolatry, in our love for lust, greed, anger, vainglory and the rest. Like the idols they worship, sinners have eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, feet that cannot walk. We become weak, sickly, paralytic; we become spiritual corpses having eyes that do not see God, ears that do not hear Him, feet that cannot walk in the Light as He is in the Light.
And this morning’s Gospel takes place on the Sabbath. Pondered from inside the Tomb of the risen Christ, we see at once that this morning’s Gospel is an icon of Christ in the Sabbath Rest of His Tomb; a mirror reflecting the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of Christ in you, Christ our King from of old working His salvation in the midst of the earth, in the midst of your body, working to heal us and to deliver us [to save us] from our bondage to death and corruption in the invisible depths of our soul (Ps 74.12).
The world outside the LORD’s Tomb hates Christ, and works feverishly to destroy Him, and to be rid of His followers. But they cannot touch Him. In their idolatry, they cannot see Him or hear Him. The risen Christ comes to those sitting in darkness, and upon those sitting in the region and shadow of death, the healing Light of His Resurrection has dawned (Mt 4.15, Isa 9.1-2). In His coming to earth and in His descent into hell, the Kingdom of Heaven has come with Christ. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us (Lk 17.21). He is in our midst not just on the surface of space and time but in the deep, beyond all things, beyond space and time, in the hidden depths of our heart where we are sickly, blind, crippled, withered, paralyzed, where we have become ‘desperately corrupt and deceitful above all things’ (Jer 17.9) in our love for false gods.
But this is not what we were made for. Our body and soul were not built by the LORD to be a house of abomination but a temple of the Holy Spirit, and the LORD in the House of His Mercy, His Body risen from the dead, comes to us in His Sabbath Rest, and He says to us in the Light of His Holy Resurrection the darkness of hell cannot overcome: ‘Do you want to be made well? Do you want to be ‘saved’?’ Take up your bed and walk; take up your cross and follow Me. Deny yourself and lose your life for my sake – i.e., love me and not the passions; lose your soul bound by all kinds of ailments mental, psychological, and bodily, and find yourself in the Life of my resurrection, where your wounds are healed by my wounds, and your death is destroyed by my death.
The commandment of the LORD is a fountain of life, says the Proverb (14.27); it makes a man turn away from the snare of death. But the LORD Himself, says the prophet, Jeremiah, is the fountain of the water of life hewn not out of broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jer 2.13), but out of the New Tomb hewn out of the rock, that has become the Fountain of Life that cleanses from death. That is, the commandment of the LORD is the veil that clothes the LORD; it hides as it reveals the fountain of life. Take up your bed, then; take up your cross, take up the commandment of the LORD, deny yourself, repent, lose yourself in Christ, pursue humility and not vainglory – and become thereby, in the hidden man of your heart, at the root of your being where you are deep, beyond all things, a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal, raised from death to life, restored to your original beauty, hidden with Christ in God! Amen!