|38 - Pentecost, May 23, 2010|
Christ was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit. And so, when the Holy Spirit descended on Christ’s holy disciples on Pentecost, the disciples were united to Christ and made members of His crucified and risen body.
In His glorious Ascension, Christ was taken up into the cloud, which looks very much like the cloud of the Holy Spirit that overshadowed Mt Sinai when Moses went up to receive the Law of God. Christ is the Word of God who was in that cloud, speaking to Moses face to face and revealing to him His Law. The Church herself, on this feast of Pentecost, directs us to Numbers 16, and to the cloud of the Holy Spirit in which the Christ descended on Moses and the elders whom He had appointed, and they all prophesied in the Holy Spirit, giving us to understand that the disciples and holy apostles of Christ are the new college of elders, on whom the Holy Spirit rested and remained for in the mystery of Pentecost, they were taken up into the Church and made members of Christ’s crucified and risen body.
And so, when the Holy Spirit descended on Christ’s holy disciples on Pentecost, the disciples were taken up into the cloud of the Holy Spirit and united to Christ, the Word of God. United to Christ, the Law of God was written on their hearts. The stony heart of the old Israel was rolled away and re-created to become a clean heart in a new and right Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, as the prophets had foretold.
Christ is the Word of God who was in the beginning, writes St John, through whom all things were made, in whom was the life that was the light of men. That life which is light and not darkness, communion in love and eternal life and not separation in fear and death, is the Holy Spirit. St John is directing us to the creation when the Holy Spirit was brooding over the face of the waters and God created the heavens and the earth by His Word, Christ. In other words, at creation, Christ the Word of God was in the Holy Spirit, in the brooding cloud, creating the world in the Holy Spirit at the command of the Father. So when we read that Christ was taken up into the cloud in His glorious Ascension, we are beholding an image of the creation of the world. This gives us to understand that the mystery of Christ’s glorious Ascension is the mystery of the world’s re-creation and the re-creation of man. The world and man are healed. They are united to God and established no more in the old Adam who was separated from God and dead in his sin, but in the New Adam, Christ, who is God, the Son of God, alive in His Holy Spirit.
And so, on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples in the Upper Room, the disciples were taken up into the mystery of the world’s re-creation in the mystery of Christ. The Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all, is the new creation that was brought forth into being in Christ’s Holy Pascha and His glorious Ascension. In the Church, the creation is made good again as it was in the beginning. Everything in the Church is in Christ; and so, it is alive, bathed in the light and life of God’s Holy Spirit. Everything is sacramental, alive in the Spiritual life of God. Those who are uniting themselves to Christ are being taken up into eternal life.
This is to say that the life we now live in the flesh is not real life when it is lived apart from God and according to the wisdom of human opinion, animated not by the Spirit of God but by the soul, whose erotic desire that yearns naturally for God has been perverted and infected with the poison of death and corruption. As St Paul writes to the Ephesians, “You were dead in your sins and trespasses, but now you have been made alive in Christ.” With his eyes on Christ’s glorious Ascension, St Paul goes on to say: “We have been raised up with Christ. We have been made to sit in the heavenly places with Christ.” The mystery of Christ that is unfolded and revealed in the mysteries of Pascha – His Resurrection, His glorious Ascension into Heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit on those who believe – is, for St Paul, the great mystery of creation that was hidden in God, which has now been revealed in Christ, and which is the concrete demonstration of the unsurpassable wealth of the love and goodness of God’s grace. It reveals that the hidden purpose of creation was to live and to exist in Christ as a partaker of the divine nature.
Let’s recover the mind of the early Church. She did not see Pentecost as the day the Church began, but more as the Day when those who love Christ were united to the Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. Origen of Alexandria, for example, writing in the 3rd century, said that the Church has been in existence from the foundation of the world. And, we find in a sermon at the end of the 1st century, which has come down to us as Second Clement: “If we do the will of God our Father, we will belong to the first Church, the spiritual one, which was created before the sun and moon.”
When you were united to Christ in your baptism and were anointed with the Chrism of the Holy Spirit, you were taken up into the Church, into the mystery of Christ’s crucified and risen body; you were taken up in the cloud of the Holy Spirit and into the mystery of God’s re-creation of the world in the mysteries of Christ’s Holy Pascha.
As the mystery of Christ who in His humanity was raised from the dead and taken up into the cloud and now sits at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, the Church is in the world, but she is from Heaven above; She is of the earth below; but not the earth in its darkness and ignorance of God, its life enslaved to sickness and disease, death and corruption. She is the earth that has been deified in Christ and united to heaven. She lives, she moves and has her being in the Holy Spirit of Christ. Die to the world in your baptism and you die to death; and, when you are raised out of the baptismal waters, you are taken up into the body of Christ and you are reborn from above. As you go from the baptismal font and do the will of the Father in fulfillment of your baptismal oath, you are united to Christ. United to Christ, you become a member of the first Church, the spiritual one, which was created before sun and moon.
The world cannot believe it, but it is the theological fact that it is the Ascension of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost that demonstrate how it is verified that Christ is risen from the dead and that He is “in our midst and ever shall be!” For, Ascension and Pentecost proclaim that Christ is here as much as he is there. In Christ, there is here and here is there. That is to say, In the Church, Christ is in His Holy Spirit who is everywhere present, filling all things; and in His Holy Spirit, He is present to us here and now, because He was raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven to sit at the Right Hand of the Father in our human nature, the very nature in which we exist and move and have our being. Christ is not an idea, an abstraction, a theological principle easily confused with the wisdom of our own opinions. He is Spiritual, but He is also a fact that can be immediately known for He is not apart from us. He is not outside of us. He is not a conclusion yonder that we can get to only through some complicated sort of dialectical, philosophical reasoning. He is one with us; and so He is present to us. He is accessible to us in our own nature. Indeed, He is closer to us than we are to ourselves because we, by our greed and self-love, are separated from ourselves. We live and move outside of our heart, but Christ is in our heart and in our heart, He has united earth to Heaven and us to the Father in Heaven. We need only to believe in Him.
So how do we believe in Him that we may be taken up into the mystery of His crucified and risen body and united to God in the mystery of His Holy Church? By following His commandments; and His first commandment is to repent. Christ’s commandments are His words that He gives to us. As His words, He, the Word, is present in them. They are embodiments, incarnations of Him. They are good words life-creating words, brimming with the vitality and the goodness of God, so that when we begin to do them consciously, mindfully, for His sake, we touch Christ; we begin to weave the mystery of Christ Himself into the fabric of our earthly life. Our earthly life is taken up into Christ’s Holy Spirit and into the mystery of His re-creation of the world and of His creating in us a clean heart in a new and right Spirit, the Spirit of God. And so our earthly life is united to the life of God in Heaven. When we begin to practice mindfully the commandments of Christ, His Holy Spirit descends on us and cleanses us from every stain of sin and impurity. He raises us up from the death of our sins and trespasses, and in Christ, we begin to ascend in the cloud of His Holy Spirit who is the Light and Life of the world. We are granted by God’s ineffable goodness and mercy to become partakers of the divine nature. We become one with God in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the love of God the Father, in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to God! Christ is in our midst!