|38 All Saints - June 3, 2007|
Hebrews 11:33 – 12:2
Matthew 10:32-33, 19:27-30
How the Church’s lectionary is put together takes us beyond the letter of Scripture and into its spiritual teaching. Studying the Church’s lectionary with reverence and attention is one way we can mature in our baptism to become disciples of Christ, sitting at the feet of his Bride and Mother, the Church, listening to the teaching he gives to us through her lectionary. As the priest reads from the Gospel, we are hearing the voice of the Church, she who is the body of Christ, the fullness of him who is all in all, speaking to us of the mysteries of Christ.
We have just come out of the eight week season of Pascha. During these eight weeks, the Scripture readings were opening to us the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection. Those who listen with reverence to what they read and hear in the scripture lessons for these eight weeks of Pascha are like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who were met by the risen Christ and were instructed by him, as they walked the path to their home in Emmaus, on the meaning of Christ’s sufferings and death.
On this the First Sunday after Pentecost, the Church turns our attention to all her saints and martyrs. Next Sunday as well, the Church continues to focus our attention on her saints, in particular her saints of America. Of course, in the Church, every day commemorates some specific saint or group of saints. Surely it is obvious from this that giving birth to saints is what the Church is all about as the Bride and Mother of Christ. To be in the Church of Christ is to be growing in the life of Christ’s Holy Spirit, to be seeking our nourishment from Christ’s Holy Spirit as our heavenly food, to be placing ourselves in the maternal womb of the Church so that our hearts and minds can be shaped in the Spirit of the Church.
As a loving Mother, the Church has been teaching us this last week in her daily lectionary how we should be living in this life of her Spirit, how we should speak, how we should behave as children who have the Church as our Mother, and God as our Father, and all the saints as our brothers and sisters.
But before we turn to what we have been learning from our holy Mother, the Church, in the lectionary of this last week, I want to go back to what the Church was teaching us in her lectionary for the eight weeks of Pascha about the resurrection of Christ into which we were born in our baptism, when we received the gift of his Holy Spirit as a seed in our hearts, and were born again “from above” as children of God. For, as we see more clearly the mystery of Christ’s resurrection into which we have been born, the seed of the Holy Spirit germinates in us as the desire to love Christ more than father and mother, son and daughter, and to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind.
On Pascha Night, the Gospel was from John 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through him. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
The reading of Pascha Night is directing us back to Genesis 1 to tell us who it is who has been raised from the dead so that we can begin to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is the Divine Word that God spoke to create the heavens and the earth. All things were made through Jesus. That means that all things depend on Jesus for their existence and for their life. When the Creator became flesh and died on the Cross, creation died with him. Creation returned to the darkness of the abyss. Is this the meaning of the darkness that falls upon all the land from the sixth to the ninth hour as Jesus dies on the Cross? In the prophets, the darkening of the sun is the sign of the Last Day. The darkness that descends on the land at Christ’s death is like the physical shadow of a spiritual reality that is happening behind the veil of space-time at its primordial root. Now, the Last Day, in biblical time, is not the Saturday of calendar time, the last day of the week, but the Sabbath of biblical time, the Seventh Day of the biblical week of creation when God completed his work of creating the world and rested. When Jesus cries out from the Cross on Holy Friday, “It is finished!” he is crying out from the depths of the Spirit behind the veil of space-time at its primordial root. As he dies on Holy Friday at the 9th hour, the Sixth Day of the biblical week comes to an end and the Sabbath Day of biblical time dawns. This is the Last Day of the world. And when the Savior is taken down from the Cross and buried in the tomb, we see Him returning Adam and Eve to the dust of the ground from which they were taken. It is finished. Behind the veil of space-time, at the primordial root of creation’s spiritual meaning, creation has died in the death of its Creator. Mankind has been returned to the dust of the ground in accordance with the Word of God: “From the dust you were taken; to the dust you shall return.”
On the Sunday of Pentecost, last Sunday, we read from the Gospel of John again: “On the Great, Last Day of the Feast, Jesus stood out and proclaimed…” This is biblical language that means more than just the last calendar day of the feast of Pentecost for that particular year. This is the Last Day of the world, foreseen by the prophets as the Great Day, the Terrible Day of the Lord when the sun would be darkened and darkness would cover the earth. Behind the veil of space-time we have come to the Midnight of the biblical Sabbath, the Last Day of the creation in the spiritual depths of its primordial root.
Now, you know what happens at the Midnight of Pascha. The Bridegroom comes! He comes precisely at that moment when the biblical week of creation has died and is no more. “On the Great, Last Day of the Feast” – at the Midnight Hour of the Sabbath at the very end of time, as Adam and Eve because of their disobedience lie dead in the dust and the world having returned to the nothingness of the darkness whence it was brought into being, at this very moment, so the Gospel reading for Pentecost reads: “Jesus stood out:” The Word of God rises from the dead, coming forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom from the bridal chamber; and in his holy resurrection, he proclaims: “If anyone thirsts.” If anyone desires the life of resurrection, “let him come to me and I will give him to drink.” St John tells us that he was saying this of the “Holy Spirit which those who believed in Him were about to receive.”
In the way the Church’s lectionary has been put together, Pascha from its beginning on Pascha Night to its end on the Feast of Pentecost is set forth as the perfection of Genesis 1-3 and the revelation of its deepest, spiritual meaning. From Genesis: “And the Spirit of God was brooding over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be Light,’ and there was Light.’” From our reading on Pascha night: “In Him was life [this is the Holy Spirit] and the life was the Light of the world.” From our reading on the Feast of Pentecost: “And again Jesus said to them, ‘I am the Light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness [Jesus is talking about the darkness of the emptiness from which the world came into being], but he will have the Light of the world.” Jesus is talking about the Light who enlightens everyone coming into the world; the primordial light of the Creator of the world, Christ God, who is risen from the dead in the Life of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. Genesis 1-3 is revealed in its spiritual depths as a prophecy of the Word of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, and of his death and resurrection when he would raise the world up into the life of his Holy Spirit, unite it to heaven in his holy Ascension, and give it life, the eternal life of the Holy Spirit in the mystery of Pentecost.
The Church has put together her lectionary in such a way to show that the Christian Faith is much more than an ethic, a moral code, or a set of doctrines that we believe to make us “Christians”. The lectionary of the Church opens the curtain to reveal the Christian Faith as the Life of the Holy Spirit, which originates from behind the veil of calendar time, from the altar in the sanctuary of biblical time. In the Church, we pass over from calendar time into biblical time and into the New Creation accomplished in Christ’s death and resurrection. We come to Vespers on Saturday as to the end of the world on the eve of the biblical Sabbath. We come to the Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning as to the Eighth Day, the First Day of the new creation in the resurrection of Christ.
When, therefore, Jesus calls out on the Feast of Pentecost, “Come! I am the Light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness but he will have the Light of the world,” he is calling those who would receive him to pass over in the waters of their baptism from worldly life on this side of the veil to the life of the Spirit on the other side; from existing as children born of blood and the lust of the flesh and the desire of man to being born from above in his Holy Spirit as children of God. This is the spiritual meaning of his words to us in the Gospel this morning: “He who loves father and mother, son and daughter more than me” – he who loves the life of this world and has no interest in the life of the Spirit – “is not worthy of me.”
Let us turn now and conclude our reflections by attending to the bible’s instructions on how we follow after Jesus that we may pass over into biblical time and receive the gift of his Holy Spirit.
Precisely this question is what the Church has been answering all week in her daily lectionary. To follow Christ is to practice his commandments. Each day this last week, we were assigned for our reading from the Scriptures Christ teaching his disciples his commandments: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn (for their sins and the sins of the world); blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness; blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers. These commandments are cast in the form of blessings, showing that to practice the commandments of Christ is to enter into a life that is truly blessed. Jesus says: Let your righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees. In other words, be genuine and sincere. Jesus says: Do not be angry with your brother; do not lust after a woman [or a man] even in your heart. In other words, do not regard people according to the flesh but according to the Spirit in Christ’s Holy Resurrection. Jesus says: Do not swear. Let your yes be yes, your no be no. Watch your tongue; let your words be good words, not crass or crude or vain words. Jesus says: Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you. Practicing these precepts, says the Savior, is how you will become sons of your Father in heaven.
Perhaps now we begin to see what the Lord means in this morning’s Gospel instruction, when he talks about confessing him before men, and loving Christ more than father and mother, son and daughter. He’s talking about how we can pass over from this life in calendar time into the life of the Spirit in biblical time; that is to say, how we can be born from above so that we have God as our Father, the Church as our Mother, and all the saints as our brothers and sisters. It is through practicing the commandments that are given not by the “common wisdom” coming to us from the generations of history. Jesus introduces these commandments with the words: “You have heard it said of old…” Rather, it is through practicing the commandments given by Jesus: the commandments that he introduces with the words: “But I say to you…” Practicing these commandments of Christ is how we confess him before men; this is how we forsake father and mother, brother and sister for the sake of Christ. In practicing these commandments, we are taking off the garments of the life and values of this world, just as we do at our baptism, that we may be clothed with the higher life and values of the Spirit. We are renouncing father and mother, son and daughter – the life of the world – that we may be born into the family of Christ’s Holy Church, with God as our Father, the Church as our Mother, and all the saints as our brothers and sisters. This garment of Christ’s commandments is the garment of light in whom is the Holy Spirit, the life of men; this garment is the garment of our baptism.
Now we can see that our baptismal garment is an icon of Christ’s commandments that are not of the world. Coming from Christ, they are the form of that light that radiates from Him who is the Light of the world in whom all things came to be. He who practices the commandments of Christ, therefore, is walking in the light – not the light of the sun, but of that light which shines forth from the darkness and in which the world was made. He who practices the commandments of Christ is walking from darkness into light, from the nothingness of the void into the life and being of his holy Church, which is the life and being of the Holy Spirit. He who practices the commandments of Christ is clothing himself with the light with which Christ clothes himself as with a garment. As we practice the commandments of Christ, we are not living in this world of calendar time; we are living in biblical time, in that life of the Holy Spirit that is hid with Christ in God. Practicing the commandments of Christ is how we follow him to the other side of biblical time and receive the gift of his Holy Spirit. It’s how we become children of God; it’s how we become perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect; it’s how we confess Christ before men; it’s how we sell all that we have to follow Christ. As we practice his commandments, the seed of the Holy Spirit, planted in our hearts in our baptism like the seed of the mustard tree, grows into the great tree of holiness, and we can become, through our participation in the light of God by obedience to his commandments, saints living the life of the Holy Spirit both in this age and in the age to come.
 Mt 5:45