|39 - THE WORKS OF THE LORD'S WORDS, May 31, 2020|
Acts 20.16-18, 28-36
‘I have spoken these [words] to you,’ the LORD says to His disciples, ‘that in Me, you may have peace; because, in the world you will have tribulation.’ It is, after all, ruled by ‘the prince of the power of the air who is actively working in the sons of disobedience.’ (Eph 2.2) ‘But, you be of good cheer,’ the LORD goes on to say. ‘Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’ (Jn 14.27) ‘For, I have overcome the world.’ (Jn 16.33)
These are words the LORD says to His disciples in the ‘hour’ when His Holy Pascha begins. Coming to us this morning in their liturgical setting of the Seventh Sunday of Pascha, these words come to us from the LORD who has ascended. They are spoken to us here in this world where we suffer; but, they are spoken to us from the LORD who is no longer in the world. (Jn 17.11) He is sitting at the Right Hand of the Father in heaven. In heaven, He is, to be sure, up there; but, this ‘up there’ is not outside of you. It is ‘within you’, in your hearts. Remember the LORD’s WORD: ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you’ (Lk 17.21); and, St Paul says: the mystery of God hidden from the ages is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ (Col 1.27) So, even within this world of tribulation, we may have peace and joy by abiding in Christ who is in heaven; for, in heaven, Christ is not outside of us. He is within us.
If, in our heart, we are living in this world of tribulations, will not our inner man be in constant turmoil from being immersed in the troubles and scandals (Mt 18.7) that flood the world constantly from the dark spirit that is actively working in the sons of disobedience? Can one not feel the darkness of that spirit working in one’s heart? Can one not feel one’s soul being drawn down into ever darker waters of anxiety, fear, anger, confusion and despair? Are we not tossed about in dark, raging rapids flowing ever closer to a waterfall that pours into a dark abyss below?
But, if in our hearts, in our ‘secret closet,’ we are living in the LORD, then, even as we are surrounded by the tribulations of the world, we are living in the Peace of heaven. Even in that instant when in our hearts, even as we are in the world of tribulations, we turn to the LORD and receive Him, and resolve to abide in Him, does not the soul feel immediately a lifting up, an inner illumination, as though she has just been raised from out of the darkness of an inner grave and placed in a heavenly light of peace and joy? In that moment, the soul has found the unseen Path that ascends a mountain, in Light, ever drawing her upward to an even brighter Light at the top of the mystical mountain above her.
I was caught by yesterday’s reading. Listen for the parallel between the words and the works of the LORD. That means they are synonyms: ‘The words that I speak to you I do not speak from Myself; it is the Father who dwells in Me who does His works [in Me].’ (Jn 14.10) That is, the words Jesus says are one with the works the Father is doing in Jesus. With this discovery, namely that words and works are synonymous, let’s return to the biblical passage I quoted at the beginning of this sermon.
The prince of the power of the air, says St Paul, works actively in the sons of disobedience. Our discovery gives us to understand that he works in the words that sons of disobedience speak. Perhaps this is the theological basis for the biblical admonition, given many times throughout holy scripture, to guard our lips and the words of our mouth, to refrain from abusive, angry and vulgar speech. For these words of anger, hatred, darkness express and foster the works of darkness, the very works that are the cause of tribulation, suffering, ruin, misery, destruction, despair in the world. These angry, dark words make manifest the immaterial path of the prince of the power of the air that is ever descending into the darkness of the abyss. Perhaps, I should be more vigilant in guarding my lips? The words that come from my mouth, are they a sign of the spirit that my heart is living in?
The LORD, however, is the Son of obedience. The words He speaks make manifest, or rather, they do the works of the Father. Or rather, the words of Christ are not empty sounds giving shape to abstract, disembodied ideas that have no substance except in the imagination. His words are the audible form of a substantive ‘work’: the creation of heaven and earth, the fashioning of man from the earth and breathing into him the Breath of Life, the Holy Spirit, to raise him up from the dust of the ground as a living soul in the image and likeness of God. This ‘work’ of the Father is finished in His WORD, which is not an abstract, disembodied idea, but the substantive [hypostatic] Person, Jesus Christ. That work is the union of heaven and earth in the sanctuary of the human heart. This is the work that the WORD of God accomplished in His ‘wordless’ work of destroying death by His death on the Cross. It’s a beautiful irony; it was a ‘wordless’ work accomplished by the WORD of God. From the Cross, He sent forth His Spirit and renewed the face of the earth. The rocks split, the earth quaked, and the graves were opened. The uncreated Light that He is, and the Life of the Holy Spirit who is carried in His Light, spills out into the darkness. Not even the sealed tomb can contain it. (Lk 23.54, epifosken) It spreads through the air, and the dark spirit of the prince of the air cannot extinguish it, as healing, fragrant, life-giving light shining on those who sit in the region and shadow of death.
That Light emanates from Christ’s Body in whom the fullness of God dwells (Col 2.9). And, in that Light, the Resurrection and the Life comes forth bodily from the Tomb, now permeated with the sweet fragrance of His life-giving Light, and He ascends to Heaven bodily so that we can sing at Matins on Ascension morning; ‘our nature, which once was fallen, has been taken up above the angels, seated ineffably forever on the divine throne.’ (Ascension Matins, Ode 8).
The LORD says to His disciples: ‘Believe in Me [believe the words I speak to you] because of the works [I do]. They are the very [works of creating, healing, even raising the dead to life that the Father does].’ (Jn 14.11) The Father is doing those works through Me, the WORD of the Father, through My words; my words are but droplets of Me who am the WORD of God. To receive the words of Jesus, then, is to receive the works of God the Father that the LORD Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has ‘finished.’ (Jn 17.4) The WORD of God has been sown in our souls through our baptism. That means that there has been sown in our heart the works of God, and what is moving in our hearts, is His Glorious Ascension.
‘I am no longer in the world,’ the LORD says from His Throne in Heaven; ‘but these are in the world. And I am coming to you, holy Father.’ (Jn 17.11) Even while we are in this world of tribulation, if in our heart, we are living in the words of Jesus Christ, we are living in the work of His Holy Pascha and in the Glory of His Ascension. Even while we are in the world, we are living not in the world descending into the abyss but on the Path in whom we are ‘coming to’ our Father in Heaven. We are living in the Peace of Christ; for, His victory over death, His illumination of hell, His transformation of the tomb of our heart into a bridal chamber, the whole mystery of God, all the ‘works’ of God are ‘in you’ because the works of God are in you in the WORD of God who is in you. These are our ‘hope of glory!’ (Col 1.26-27)
If the words of the LORD are the form of His mighty works of creation, of healing, and raising the dead, then does it not follow that we begin to live in the finished work of the LORD’s Pascha through the words of the Church’s prayers? Prayer now comes into view as an interior repentance that is ‘without ceasing.’ That is, it is a never-ceasing turning of our mind inward toward the Christ, the WORD of God who is in us and whose works are living in His words that are in us. Prayer is this interior movement of the soul always making her way to the inner chamber of her heart. Prayer is like the myrrhbearers, or like Peter and John making their way to the empty Tomb of the Savior, empty because He isn’t among the dead anymore. And so also, when we turn to Christ and begin to live in His words, we discover in the fullness of our hearts that our hearts have become empty; that is, we are not to be found among the dead anymore.
Here is the LORD’s eternal salvation proclaimed by the ‘holy and incorruptible preaching’ of His holy apostles. Though we are in the world surrounded by tribulations, we can be living in the Peace of the LORD, because He’s not ‘out’ or ‘up’ there. He is ‘in here’, in our heart. In our heart, we can live in the finished work of the LORD by living in His words that shape and govern our life. For in His words are the peace, the light and joy of His Resurrection, and the hope of the glory of His Ascension that is within us. Amen.