|40 - Gergesene Demoniacs, July 5, 2015|
The theme of these Sundays that have followed Pentecost perhaps could be described like this: having been clothed with the Spirit on high we have been made worthy, i.e., strong enough, ikanos, to forsake everything, to deny ourselves and to follow Christ into the opened heavens on the better and changeless Path that is Christ Himself. In this light, let’s read our Gospel lesson this morning.
The LORD comes into “the beyond” with His disciples and confronts two demoniacs. Enslaved to the demons that possess them, they have made their home among the dead. I see here an image of the LORD coming to us. Do we not live among the spiritually dead in this world? He comes to us in the apostolic word of the Church. These are the “words of fire” that descended on the holy disciples at Pentecost.
The apostolic words of the Church carry Christ as the Ark of the Covenant carried the word of the Law; but, the apostolic words of the Church, of course, are the living ark of the New Covenant and they carry Christ, the Word of God that is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, that pierces to the division of soul and spirit and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart, (Heb 4:12) the altar in the sanctuary of the inner man.
There’s a path in our Gospel this morning. It sounds like this path led through the tombs since it is by this path that the LORD comes to the tombs where these demoniacs “lived”. It says, however, that the demoniacs were so fierce that no one could walk it. That means that no one could make their way to the tombs. The path was closed to them because of the dark spirits that possessed these two demoniacs.
Read in the light of Pentecost, the tombs where the demoniacs lived are the face of the inner man, that man which St Paul says “was dead in his sins and trespasses;” (Eph 2:1) and that no one could follow the path into the sanctuary of the inner man. I think right away of Psa 78 (LXX): “O God, the heathen have come into your inheritance.” (v. 1) The LORD’s inheritance in its spiritual reality I think is the heart of man; and so, “the heathen” – i.e. those who are not of your elect, or, let’s say the gods or demons – have come through idolatry into the sanctuary of the inner man. “They have defiled your Holy Temple.” (v. 2) Desecrating the inner man, they have defiled the body of the outer man that you created to be a temple of your Holy Spirit. (I Cor 6:19)
The Psalmist goes on: “The dead bodies of your servants…” God made man in His own image; but, on the day Adam and Eve ate the fruit of disobedience, they died; and now, the LORD’s servants are dead in their sins and trespasses. “…Their blood they have shed like water outside of Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them.” (v. 3) The tombs of the demoniacs were outside the city. But, the LORD was crucified and buried outside the City, Jerusalem. In this light, we see in this morning’s Gospel an icon of the LORD’s saving Passion when He descended into hell and put the devils to flight.
According to tradition, the LORD was crucified and buried where Adam and Eve fell, and so in the old Garden of Eden, and so, spiritually, mystically, in the inner sanctuary of the heart where Adam had once lived before he was cast out. Jerusalem and its temple, then, were outside the Garden, outside the inner sanctuary of the human soul. From the words of the LORD: “My house is a house of prayer, but, you have made it into a den of thieves,” the temple of Jerusalem looks like a pagan temple, the center of Israel’s idolatry, showing Israel to have become just like the “heathen” who have defiled the LORD’s Holy Temple, Christ’s Body. Now Jerusalem looks like the serpent’s tree, like the Land of Canaan filled with the temples and shrines of the ba’als and the asherah, like the kingdoms of this world, or, the “city” where the townsfolk of this morning’s Gospel lived outside the tombs, or the flesh where we live outside the sanctuary of our inner man; and for good reason. Our inner man has become a den of thieves, a tomb where demons dwell, who take possession of us through our passions and work in our earthly members so that we follow them even though we don’t want to.(Rom 7:5ff.)
All of this brings me back to the “path” of this morning’s Gospel. Again, we read in the Psalms: “The LORD made known His paths to Moses, what He wills to the sons of Israel.” (Ps 102:7 LXX) Now, in Hebrews, St Paul reviews how the priests of the Old Covenant were always entering the “first” or “outer” tent to perform the divine services. The High Priest, he says, would enter the “second” or inner tent, the Holy of Holies but once a year, and never without blood that he offered both for his own sins and for the ignorance of the people. (Heb 9:6) He then says, “By this, the Holy Spirit was signifying that the path into the Holy of Holies was not yet revealed so long as the first or outer tent was still standing.” (Heb 9:8)
But, the LORD’s body is the real Temple (Jn 2:19); and, to describe the mystery of the LORD’s Incarnation, St John says: “The LORD became flesh and pitched His tent among us.” (Jn 1:14) The first tent that St Paul speaks of in Hebrews must be, therefore, the Body of Christ. In it He perfects the Old Covenant and establishes the New Covenant by His death on the Cross. The second tent must be therefore the LORD’s resurrected Body.
So, what would be the Holy of Holies, the second or inner tent that is not revealed so long as the first tent, the LORD’s earthly Body, is still standing? Would it not be the sanctuary of the inner man that has been defiled by our idolatry, i.e. our love for the flesh, and become a tomb? Consider: the LORD does not enter the tomb, the Holy of Holies, without blood. But, as St Paul says, the blood the LORD takes with Him into the “sanctuary” (i.e., into the tomb, or into the altar of the inner man) and which He offers to the Father is not the blood of bulls and goats; it is His own blood. So, He offers it not for His own sins, for He was without sin (Heb 4:15), and not just for the sins of Israel but for the whole world, for He is the Word of God in whom all things were created. So, when we read in this morning’s Gospel, “He came into the beyond into the region of the Gergesenes where He was set upon by two demoniacs coming out from the tombs,” I see the LORD opening the curtain of the temple at the moment of His death on the Cross and entering into the sanctuary of our heart – the “beyond” – as the living and active Word of God who pierces all the way to the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12)
Coming into His inheritance, He casts the demons out from the sanctuary of His Holy Temple, the inner man of the demoniacs, and sends them into the herd of swine and they perish in the sea. He cleanses the heart of the demoniacs as He cleansed the temple of Jerusalem. By His Cross, He destroys death and penetrates “beyond” the “veil” of the curtain; i.e., He rips open the veil of death that separates the inner tent of our inner man from the outer tent of our fleshly life in this world, and He enters into the Holy of Holies, the altar of the heart. He sprinkles and cleanses the altar of our heart with His own blood and so creates in us a clean heart, transfiguring the sanctuary of the inner man from a tomb into a bridal chamber. He puts in us a new and right Spirit. He delivers the two demoniacs from the tombs and, if they are found sitting at His feet, clothed and in their right mind, where has He brought them if not into the Land of Israel (Eze 37:12), i.e., into the bosom of the Father in His Holy Ascension and so into the sanctuary of the second tent, His resurrected and glorified Body!
Beloved faithful, I believe that when we forsake everything to follow Christ and go about in the power of the Spirit to take up our cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, and work to put to death what is earthly in us, we are ripping the curtains from top to bottom that open onto the inner sanctuary of our inner man and entering the tomb of our heart. And what does the Gospel of Our LORD Jesus Christ reveal “beyond” the tomb of our heart? The Garden of the LORD’s Resurrection, the Garden of Eden, the Kingdom of Heaven in the living joy and love of the Holy Trinity that abides forever. Amen!