|40 - PENTECOST, June 4, 2023|
John 7.37-52, 8.12
On this pivotal Feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit overshadows the faithful as He overshadowed the Holy Virgin Theotokos when She conceived the Son of God as Son of Man in Her womb; and as He overshadowed the Temple of Solomon; and as He overshadowed the Tabernacle of Moses; even as He brooded over the Face of the Waters at the creation of the world, and over the face of Adam when He raised him from the dust of the ground and made him to become a ‘living throat’ (nephesh: a creature who lives by eating, drinking and breathing God). Pentecost is when the Holy Pascha of the LORD and His Holy Ascension are given to us as ‘our own’ in the LORD’s own Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit of the LORD, those who love Christ receive power from on high to unite themselves to Christ and to follow Him on the inner Exodus of the Gospel back to their origin hidden in the ‘dust of death’ (Ps 22.15), in the ‘tomb’ of their heart, their origin which is hidden in Christ Himself who is found within us, found in our death, in the tomb of our heart, Christ who is the Image of the invisible God in whom we were created in the beginning and were brought into being clothed in the Robe of Glory, the Glory of the Wisdom of God in the Life of the Holy Spirit.
And perhaps it is proper that in the mind of many Christians, its significance hardly registers on them. For, with Pascha we enjoy witnessing the victory of Christ over death and hell. But on Pentecost we are called to receive the same Holy Spirit in order that we ourselves may now take up our cross and begin the work of our salvation: to wit, the work of denying ourselves by taking up our cross to die to ourselves, and to lose our life for the sake of Christ by taking up our bed, our body weighed down by the gravity of indulgence and sloth, and taking up our cross in order to put to death what is earthly in us. What is earthly in us is our love for the dust of the ground, our love for the passions that defiles us and makes us friends with the world and enemies of God. In other words, Pascha is when we celebrate the LORD’s victory; Pentecost is when we bring His victory home into our own souls to begin the work of participating in the suffering of His cross that we may participate in the joy of His Resurrection. This is why I call Pentecost a pivotal feast. This is when we become serious about taking up our cross to follow Christ. This is when we begin the battle in earnest against our self-will, our entitlement, our self-righteousness, the corruption of our erotic desire that has been perverted, turned away from God and toward our own flesh in denial of God.
And who wants to do that? Only those who long for the goodness and beauty of the Source of all beauty and goodness, Jesus Christ, the Wisdom and Power of God. We are setting out to do battle against our love for self-esteem, pride, entitlement, vanity, greed, our lust for vainglory. In all of these, we have set ourselves alongside God ‘as though’ we were gods. We might even unwittingly expect God to be our genie, granting us whatever we wish. We are working to descend to the Christ who is within us. But to get to the Christ who is within us, we must fight through the wall of enmity, built brick by brick from pride and arrogance that separate us from God. We are working to enter His Tomb – not ours but His; for only His death is the death that has destroyed death. Only His Tomb is the Font of resurrection.
Our friendship with the world that makes us enemies of God: this is the wilderness we must pass through to attain the Promised Land of the Kingdom of Heaven in the LORD’s Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. It means denying our fallen nature’s perverse longing to return to Egypt. It means accepting the suffering that comes from denying our love for the passions. This battle can be fierce because we are fighting ourselves; we are fighting our love for death, because the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life are of this world that is passing away. They are of death. Every morning when we wake up, we need to do a self-check and re-orient ourselves to the East. The rest of the day we work to stay oriented to the East and to allow nothing, whether within or outside ourselves, to turn us back to Egypt in the west.
We cannot fight this battle apart from the Holy Spirit of Christ. For, we are weighed down by the heaviness of the flesh. In the idolatry of our self-esteem, we are blind, we are deaf, we are crippled, we are paralyzed.
But, to those who want to follow Christ, the LORD gives Himself in His Church. He gives us His Holy Spirit in His Body which is the Church. The Church is the very same Body that was crucified, that died and was buried and rose from the dead and ascended in Glory. In Holy Eucharist, the LORD gives Himself to us as the ‘Living Bread’ and the ‘Living Cup’ that come down from heaven. And the manna of Holy Eucharist is soaked in the ‘Living Waters’ that flow from the Rock; the Living Waters are the Holy Spirit; the Rock is Christ Himself who gives to us the strength to fight the spiritual battle and daily to work out our salvation in fear and trembling in His Holy Spirit.
It is critical to understand that our salvation requires the voluntary exercise of our will. For salvation is to love the God who first loved us. Love is freely given and freely received; otherwise, if it’s forced on us, it is not love. Do we want to be saved? Do we want to be with Christ in His Glory? We express our desire to be with Christ by choosing voluntarily to deny ourselves in love for Christ. We choose voluntarily to take up our cross in order to share in His suffering and in His death. The suffering we experience when we choose to deny our love for the passions and to love Christ, to remain obedient to Him, this is the suffering of the Cross. In these real terms, uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death is no longer a nifty religious concept. We discover that the suffering of the Cross is it’s real for we are experiencing it, even though on a very small scale compared to Christ and His saints. This is why the holy fathers tell us that it is simply not possible to be a Christian without suffering. This is the suffering that they are specifically talking about.
But the Church teaches us that there is a love and a desire more natural to us and deeper than the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life. Indeed, this deeper love is natural to us; love for the passions is unnatural. This deeper love and desire is the soul’s innate, primordial love for Christ who first loved us. When we choose that deeper love and that deeper desire in the resolve to love Christ who first loved us and gave Himself for us, the Holy Spirit descends upon us and we are strengthened exponentially. As Living Waters He pours Himself into us; as New Wine, He fills our old wineskins, and when they burst, it is the old wineskin that is bursting as the New Wineskin is being fashioned in us as we partake regularly of the Body and Blood of Christ. For Holy Eucharist carries the LORD’s Holy Spirit who makes us strong and powerful to wage this fierce battle in love and in joy! And the inner substance of this battle is the certain hope of our resurrection in Christ and our glorification in His Glorious Ascension – which we, in fact, begin to experience even here and now as we take up our cross and strive to decrease that He may increase in us. If we have no desire to love Christ, the Holy Spirit will honor our indifference and not give Himself to us. But then we find ourselves on the broad and easy path that leads to hell, to the despair of loneliness and meaninglessness. But if we want to love Christ, the Holy Spirit rushes down to overshadow us and embrace us; and in the Holy Spirit of Christ, our love for Christ is given eyes to see, ears to hear. We are given legs and feet that can walk, hands that are strong to do the will of God.
And so on this momentous, pivotal feast of Pentecost, we fall to our knees in our longing for Christ, imploring Him to illumine us and to strengthen us in His Holy Spirit so that we can deny ourselves out of love for Him, take up our cross and follow Him on the inner Exodus of the Gospel in the love with which He first loved us. In this love, we long more and more to lose our life in His Tomb, and not in ours, because His Tomb is the Bridal Chamber wherein we become one with Him, bone of His bones, flesh of His flesh, one flesh with Him, one Spirit with Him, Christ living in us and our life hidden with Christ in God in His Holy Resurrection and in the Glory of His Ascension into Heaven. Amen! Glory to Jesus Christ!