40 - The Church And Pentecost, June 7, 2020

Here is the YouTube Link for this sermon: https://youtu.be/VwexjIc6D8o 

Acts 2.1-11

John 7.37-52, 8.12

The Church, writes St Paul, is the Body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. (Eph 1.23) If the Church is the Body of Christ, i.e., His human nature, then it simply is not true that Pentecost is the birth of the Church. The Church was born on Christmas Day; the Church was conceived in the mystery of the Annunciation.

However, the Church is also, writes St Paul, the ‘fullness of Him who is all in all.’ And, he writes again: ‘In Christ, the fullness of uncreated divinity [theotes] dwells (present tense) bodily.’ (Col 2.9) Obviously, if the Church is the fullness of the uncreated God, then she is the mystery of the uncreated God hidden from the ages (Col 1.26). The Church, speaking in strictly biblical terms, is both created and uncreated. She is uncreated in the fullness of the divinity that she is; she is created in the body that the fullness of God dwells in.

But, Christ was born in the flesh as a male child. Why, then, do you often hear me refer to the Church as ‘she’? I feel I have stumbled into the mind of the early Church. St Clement of Rome (1st cent), for example, in a sermon that has come to us under the title, Second Clement, said: ‘The Church is male and female.’ (14.2) Christ is the male, he says. The Church is the female. The image is biblical. The Church is the ‘woman’ who came from the rib of the New Adam (Jn 19.34, Gn 2.21), her head, as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. As the ‘Woman,’ the Church is the Bride of God, His Beloved, His very Body. The LORD Jesus is her ‘head,’ her ‘lord,’ her husband, her Lover.

When speaking of man and wife as an image of Christ and His Church, St Paul says this is a mystery, and it is very deep, as is the heart of man. (Jer 17.9 LXX) As the mystery of God the WORD made flesh (Jn 1.14) when the Holy Spirit overshadowed the blessed Virgin (Lk 1.35), the Church is the fullness of man as male and female created in the image and likeness of God. The Church is the Body of Christ that came to be in time; but, as the fullness of the uncreated divinity who dwells in Christ bodily, the Church is the uncreated mystery of God hidden from before the ages. (Col 1.26) As St Clement says, the Church was from the beginning, before sun and moon were created.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Church began to exist as we now know her: in the form of a spiritual, death-destroying, life-giving and healing communion of the Holy Trinity and all those who, through belief in the LORD Jesus Christ, have joined, married, themselves to Christ in Holy Baptism to become one with Him as members of His Body glorified Body.

The Holy Spirit descended on those who were gathered in the Upper Room as He descended and moved over the face of the waters, making the creation holy; as He descended on the man God had raised from the dust of the ground and made into a living soul; as He descended on the temple of Moses, and then of Solomon, filling them with His Glory—His Holy Spirit, the fullness of His uncreated divinity—so that no one could enter; as He descended on the Virgin Mary, making her to be ‘Theotokos,’ Mother of God, His Living Temple, and making the man-child formed from her substance by the Holy Spirit holy; as He descended in the form of a dove on the God-Man Jesus in the Jordan, anointing Him as the King of all creation; and as He descended on the Tomb of the God-Man, ‘finishing’ the Sabbath Rest of God into the mystical chamber in which Adam was raised from the dead as a living soul and made one with God in the sanctuary of the human heart.

The LORD says, ‘Whoever believes in Me, from his belly, or from the deeps of his inward parts, shall flow rivers of Living Water.’ The image is that of Eden, from the top of whose mountain flowed a mighty river that parted into four heads as it made its way to water the earth. It is the image of the Mighty River that flowed from the East Gate of the Temple in Ezekiel’s vision of the Last Days, all the way to the Arabah, Hebrew for the Dead Sea, making to live every creature it touched.

Jesus says, more literally, ‘whoever believes into Me.’ St Paul writes: ‘As many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus.’ The LORD, then, is referring to the mystery of holy baptism; for, to believe in Christ Jesus is a ‘package deal’; it is to be united to Him in His death (Rom 6.5). In Holy Baptism, we are immersed somehow into the very Body of Christ and into the fullness of the uncreated divinity, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in it. The history of Christ’s Body, then, becomes our history; and, the fullness of His uncreated divinity, the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit becomes the Life that is living in us.

Baptism is our Pentecost. The Font becomes the Upper Room. When we descend into the Font, we are immersed in the Holy Spirit who has descended into those waters through the prayers and sacramental rites. We are immersed into the death of Christ, so that the Life of His Resurrection is now active in our body and soul like the yeast that makes the dough to rise. In our baptism, we become ‘virgin-born,’ children of God born of the Spirit of our Father in Heaven above and of our Mother, the Church, below. We are born onto the Path, the LORD Jesus Christ Himself, that now ascends in the Glory of His Ascension to the Right Hand of His Father, now ‘our Father’, in heaven. The trajectory of our earthly life no longer follows the biological life of human sexuality back to the dust of the ground. It follows the spiritual life of the LORD’s Resurrection and Ascension up to heaven.

The LORD says, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me, will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ St Paul writes: ‘Since we are buried with Christ through baptism…so also let us walk in newness of life.’ That is, let us walk in this eternal life that is illumined by the uncreated Light of the fullness of God that dwells in Christ Jesus bodily—that dwells in the mystery of His Church bodily, in her prayers, her liturgical and sacramental worship, and that dwells now in you bodily, for you have been immersed into Christ, and you have partaken of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4) as your food and drink in the Church’s Holy Eucharist. And so you have received the Heavenly Spirit.  This Path that now stretches before us is Christ Himself. As Christ, it ascends from the depths of the tomb, from the deep of our heart where we were dead in our sins and trespasses (Eph 2.1) up to the Garden, on the other side of the Tomb, and up into the heavens that were opened in the mystery of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan and His death on the Cross.

Do not be presenting your earthly members to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, or of death, St Paul writes (Rom 6.13); but give yourselves to God as those who have been raised from death to life, and your members as instruments of righteousness, or of life—for righteousness is immortal. Beloved faithful, do you see how, from the day of your baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended on you and united you to Christ, how He joined you together with the disciples who were in the Upper Room, and transfigured your daily life into  a daily ascent from the Tomb to the opened Heavens on the Path, which is Christ, of Resurrection and Life? Today, for the first time since Pascha, we kneel and say penitential prayers. This is because, having received the Holy Spirit, we have received the power of Christ Himself to get to work, working out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2.12) in order to follow Our LORD into the opened heavens.

St Peter writes: Here, in this life, ‘we must suffer various trials that the genuineness of our faith may be tested, and that we may be found in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ (1 Pt 1.7) That is, having been united to the Body of Christ in our baptism and having received the Holy Spirit when we entered into the fullness of the LORD’s uncreated divinity, we now set to the work of our own salvation: giving our earthly members in this life to Christ as instruments of His righteousness, and not to the spirit of darkness that works in our passions to make us into sons of disobedience. In the trials and afflictions that come at us in this life, we fight to present ourselves not to anger or lust but to the death of Jesus that is working in us, destroying our death by His death. Thus, the genuineness of our faith is tested so that we may enter into the victory of the LORD’s Resurrection, and our daily life becomes an ascent from glory to glory in the power of the Glory of Christ who is working in us. Amen!