40 Seventh Sunday of Pascha: Sunday After Ascension, June 8, 2008

Acts 20:16-18, 28-36

John 17:1-13

I was reflecting this last week on how brutal life is. Everyone takes a beating in this life. We are prone to arthritis, diabetes, allergies, crippling diseases and maladies of all kinds. Even so-called “beautiful people” may at any time be struck down by high blood pressure, high cholesterol, clogged arteries, cancer or some other incurable disease. Are we not all given to moodiness, petulance and depression? All of us are imperfect and misshapen in one way or another. And it only gets worse as we get older.

We call the life-principle of this world the soul. We can call the life of this world, psychic life, from the Greek word, psyche, that can be translated as both life and soul. The psychic life of this world is a river whose waters carry suffering, disease, maladies, neuroses and psychoses of all kinds. Nor can the waters of psychic life sustain us for very long before we slip away in death.

Last night at Great Vespers, we read from Deuteronomy that the Lord who was God to Moses is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, to whom belong all the heavens and all the earth and everything in it.[1] This is the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ in whom we believe and whom the Church of Christ worships. This is to say that the origin of Jesus Christ is not man but God. The significance of the Virgin Birth is that the Blessed Virgin conceives a child not by man but by God. The life principle of the babe growing in her womb is not the soul of man but the Spirit of the Father. Jesus received the psychic life of the world from the Virgin Mary and made it his own when he became flesh and dwelt among us; but the life-principle that is proper to him is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. The life that Jesus gives to the world is not the psychic life of the world that is filled with suffering, pain and maladies of all kinds. The life Jesus gives to the world is the Holy Spirit, the uncreated, divine life of the Father. The Spirit of God is from everlasting to everlasting. It transcends the world. It is not of the world. Sickness, corruption and death are not to be found in it. They have no power over it.

This life of the Holy Spirit enlivened the soul of Adam in the beginning when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath, the Spirit, of life so that man became a living soul; that is to say, man became a being whose life-principle, whose soul, was nourished by the Holy Spirit of God. In the Spirit of God, Adam transcended sickness and death. He was physically and spiritually healthy, full of life and light, the life and light of the Holy Spirit. This was the original condition of man, and therefore the condition that is fundamentally natural to man. Our present condition in which we suffer from maladies of all kinds is the tangible evidence that we live in this world in a way that is unnatural to us; for if we existed in a manner that was natural to us, there would be no surliness, no petulance, no moodiness or depression, no sickness, no suffering, no death. We and the world would be whole, healthy and beautiful, full of grace and truth.

One of the lessons that is very clear from the Paschal feasts of Christ’s death and resurrection, his Ascension into heaven, and Pentecost, is that there is another life higher than the life of the soul. It is the life of the Spirit of God, a life that has a different effect on the body and on the soul than the psychic life of this world. By his death and resurrection, Christ cuts death out of the soul as the surgeon removes a cancer from the body. He infuses the human soul he receives from the Blessed Virgin and makes his own with his Holy Spirit, and he makes his soul and body to be truly living in the life of the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, he rolls away the stone from the tomb so that the tomb is now open to the mystery of God beyond our birth and death. Be born again in Christ and pass through the tomb of death as through gates that open onto Paradise beyond the psychic life of this world. By his Ascension, Christ unites earth to heaven. He unites the psychic life of the world to the spiritual life of God. And, on the Feast of Pentecost, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ calls out to us and proclaims to us that in this new ontological state of the world, God the Father has again breathed out his Spirit into Adam’s nostrils; indeed, he has poured out his Spirit on all flesh, so that whoever wishes, may come to the baptismal font to become one with Christ in his death and resurrection and, clothed in the light and life of the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, to drink the living waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit that flow from his side in the Living Cup of the Church’s Holy Eucharist and so receive into one’s soul and body the uncreated life of God’s Holy Spirit unto life eternal, a spiritual life whose effect on the body and the soul is to enliven them with spiritual health in uncreated life and light, to make us whole, to make us one with God the Father in the grace of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the communion of the Holy Spirit. To be a Christian, to believe in one God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in one Lord Jesus Christ who was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, who was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and who rose from the dead, and in one Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father, is to live for this life of God’s Holy Spirit.

To be a Christian doesn’t mean you become immune in this psychic life of the world to sickness and death. It means that you become a student of this divine life of the Heavenly Spirit that you receive in Holy Eucharist, and in that new life that you take up the practice of the precepts and commandments of Christ the Lord, for they are the very shape of this divine life that is now within you; and in the joy that is born in the soul from a life lived in accordance with Christ’s commandments in the Spirit of God, that you become a martyr, a witness in both the sweet and the bitter things of this life to the hope of glory that is within you, the hope of the eternal life of God’s Holy Spirit that makes you truly alive and that will carry you beyond the grave into the Garden of Paradise. Amen.

[1] Dt 10:17