41 - Entering the Mystery, June 26, 2022

Romans 2.10 – 16

Matthew 4.18 – 23

It says in our Gospel this morning that Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee. He saw two fishermen, Simon Peter and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea. He said to them, ‘Come, follow Me!’ Then He went on from there and saw two more fishermen, James, the Son of Zebedee, and his brother, John, mending their fishing nets. He calls them, too, saying they will become fishers of men. Then the LORD goes throughout Galilee teaching and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, healing every sickness and every malady among the people.

And what is this Gospel of the Kingdom? It is the cosmic Victory of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, over the devil, His destruction of death by His death, and His bestowing life upon those in the tombs. This is the divine healing of the Gospel that heals every sickness and every malady among the people!

Now, we read in Ezekiel (47.1-12) that Ezekiel saw in a vision a ‘Snow-Melt’ river descending into the Temple of the Last Day on the mountain opposite Jerusalem [i.e., this is not the Temple of Jerusalem (Eze 10.18&11.23 LXX)] and issuing from its eastern gate. It starts out as a­ shallow trickle until it becomes a Mighty River so deep it cannot be crossed. It flows eastward into Galilee, into the desert and out as far as the outlet of the sea, healing the waters, and making to live every living and moving creature. Many fish are there, it says, and the River heals them and makes them to live wherever it goes. And fishermen are standing there, it says, spreading out their nets.

We celebrated the birth of John the Baptist on Friday. He was the last and greatest of the prophets because, whereas the prophets saw the WORD of God in a vision and proclaimed His coming to Israel, John the Baptist saw Him in the flesh and proclaimed His coming in the flesh to Israel and, indeed, to all the nations!

It is clear from our Gospel this morning that Jesus is the Mighty River of Ezekiel’s vision now come in the flesh. The Temple Ezekiel sees, then, is clearly the Theotokos. Jesus, Her Son, is the WORD of God who comes down from heaven like Ezekiel’s snow-melt River and enters the sanctuary of His Temple, Her womb, to become the Son of Man. He issues from Her womb, His Face set to the East, His Holy Pascha, exactly like Ezekiel’s snow-melt river issuing eastward from the Temple’s gate. He grows to manhood like Ezekiel’s snow-melt becoming a Mighty River, and then He goes throughout Galilee as did Ezekiel’s Mighty River, healing every sickness and every malady among the people wherever He goes, all the way to the outlet of the sea, to His death on the Cross by which He destroyed our death and gave life, the ultimate healing, to those in the tombs.

We see from Ezekiel that the WORD of God who came to all the prophets is the same WORD of God incarnate who said to His disciples just before He ascended in Glory: ‘Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled: the Christ must suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.’ [Luk 24:44-46]. So, why must the WORD of God become flesh and suffer and rise from the dead?

St Luke says, ‘Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ [Lk 24.45] See how it is the LORD, not man, who opens the disciples’ mind to understand the Scriptures. And note well that the LORD opens their mind in the mystery of His Tomb. By tomb, I mean the whole mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection; for His resurrection happens in the tomb.

No one can see into the mystery of death that opens out beyond the grave if their eyes are not opened. For what is found in the mystery of the tomb is our beginning and our end. Our eyes can be opened to see into the mystery of the grave, then, only by the One Who Is Himself the Beginning and the End. So, note well that it was in the Tomb, in the mystery, that John ‘saw and believed what the Scriptures, the prophets, were saying.’ (Jn 20.8-9) And it was in the Garden, which was in the place where He was crucified and so in the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, that Mary Magdalene beheld the risen LORD Jesus. (Jn 20.11-17) And, the risen and glorified LORD Jesus Christ appeared again to John a few decades later in a vision, i.e., in the mystery, and said to him: ‘I am the Beginning and the End.’ (Rev 22.13)

The Orthodox Church is holy because it is the Body of Christ in which He suffered and rose again! The Orthodox Church is the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Tomb. In the Church, then, we can see the mystery of God hidden from the ages. Entering the Church, we enter the mystery of our Beginning and our End. We enter the Living Waters of the Mighty River Ezekiel saw issuing from the Temple eastward into Galilee.  We enter the mystery of God in which the vision of the prophets has been fully accomplished in the death and resurrection in the flesh of the same WORD of God who appeared to them in visions.

In the mystery of the Church, we stand with St John in the LORD’s Tomb, with Mary Magdalene in the Garden, and we may see why it was necessary for God to become flesh and to suffer and to rise again from the dead. It is because He is the Image of God, the Beginning of our coming to be as an ‘image of His own eternity.’ (Wisd 2.23) But, made in God’s own Image, Christ (Col 1.15), means that until we have attained to the Likeness of God, we have not yet attained our End. We are not yet saints, not yet ourselves the mystery of the Sabbath in whom God rests.

We therefore are the fish Ezekiel saw in his vision. The Holy Evangelists and Apostles are the fishermen; their preaching and teaching is the same WORD of God who came to the prophets, except that He now comes to us still on this side of the grave in His Church in which the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the mystery of His death and resurrection, the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory, has been revealed in these last days to us, His saints!

When we are drawn into the Net of the Holy Apostles’ preaching, we are immersed in the Wellspring of the Church’s Living Waters, Holy Baptism, and we descend to the Beginning of our Life in the mystery of Christ’s death. In the Living Waters of the Church, in the Sabbath Rest of the LORD’s Tomb, even as we are still on this side of the grave, we are given as our food and drink the Body and Blood of Christ from the mystery on the other side. And now the mystery of God, Jesus Christ, our Beginning and our End, is in us, and we are in the Mighty River, swept up into its strong current that carries us eastward into Galilee, into our everyday life, and into the desert of our soul all the way to the outlet of the sea, to our death in the flesh, and out into the deep beyond all things and into our Beginning and End in the mystery of Christ’s death and Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven. In the Living Waters of the Mighty River of the Church, Christ’s Body, our every sickness and malady are healed precisely in our death! For in His Body, the Church, Christ has destroyed our death by His death and given life to us who were dead in our sins and trespasses.

It was necessary, then, for God to become flesh, to suffer and to die because, made in His Image, we were made in the image of His own eternity (Wisd 2.23); we were made for immortality. In the mystery of His Incarnation and His Holy Pascha, Christ, the Image of God, clothes Himself with us so that we can clothe ourselves with Him, our Beginning, and so attain to our End in the Likeness of God.  Clothed in Christ and having received the Heavenly Spirit in the sacramental mysteries of His Church, His Body, we have received Power from on high, the Power of His Holy Spirit, to attain the End for which He created us ‘in the Beginning’: becoming children of God, partakers of the divine nature, even gods, sons of the Most High, by the Grace of God, as the prophets foretold. (Ps 82.6)

Therefore, in the Church our deification has begun. Through Holy Baptism, it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. If we cleave to Christ and follow Him to the outlet of the sea, we will attain our end, which is immortality and eternal life (Wisd 2.23) in the Likeness of God. We will come to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ [Eph 4:13] in the joy of the Apostles’ communion with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, in the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit. (1 Jn 1.3-4) Amen!