41 Pentecost, June 15, 2008

Acts 2:1-11

John 7:37-52, 8:12

At the center of the rich imagery of this glorious Feast of Pentecost are the Lord’s words: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly will flow rivers of living water.” This clearly puzzles some translators. In their effort to make sense of this passage, they translate belly as heart, so that their translation reads, “rivers of living water will flow from out of his heart.” But the Greek reads belly. Let’s stick with the actual text and see if the word belly does not lead us to a deeper theological insight into the meaning of the Feast of Pentecost.

Belly in the OT Scriptures is associated with the Mother’s womb. Obviously, then, the living waters that flow from the belly would be the genital waters of the man and woman that carry the seed and egg that produce life. But in religious symbolism, the belly is not only where a baby is conceived and brought forth into the world. It is also the tomb; for when the seed unites with the egg to generate the baby, it dies. Moreover, the baby brought into being from the living waters of the belly is born into what we are calling the psychic life of the world[1] that immediately begins to circle back to the tomb. The living waters of the belly or womb, then, flow from and to the tomb. In the psychic life of the world, life and death are united as one in the belly or in the tomb; but they are united in such a way that the life brought forth from the womb always returns to the tomb. To be born into this psychic life of the world means that you will die. What happens to you in death, whether you live on in some way or not, is the ultimate question that is at the heart of religion. It is at the heart of the Christian Faith.

When the Lord cries out, “He who believes in me, rivers of living water will flow from his belly,” his use of the word belly leads us to understand that the question of believing in him or not touches the ultimate mystery of our life and death.

St John tells us that the living waters Jesus is talking about are his Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, Jesus says elsewhere, proceeds from the Father who is from everlasting to everlasting. Therefore, the living waters that flow from the Father, the Holy Spirit, are life that differs absolutely from the living waters that flow from the belly of man and woman. The life of the Holy Spirit is centered not in the womb that is also a tomb, but in God the Father who has no beginning, no end. He is the Creator of Heaven and earth, so he transcends and is altogether different from the psychic life of heaven and earth. The psychic life of heaven and earth circles from the tomb and back, and so its essential principle is corruption and death in darkness and nothingness. The life of the Holy Spirit circles from the heavenly Father and back, and so its essential principle is life everlasting in uncreated light and divine fullness.

Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst. The water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”[2]  The water Jesus gives us to drink is the Holy Spirit. Never to thirst means never to die because one is established in the Font of Life, God the Father. The Samaritan woman wanted this water: “Give me this water that I may not thirst,” i.e., that I may not die, she said to the Savior. How does one find this living water that proceeds from the Father and that is altogether different from the psychic life of this world? Having found it, how does one drink it?

Jesus cries out this morning, “If anyone thirsts let him come to me.” Jesus is begotten of the Father before all ages. He is the very Son of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father by whom all things were made. That is to say, he is not of this world. His “life-principle” is not the soul whose living waters flow from the belly and back to the tomb. His “life-principle” is the Holy Spirit of God the Father. This I think is what his Ascension is teaching us. In his Ascension, we find him where he was before, not in the belly or in the tomb, but at the right hand of God the Father. But if he is not from this world like all of us, how on earth can we step beyond the living waters of our psychic life, so that we can come to him?

We can come to him because he has come to us and made himself one with us. The significance of the Christian doctrine that Jesus was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary is that there has been planted in the belly of humanity the Seed of the Father’s life-giving Holy Spirit who is not of the world. By his descent to the Virgin and his ascent on the Cross, the Savior has planted the Father’s spiritual life in the tomb of the world’s psychic life. The Church tells us that it was the Archangel Gabriel who announced to the Virgin the conception of the Son of God in her womb; and it was the Archangel Gabriel who announced to the myrrh-bearing women the Savior’s resurrection from the tomb. Gabriel’s presence in these two moments centered on the womb of the Virgin and the tomb of Christ proclaims to the world a new kind of unity between life and death: not the psychic unity where life is united to death, but a spiritual unity where death has been united to the uncreated life of God the Father, the spiritual life of the Father’s Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, the Savior comes forth from the womb of the Virgin with healing in his wings, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, even raising the dead. By the Holy Spirit the crucified Savior comes forth from the tomb as a Bridegroom in procession, trampling down death by death and giving life to those in the tomb – not the psychic life of this world but the uncreated life of the Father’s Holy Spirit.

So, when the Lord says, “He who believes in me, from his belly will flow rivers of living water,” he is proclaiming the great mystery of the Gospel, the Good News: those who desire liberation from the darkness, the emptiness, the meaninglessness of a psychic life centered in corruption and death may come to him where he comes to us, in his holy Church, his body, to drink from the waters that he gives, the living waters of his body and blood, holy Eucharist which, precisely because it is the commemoration, the anamnesis, of the Lord’s death, is also the commemoration of his holy resurrection and the commemoration of Pentecost. Partaking of the Living Bread and the Living Cup, we become one with the incarnate Son of God and we receive God’s Heavenly Spirit unto life eternal. We experience the joy of Pentecost every time we receive the most pure mysteries of Christ’s Holy Eucharist.

From this, we should see that the Christian Faith is more than a code of ethics or set of religious ideas we believe, more even than a way of life. The Christian Faith is the divine, uncreated life of God the Father. Its words are not the words of human wisdom but the words of Him who is the Word of God. Its words are therefore filled with the life-giving power of Christ’s Holy Spirit. As he himself promised, his own Holy Spirit has given us these words in his holy Church, which is his very body. They are given to us in the doctrines and prayers of the Church, so that whoever keeps these divine words of the Savior that he has given to us through his holy Church, and whoever practices them, walks in the same uncreated, divine life of God’s Holy Spirit that is given to us to eat and drink in the Living Bread and Living Cup of Holy Eucharist. Having been taken up into the mystery of Pentecost when you receive the Heavenly Spirit in Holy Eucharist, understand that when you leave the Christian temple and return to the life of the world, you leave in the Holy Spirit of God; and that you do not return to the life of the world. You are sent forth into the world from the Church to shine like lamps of divine light in the darkness of the world, and in the dignity of your bearing, the grace of your words and the compassion of your deeds, to draw people to the Savior by your witness, your martyria to the life of the Holy Spirit that has been graciously poured out on all flesh by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in the love of God the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit, so that whoever is thirsty for the living waters that Christ gives, may know to find them in Christ’s Holy Church, there to receive from the Font of immortality the life-giving waters of the Holy Spirit that the Savior gives to the world in the mystery of his most pure and life-creating body and blood unto life eternal. Amen. 

[1] See last Sunday’s sermon.

[2] Jn 4:14