|42 - All Saints, June 30, 2013|
Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30
“He who loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,” says the Lord in this morning’s Gospel. In its liturgical setting, this morning’s Gospel is the word of the ascended Lord, calling to us from His throne in the heavens. I believe it is the same word He gave to Abraham long ago, when He said: “"Come out from your country and your kindred and your father's house and go to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Gn 12:1-2)
Abraham obeyed. He left his country, his kindred and his father’s house. In effect, he left father and mother, son and daughter. He took up his cross and followed Christ the Lord, who led him to the land of Canaan. And, when he had come to the land of Canaan, the Lord said to him: “To your seed I will give this land." (Gn 12:7)
Now, St Paul tells us that the seed whom the Lord is talking about is the Lord Himself. “The promise was made to Abraham and to his seed,” St Paul says in his letter to the Galatians. “It does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as to many but, ‘to your seed,’ as to one; and that seed is Christ.” (Gal 3:16) Christ, then, is the Seed of Abraham in whom the nations will be blessed (cf. Gn 22:18), who will make Abraham a great nation and a blessing to all the nations. He does so in the mysteries of His Holy Pascha: His death and Resurrection and His Glorious Ascension.
In the light of Christ’s Glorious Ascension, the eyes of faith open to see Canaan, the land that God promised He would give to Abraham’s seed, as an icon of the Kingdom of Heaven; an icon of the New Heavens and the New Earth that St John saw in His apocalyptic vision. (cf. Rev 21:1) And, in the light of Holy Pentecost, the eyes of faith see that the blessing by which all nations will be blessed is the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But, to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is to be made living souls again, as Adam was in the beginning. To leave father and mother, son and daughter, and to take up our cross to follow Christ, to lose our life for His sake that we may find it again, is to flee from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and to follow Christ that to us might be given the words of eternal life (Jn 17:2), and that we may become partakers of the divine nature, as St Peter tells us. (II Pet 1:4). To leave father and mother, son and daughter, and to take up our cross to follow Christ, is to strike out on the ascending path that leads up into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:2) after He has raised us from death to life, just as He led Adam up into the Garden of Eden after He had raised him up from the clay of the earth and breathed into Him His Holy Spirit to make him a “living soul”; (cf. Gn 2:7) It is to strike out on the ascending path that led Abraham and the Israelites to the Promised Land; it is to strike out on the ascending path that is Christ the Lord Himself (Jn 14:6) and to become a saint in whom God loves to rest.
Let’s take up St Peter’s imagery and say that it is to become a living stone built into a holy house that is the temple of God, whose cornerstone is Christ. (I Pt 2:5-6) Or, in the words of St Paul, it is to honor our bodies as the temple of God in whom His Holy Spirit dwells, which we have received from God. (I Cor 6:19) We received the Holy Spirit, and our bodies became God’s temple in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (cf. I Cor 3:16) at our Holy Baptism. On that glorious day, we were raised from the waters of the font, as Adam was raised from the clay of the earth. We were sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit with the anointing of the Holy Chrism and became children of God, born of the Spirit from above, as Adam was made a living soul when God breathed into him the breath of life. On that glorious day, we were led on the ascending path up to the ambo, and we were granted to partake of Christ’s body and blood in the mystery of Holy Eucharist, and we became members of Christ’s Holy Church, of His holy crucified, risen and ascended body that was born of the Holy Spirit in the faithful on the Day of Pentecost. We joined the great company of the Church, of the faithful who have received Christ, for we were born of the Holy Spirit from above as children of God, in whom Christ continues to “become flesh and to dwell among us, full of grace and truth” (cf Jn 1:14) and to be with us here in the world, even to the end of the age. (cf. Mat 28:20)
We see how Christ, as the Second Adam, completed the work of creation that God had begun to do in the beginning (cf Gn 2:3 & Gn 2:15). It is the work of raising earth to heaven and pouring out the Spirit of God on all flesh (Joel 1) so that God is glorified in man, and man is deified in God; in other words, man is made a living soul in the Holy Spirit. He becomes one with the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit, so that he is made to be a partaker of the divine nature, and I believe we must say that he is clothed in the very same glory that the Lord Jesus Christ had with the Father in the beginning. I believe we must say this because when Christ was ascended in glory – i.e., in the Holy Spirit – He ascended in His human nature, so that His human nature, our human nature, was glorified, i.e. deified, in Christ’s Holy Ascension. But beyond even this, the Lord Himself says it: “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” (Jn 17:21)
The glory I have given to them - I believe that this glory of the Holy Spirit is the true inheritance, the real “land” that God promised that He would give toAbraham. To become a living stone of the living temple of Christ’s body in the land – in the glory – of the Holy Spirit, to become a partaker of the divine nature, as St Peter says; to become a temple of the living God in whom the Holy Spirit – the glory of God – dwells, as St Paul says, to become a living stone of the living temple that is Christ’s own crucified, risen and ascended body, that He raised up on the third day so that it was no longer subject to death and corruption, as the Lord Himself says: this is the inheritance that God wanted to give to the Seed of Abraham, and which the Seed of Abraham, Christ our God, wants to give to those who love Him – to those who leave father and mother, son and daughter, who lose their life for the love of Christ and who take up their cross to follow Christ to the land, to the glory, to the life of the Holy Spirit – that He promised Abraham, as He Himself says in His High Priestly prayer that was read on the Sunday after the Ascension, and which I think gives us the theology of Ascension: “Now I am coming to Thee, and these [words of eternal life] I speak in the world, that my joy may be fulfilled in them” (Jn 17:13); and, again: “The glory which Thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.” (Jn 17:21)
Last night at Great Vespers we read from the Wisdom of Solomon concerning the virtuous: “God has put them to the test and proved them worthy to be with Him; He has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a burnt offering.” (Wisd 3:5-6) God put Adam to the test by giving him a command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – in other words, not to give himself to idolatry. Adam failed the test, and was found unworthy to be with God; and, he was expelled from Paradise. God the Word clothed Himself in Adam’s nature and became man and, as the Second Adam, was obedient to the Father even unto death. He was found worthy to be with God, and He was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven in glory in Adam’s nature, thereby raising Adam to heaven with Himself. Adam failed, we have failed to attain to the glory of the destiny for which we were created by God. But where we failed, Christ succeeded.
Through her holy mysteries the Church has led us up to the Upper Room of Pentecost and we have received with the disciples and apostles of Christ the gift of the Holy Spirit. Through our baptism, Chrismation and Holy Eucharist, we have been united to Christ’s crucified, risen and ascended body, and we have received power from on high, the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the power of the resurrection, the power of God’s own divine life that makes us living souls, as Adam was in the Garden. By virtue of the Holy Spirit given to us in the mysteries of the Church, we have been made like Adam, newly formed, from the clay of the earth of our own bodies.
In Christ, we have received the power of the Holy Spirit to do what Adam was called but failed to do, and which He, Christ did: to take up our cross, to leave father and mother, son and daughter – i.e., to flee the corruption that is in the world and make our way up to Eden, up to the Promised Land, up to the Kingdom of Heaven where Christ is seated in the glory of the Holy Spirit at the right hand of the Father, in our own human nature.
This ascent up to heaven is the New Exodus of the New Israel that leads up through the wilderness of our earthly life, as Christ was led into the wilderness following His Baptism. Here, in the wilderness of our earthly life, we meet with trials and tribulations, as Christ was tempted by the devil for 40 days. These trials and tribulations are our test to prove us worthy to be with Christ our God in heaven, as St Peter says: now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Pt 1:5f. – cf. Wisd 3:6). Holy Scripture gives us reason to take heart in the trials and tribulations of our daily life here in this world. They are the means by which God is testing us and purifying our faith so that, having left father and mother, son and daughter for the love of Christ, we can become saints: those found worthy to be with God in the joy, the life, the love of God. Amen.