|42 - Gergesene Demoniacs, July 13, 2014|
John 17:1-13 (Fathers)
Matthew 8:28-9:1 (Sunday)
Hebrews 13:7-16 (Fathers)
Romans 10:1-10 (Sunday)
It might be taken as fortuitous that the timing of our biblical lessons this morning – centering on the two demoniacs in the tombs – coincides with the due date for the paper our daughter must submit in conjunction with her recent Study Abroad tour of the Holy Land. She was somewhat scandalized by what she saw at the Holy Sepulcher: even as Christians are united by the Holy Sepulcher as they all gather round it to pray, it reveals at the same time how deeply divided they are because they don’t pray together but at different times. They guard fiercely, with force if necessary, the rights and privileges they have secured even as they resent the rights and privileges granted to the others; and so, contrary to what one might expect, the site of our LORD’s Holy Tomb is not peaceful but a highly contentious site. My daughter is taking the paper she must write as an occasion to reflect and make sense of that scandalous irony she experienced at the Tomb of our LORD. Perhaps, she might use this morning’s sermon as a resource.
…Because our main Gospel this morning takes place among the tombs. Now, we believe that in the holy Incarnation of our LORD Jesus Christ, heaven and earth were united. The inner world was united to the outer world; the outer world was opened onto the inner world. The Holy Sepulchre is that geographical point where the power of the devil was destroyed at its root in the inner world. (cf. Heb 2:14) The LORD’s Tomb is that point in the outer world where Christ’s victory over death opens onto the inner world where the human soul lies buried in the tomb of the heart, dead in her sins and trespasses.
This is to say that the drama we see at the Holy Sepulcher but reflects the drama of our soul. That inner drama is set before us dramatically in this morning’s Gospel of the two demoniacs.
When we repent, when we turn away from the outer world of our daily life and, like the disciples in this morning’s Gospel, take up our cross to follow the LORD Jesus Christ, we find ourselves “coming to the other side” of the inner world of our soul where we are met almost immediately by dark spirits “coming to meet us from out of the tombs” – the tomb of our heart. These are the spirits to whom we have offered ourselves when we have given our eyes to impure images; our ears to impure lyrics and melodies; our mouths to gossip, impure speech or unclean habits such as nicotine, alcohol, drugs; our minds to impure thoughts and fantasies; our hands to impure deeds such as stealing, striking, masturbation; our bodies to sexual immorality, to fornication, adultery, even homosexuality. We have opened our hearts to the darkness and have become the dwelling place of demons and dark spirits, servants of the devil who enslave us to the power of death through the empty seductions of carnal pleasures promised in the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life. Our hearts have become a tomb. There, our souls lie dead in their sins and trespasses. Fumes rise from the decaying and rotting carcass of our spirit and foul the air of our soul with the vapors of anger, anxiety, fear, and we are tormented by doubt, confusion, boredom, depression, despair.
It says that the demoniacs were so exceedingly fierce that no one could pass that way. The hostility among Christians is so fierce at the Holy Sepulcher that many may be so scandalized that they choose not to pass that way of the Christian Faith. And, what about scandals in the Church: hierarchs and priests who stand at the holy altar, whose misdeeds of extortion, sexual misconduct, and the like chase seekers and faithful away from the way of the Church?
All of this but reflects what’s in our own soul. (Perhaps those most scandalized by the misconduct of Church leaders are so scandalized because it reflects the state of their own soul.) Are there dark shadows lurking just behind the curtain of our consciousness that so “scandalize” us that we don’t turn around in repentance at all? In other words, we fear being met by them. It takes courage to repent, to turn in our souls away from the West to face the East. Between us and the Promised Land lies a desert we have to go through. Between us and the opened heavens lies the tomb of our heart we must pass through. Between us and God’s Kingdom of Light lies the darkness of our own hell that we must pass over.
But the Tomb of the LORD is where the light of Christ has shone that the darkness cannot overcome; it is where the power of the devil has been destroyed. So, of course, the dark spirits and goblins and demons are going to be found like the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb of our heart, stirring up strife and division, using every stratagem they can to keep us out. For, if we should get in, it means their destruction – if, that is to say, we get in with the LORD by the might of His Cross.
The demonaics were so exceedingly fierce, no one could pass that way. Outside of our heart, the powers of darkness are so fierce that by ourselves we cannot get into the tomb of our heart; and, even if we could, could we make it light? Could we deliver ourselves from the power of the devil? Who, then, shall deliver us from the terror and darkness that have captured our heart?
Jesus was met by two demoniacs and suddenly, it says,they cried out: “What have we to do with You, Jesus, Son of God? Have you come to torment us before the time?” Suddenly: as though the demons were suddenly burned by fire as soon as they came into the Savior’s presence. That would be the fire of the Holy Spirit that clothed the LORD beneath the veil of His flesh – in the inner world. This, together with what they cried out to Jesus, tells me that they did not come out to meet Jesus willingly. It looks more like they were compelled. They would have fled; and indeed, when the Savior commands them into the herd of swine, one imagines them tripping and stumbling over each other in terror as they flee from the LORD, unable to get into the herd of swine fast enough.
Brothers and sisters, is not Christ in our midst? The LORD is invisibly present with us here at the holy altar of His Church, His Body. The altar of St Herman’s opens onto the Tomb of the LORD, and we are at the Holy Sepulcher standing in Christ’s Holy Resurrection! Here, whatever dark powers may be feverishly trying to frighten us, scandalize us, divert us, hoping to keep us out of our hearts, are compelled to come out and meet Him. As they are in this morning’s Gospel, we should expect them to be reduced to a mad, terrified frenzy. But here, as on the banks of the Gergesenes, the Light of Heaven, Christ Himself, shines on our heart and the dark spirits must flee from us. Our heart is opened to us, our heart that opens onto the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. (Jn 19:41) The path of repentance leading to the Tree of Life is opened before us cleared of all shadows and dark spirits. There is nothing to fear.
Ah! You say, what about when I leave this place? Dearly beloved, the LORD is with us. “He goes before you into Galilee. There you will see Him!” He goes before us in the power of His Cross. We come into His presence in Galilee, we bring Him into our hearts, when we take up our cross: prayer, fasting, confession of sins. His commandments are a light on the earth. The light of God’s commandments is the Light of Christ is Himself; for He is the True Light who has come into the world – into the outer world to save our souls in the inner world. When we keep His commandments, dearly beloved, we are clothing ourselves with Christ as with a garment. We need not fear the darkness. Simply train our eyes, our ears, our thoughts, our hands and feet on the commandments of Christ as on the light of Christ in order to do them, and, lo! We discover that He is with us, every day, every hour, every minute, even to the end of the world, and that the demons of hell – if we give ourselves to Christ and walk in the light as He is in the light – have no power over us! Amen.