|42 All Saints - June 22, 2008|
Matthew 10:32-33, 37-38
On the feast of Pentecost the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples as he descended upon the Lord Jesus Christ at his baptism by John in the Jordan, and raises them up into the fullness of Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost consummates the Lord’s Pascha and it is the essence of the Gospel. This being the first Sunday after Pentecost I would like to reflect this morning on the essence of the Christian Faith that we received at our baptism to become members of the Church, the body of Christ.
In the beginning God made man in his own image and likeness. Holy Scripture tells us that Christ is the Image of God, so that we are given to understand that man was brought into being in Christ. It is natural for man to be a partaker of the divine nature, as St Peter says; to eat and drink God, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, himself commands us to do: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you.”
After fashioning man from the dust of the ground, God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This is the Holy Spirit of God that proceeds from the Father. Enlivened by the Holy Spirit man became a living soul. That means that man did not live in himself; he lived in God. The Good News of the Gospel is that this natural principle of our life has been restored in Christ, who “died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was resurrected.” Through the Holy Spirit it is no longer “I who live but Christ who lives in me.”
From these biblical indications, we can take man’s creation in the image and likeness of God to refer to the Son and the Holy Spirit in and through whom man was made to live. In the Son of God, the Image of the Father, man is in communion with the Father and he is granted to become a partaker of the divine nature. In the Holy Spirit of God, man is in the likeness of God; he is spiritual, free, enlightened, truly alive because he lives the eternal life of God’s Holy Spirit.
The two trees in the Garden represent two kinds of life. Eating from the tree of good and evil represents the choice to live apart from God in a manner that is unnatural to us. To live apart from God against our nature is death and so God warned Adam: “On the day you eat of that tree you will surely die.” He commanded Adam, however, to eat from the Tree of Life. Now, the Church teaches us that the Cross is the Tree of Life and that Christ is the fruit that the Cross carries like a cluster of grapes full of life. The Church is teaching us that the fruit of the Tree of Life that Adam was commanded to eat was Christ. And you can see why; to eat and drink God as a partaker of the divine nature is how we were made to live. It is what’s natural to us who were made in the image and likeness of God.
Tragically, with Adam and Eve we have followed our own will and not God’s. We have eaten the forbidden fruit and we have fallen away from the life of God’s Holy Spirit. We have become slaves of the flesh, addicted to its desires. We are prisoners of our psychology and to the fears and anxieties of a soul that is wandering blindly in darkness, no longer illumined by the uncreated light of God. Beneath the apparent purpose of our worldly business, we drift aimlessly as on a raft floating on a dark sea, wholly at the mercy of the storms of passion that assail us: lust, anger and fear until we finally sink into the sea’s dark depths. Yet when God, the King and Giver of Life came to his own for the purpose of granting those who would receive him life eternal, his own received him not. They confessed Caesar as their king. They chose the psychic life of the world that is ruled by the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Why are we so foolish?
We find the answer in what the Lord tells us this morning. To find life in God’s Holy Spirit we must take up our Cross and lose our soul. We must take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church and let go our love of the flesh and vainglory in order to raise up our lives in the love of God and neighbor. This is hard, even painful because we have chosen to love the life of the world that is against our nature, and we have grown accustomed to that life. Even so, the life of God’s Holy Spirit is profoundly natural to us. The pain of asceticism practiced under the guidance of the Church opens us onto the liberation of the Holy Spirit and to the joy of living body and soul in God through the operation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the observance of the Lord’s commandments.
In this morning’s Gospel, the Lord takes up the prophecy of Micah. It is a warning that Israel’s doom is at hand for she has chosen to love the life of the world rather than the life of the Lord her God: “Alas! The time of your vengeance is come; now shall be their lamentation. Do not trust in friends, nor put your hope in those who govern. Beware of your wife and do not tell her anything. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter will rise up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are all the people of his own house.”
We heard St John refer to Pentecost last Sunday as the Last Great Day of the Feast. Reading these words from the prophet Micah in this morning’s Gospel on the first Sunday of Pentecost confirms that the Feast of Pentecost is the Last Day of the world, the Day of Judgment and of God’s vengeance. The sword that Christ casts upon the earth is the Sword of the Spirit, as St Paul says. It is the Word of God that comes from the mouth of God, as St John the Evangelist says. But, because it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, that pierces to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow to discern the thoughts and the intentions of the heart, as St Paul says in Hebrews, this Day of Judgment is, for now, also the Day of Salvation to those who receive the Judgment of God in the same contrite spirit as did the prophet, Micah, when he says in the same passage that Jesus quotes in this morning’s Gospel: “I will look to the Lord. I will wait for God my Savior, for my God will hear me. Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy, for though I have fallen, yet will I arise. Even if I should sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will endure the wrath of the Lord, for I sinned against Him, until he pleads my cause; for he will execute my judgment and will bring me out into the light, and I will perceive his righteousness,” or his life, for righteousness in Hebrew also connotes life.
When you stood at the baptismal font, you were standing before the Second Joshua, Jesus Christ. You came to the baptismal font confessing your sins in the sacrament of confession. You were receiving Christ’s Judgment against you, for you were confessing the righteousness of his Judgment against you. In confessing the righteousness of his judgment against you, you were choosing that day whom you would serve – you were choosing Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father in his Holy Spirit, and on that day, in that confession, the Sword of God’s vengeance on the earth became salvation for you. You submitted to the Judgment of God when you submitted to the hand of the priest and were buried with Christ in the waters of your baptism. You permitted God to return you to the dust of the ground, to put your transgressions to death; and your death in Christ became life for you in the Father’s Holy Spirit. Clothed in the Robe of light – the light of God’s Holy Spirit – you were brought to the ambon and to the Living Cup as to the Tree of Life in the Garden, and you were granted to drink the living waters of the Holy Spirit unto life eternal that Christ gives in the sacred mysteries of his Holy Eucharist. You ate the flesh and you drank the blood of Christ, and you received his Heavenly Spirit. You became a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal, members of his crucified and risen body. There has been planted in the field of your body the mustard seed of the Holy Spirit. To the degree that we receive the judgment of God’s sword against us and take up our cross, the ascetic disciplines of the Church, in order to lose our life for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s, to that degree we are being restored to the life of God’s Holy Spirit that is natural to us.
O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth: grant that we may be illumined by the Feast. May the Seed of God’s Holy Spirit planted in the field of our body sprout in the heart and mind of our soul to give us at least a glimmer of understanding the ineffable wonder of the precious gift we have received in the baptismal waters, in the sacred myrrh of our Chrismation and in the Holy Eucharist of Christ’s Holy Church; and in the reverence and awe inspired by that glimpse of the ineffable, may we be resolved to renew our repentance in the Lord even now so as to redeem the time, pursuing less and less the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life and more and more the precious gift of God’s Holy Spirit that he has poured out on all flesh through his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the glory and the wonder of Holy Pentecost. Amen.