|43 - Our Exodus in the Tabernacle of Our Body, Aug 11, 2019|
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1 Corinthians 1:10-18
To have the mind of the Church is to live in the mystery of the LORD’ Pascha. The LORD’s Holy Pascha is the spiritual substance that shapes the history of Israel all the way back to Adam and Eve. It is the substance that shapes creation; It is the substance that shapes all the events of the Savior’s “own history” in the flesh, and it shapes the life of the LORD’s Holy Church.
When we make the sign of the Cross and intone, “Blessed is our God!” something mystical happens. If we “attend”—as the Deacon enjoins us when he sings out: “Let us attend!”—we feel the prayers drawing us out of the city and into the desert where the LORD is. In time, we are entering the timeless mystery of the LORD’s Pascha. Every Saturday Vigil leads us with the myrrhbearing women to the LORD’s Tomb to behold the Resurrection of Christ. This morning, we enter the luminescent Cloud of the LORD’s Pascha as it is given shape in the feeding of the five thousand, whose coming into the desert looking for the LORD shows the same shape as the myrrhbearers coming to the LORD’s Tomb. On Tuesday last, we entered the LORD’s Pascha as it was given shape in the Savior’s Transfiguration on Mt Tabor. This Thursday, we enter it in the Falling Asleep of the Holy Theotokos.
Come to the Vigil for the Savior’s Transfiguration, for example. We’re not just coming to review the details of the Gospel story in a pious remembrance. The words of the Church’s prayers are of the WORD of God who spoke to the prophets, who was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and whom the holy apostles proclaim. Those words draw in our mind an “icon”, a sacred image of the event we are “remembering”, so that, in prayer, we can enter mystically—and that means, in the Church, truly, really—into the icon and ascend a holy, mystical mountain where the Glory of the Gospel is eternally present, where it is always “Today.” Our spirit is led out of the city of the world, into the “desert” of our soul and into the Cloud of Glory of the LORD’s Pascha. We become, mystically, eyewitnesses with Peter, James and John of the Savior’s Glory as far as we can see it; for, in the worship of the Church, we come into the living presence of the LORD Jesus Christ Who is the First and the Last, Who is, Who was and Who is to come (Rev 1:8), the living One who died and, Who, behold! is alive forevermore, Who holds the keys of death and the Unseen (Rev 1:18).
Here, beneath the visible coverings of the Church’s worship, is the spiritual essence of the life we have received in the Church. It is hidden from the world but known to us and to Our Savior in our heart. In the Cloud of this mystical, spiritual plane that is in the world but not of it, then, let us ponder what this morning’s Gospel is teaching us for our life in this world today.
Let’s go back to a verse from St Luke’s account of the LORD’s Transfiguration, which we read at the Vigil for the Feast last Monday evening: “[Moses and Elijah] were seen with Him in His Glory. They were speaking of His Exodus which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). His Exodus, of course, is His Holy Pascha: His suffering, death and Sabbath Rest in the Tomb, and His Holy Resurrection when He would “cross over” into the “Promised Land,” the New Jerusalem or the Kingdom of Heaven in His Holy Ascension.
Now, let me read to you from the passage in St Peter that we read at the Divine Liturgy on Tuesday morning: “I know that the laying aside of my tabernacle (the sacred temple of his body) will be soon,” he says, “even as Our LORD Jesus Christ has revealed to me; and so, I am earnest that each of you do these things in remembrance after my exodus” (2 Pt 1:14-15). St Peter then goes on to relate his experience with James and John on the holy mountain when they witnessed the LORD’s Transfiguration.
I want to focus on two words in St Peter’s epistle. First, note how he understands, from his union with Christ that was accomplished, we might say, in the type of his baptism at the Sea of Galilee (Jn 21:7ff), his life in the world to be an exodus. So also for us: in the paschal glory of the Font, our life in this world was changed—transfigured—into an exodus, a journey out of the “city” and into the desert to be with the LORD in His Exodus, His Holy Pascha.
Denying ourselves, turning away from self-indulgence, fighting our passions and addictions, is to come away from the city on the invisible, spiritual plane of the heart. Taking up our cross, that is, living the ascetic life of the Church so that the power of Christ’s Cross becomes incarnate or active in us; and, losing our life for the sake of Christ, that is, putting to death what is earthly in us through the power of Christ’s Cross made active in us as we live the ascetical life of the Church so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us: this is the hidden spiritual substance of coming out of the city and into the desert to where Christ is, in you. This is how our baptism becomes not just a passing moment in our life but the root and substance of our life that grows and blossoms as we live our life in this world not in the world but in the joy of the LORD’s Holy Pascha.
Second, note how St Peter identifies his earthly body as his tabernacle that he will remove when he completes his exodus, when he dies. Now, when Israel came out of Egypt to meet the LORD at Mt Sinai in the desert (here is the shape of our Gospel this morning!), the LORD called Moses up into the Cloud of His Glory and there He revealed to Moses the mystery of creation. Creation itself is a cosmic temple shaped by the mystery of the Heavenly Temple and its worship—that is, the LORD’ Holy Pascha; and, it was according to the pattern of this Heavenly worship that Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle that would be always at the center of Israel as she made her exodus to the Promised Land. Moreover, it was in the sanctuary of the tabernacle that the LORD would dwell in Israel’s midst; and, it was from above the Ark of the Covenant that was in the sanctuary that He would speak to Israel (Ex 25:8 & 22).
In these two words, we see how St Peter’s earthly life had taken for him, in his union with Christ, the shape of the Exodus of ancient Israel. So also, our body was raised from the Font as a holy tabernacle, a temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells (1 Cor 3:16); and in the tabernacle of our body, that is, in our body now offered as a living sacrifice to the LORD of Glory, we make our exodus out of the city of this world and into the desert to where the LORD is. We find Him not in the city of the world but in the desert of our soul. In our heart, the sanctuary of our tabernacle, in the desert of our soul where we have come “out of the city,” we come upon the LORD of Glory in the Temple of His risen Body (Jn 2:19-21).
The desert in which the LORD is found shall rejoice and blossom like the rose, sings Isaiah (35:1). Living water flows from the Fountain of Life when He is found in that soul that before was a dry and trackless desert (Ps 63:1). The prophet and the Psalmist are describing the heavenly wonder of the Church’s Holy Eucharist, the inmost substance of the LORD’s Pascha, of Israel’s Exodus, of the feeding of the five thousand this morning. At this moment, we are all in these biblical moments and all these biblical “moments” are in this moment; for, here we are in the Cloud of the Holy Spirit that overshadows the Body, the Temple of the incarnate God, the Church. He is in our midst as the Living Bread and the Living Cup that come down from Heaven as our heavenly manna to nourish and strengthen us as we make our exodus through the desert of this life to the Promised Land, to Christ Himself, beyond the Jordan of our grave.
Dear faithful, here is what I want to proclaim this morning in all of this. The living presence of the LORD in His Holy Church and the mystery of His Holy Pascha, which we enter in every worship service: this is what makes the worship of Christ’s Holy Orthodox Church so rich and beautiful, so healing and life-giving, so bountiful in joy. If we experience the wordship of the Church as dry as a desert, is that a commentary on the Church’s worship or is it revealing where our heart is? For, in the worship of the Church, the Living Waters of the LORD’s Holy Spirit are being poured into our hearts and souls, if we are making our body into a tabernacle and our heart a sanctuary where God the LORD can dwell, and if we are making our life in this world an exodus centered not on our trials and afflictions but on the victory, the joy and the glory of the LORD’s Holy Pascha dwelling in the tabernacle of our body. Centering our life in the worship of the Church, attentively, prayerfully, this is how we acquire the mind of the Church, the Spirit, the Wisdom of the Church.
In the desert of your soul, then come to the Church not as to a desert but as to the Tree of Life who makes the desert rejoice as a rose garden! Come to enter into the prayers. You will find yourself entering the radiant Cloud of the LORD’s Paschal Joy. You will find your soul being raised on high and you should behold with Peter, James and John the Glory of the LORD as far as you can see it! Amen!