|46 - UNLESS THE LORD BUILDS THE HOUSE, Aug 14, 2022|
1 Corinthians 3.9 – 17
Matthew 14.22 – 34
What is this ‘Day’ St Paul speaks of when the work a man has done will be revealed and tested by fire? And what is the work that will be tested? [1Co 3:13] St Paul himself tells us.
The Day is the Last Day, the Day of the LORD; but even before that Day, each of us will come to the Day of testing on the day of our death. The work that will be revealed and tested by fire is what we have built our body into: a holy temple filled with the Holy Spirit of God, or a temple defiled by the stench of idols?
But remember that the Fire of God burned in the Holy Virgin as it burned in the bush on Mt Horeb; and like the bush, the Holy Virgin was not consumed because She was holy. She was truly human. Built by God in his image and likeness, we were created as holy fire for God is uncreated Holy Fire. When the uncreated Fire of God burns in us we are not consumed. Instead, the fire we are begins to burn with the Fire of God and we become a burning bush that is not consumed. But if in this life, we have built our body into a pagan temple defiled by an alien spirit, when the Fire of God descends to test us, we will be consumed, destroyed says St Paul, along with the bones and refuse of the idols that fill us.
But now, what does the Psalm say that we sing at the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy during Great Lent? ‘Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.’ Moreover, if we desire to build our bodies into the Temple of God, then we must build our bodies on the foundation of the Cornerstone the builders rejected, the Body of the crucified and risen Christ. For the Body of Christ is the ‘Temple of God’ that He raises up on the third day when the Jews sought to destroy it (Jn 2.19&21).
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. This opens onto the biblical vision of man. Most certainly, Jesus walking on the water is a Theophany, as was His Transfiguration on Mt Tabor; but it is equally an ‘anthropo-phany,’ a manifestation of man as he was created by God. Let us consider: which body on Mt Tabor—the LORD’s or the disciples’—is most human? And which body is more human on the stormy Sea of Galilee, the LORD’s or Peter’s? In fact, it is the LORD’s Body in both cases that is more human; for the LORD’s Body is truly human. Jesus Christ transfigured and walking on the water is not only a Theophany of God in the flesh; it is also precisely in that Theophany of the Incarnation the revelation of Man as he was when he was created by God in His own image and likeness.
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. In Hebrews, St Paul writes of Christ appearing as high priest of the good things to come through a greater and more perfect ‘tent’—this is another biblical word for the human body—that was not made with hands, i.e., a house, a body, built by God and so not of this creation. [Heb 9:11] Let’s go back to when God ‘built’ woman from the rib of Adam. See that it was God who built the woman’s body. And she was built by God in an intimacy of love with Adam that could not get any more intimate, for she was bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. He loved her and longed to cleave to her and become one flesh with her. Here is a biblical revelation of what the house is like that is built by God and not by the hands, or by the libido of man. (cf. Jn 1.13)
But go farther back to the formation of Adam by God as a ‘sacred mound’ from the earth, i.e., as the foundation of a holy temple (Gn 2.7). There, too, man was ‘fashioned’ not by the libido of the flesh but by the Spirit of God. He was fashioned in the image and likeness of God (Gn 1.27). But Christ is the Image of God (Col 1.15); the Holy Spirit is the likeness of God; and so man was fashioned in an absolute intimacy with God. Man is ‘kin’ to God—as the Incarnation of God reveals, for Christ is the Son of Adam who is the Son of God (Lk 3.38). Following St Gregory of Nyssa (4th cent), man, as male and female, is created or ‘built’ by God Himself from out of His own divine virtues and qualities. As male and female, man is made a ‘partaker of the divine nature;’ and so, in the mystery of marriage, man and wife are in the sacrament of their marriage a holy temple of God. They are an ‘epiphany’ showing man in his true nature and destiny as the temple of God; that is, in the temple of the human body the mystery of God takes place: the union of the Heavenly Bridegroom, Christ, with His Bride, the human soul in the sanctuary of the human temple that is the bridal chamber of the human heart, that point in our ‘inner man’ where we originate in Christ, the Image of God, and where we open beyond ourselves out onto God Himself in the deep, beyond all things. (cf. Jer 17.9 LXX)
In all of this, I’m wanting you to see that what it is to be truly man is not seen in the disciples on Mt Tabor, or in Peter on the stormy Sea of Galilee. In the disciples unable to bear the glory of God, and in Peter sinking in the Sea beneath the weight of his own body, we see man fallen away from his true nature and destiny, alienated and separated from His Creator, the LORD God. It is in Jesus Christ transfigured on Mt Tabor, it is in Jesus Christ walking on the stormy Sea of Galilee that we see Man in his true nature and destiny, man as he was meant to be when God created him in His own image and likeness and breathed into him the breath of life, the Holy Spirit.
It is in this Body of Christ that is transfigured on Mt Tabor in the uncreated Light of the uncreated Fire of the Glory of God, the Holy Spirit, it is in the Body of Christ walking on the Stormy Sea of Galilee that we see what our ‘work’ is striving to accomplish in this life if we are not to be consumed, destroyed, on the Last Day in the Fire of God’s Judgment.
But who of us can build such a body? And that is precisely the point. Unless the LORD builds the house, unless the LORD builds our body into a holy temple, we labor in vain. We cannot bear His Glory, we cannot walk on the stormy sea of this life, surging as it is with the storm of temptation. Following the Church’s liturgical hymns, the waters of the Sea of Galilee are the reality of death; and the billowing waves are the passions: our love for the flesh, our love for our ego that overwhelm us in our fallen humanity so that we sink beneath the waves of our carnal desires until we are overwhelmed and destroyed by the waters of death that encompass us.
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. But the LORD has built the house! The House is His Holy Church that He built on the cornerstone of His Body. It is the Temple of Stone that He built from the blood and water that flowed from His rib on the Cross; it is the Heavenly Pattern Moses saw on Mt Sinai (Ex 25.9), of which the Stone Temple of Solomon was but the copy. But the Stone Temple of Our LORD’s risen Body is the transfigured Body of skin that He built from the pure blood of the Holy Virgin, His Most Blessed Mother, the Most Beloved Theotokos! This Body is the Heavenly Pattern Moses saw on Mt Sinai of which the Tabernacle that he made from ‘skins’, following the strict instructions of the LORD, was the copy!
Our bodies that were built by ‘mom and dad’ from the waters of this life are tabernacles of skin. But in the waters of Holy Baptism, they are transfigured to become tabernacles of the LORD, filled with the Heavenly Spirit, the Glory of God. And if we take up our cross and step out onto the New Exodus the prophets reveal to us, the New Exodus that leads into the Land of our Inheritance (Eze 37.10-12), the Kingdom of Heaven, then these tabernacles of skin, our earthly bodies, having received the Stone Temple of Christ’s Body as our food and drink, are given the power and the grace to walk the stormy Sea of this life, to conquer the passions. We are given the power to follow the LORD up the mountain; and when we behold Him transfigured in Glory, we behold the Image of our own transfiguration that is accomplished in the mystery of the Savior’s Cross.
This house built by the LORD is given to us in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, the woman, the ‘Mother of us all.’ We need to live in the Church, in the Spirit of the Church so that it is the LORD who builds us into His Holy Temple. We need to keep our eyes on Christ and if we find ourselves sinking because we have taken our eyes off of Christ, we need to call out to Him, and reach out to grab His Hand that is offered to us in the form of prayer in His Holy Name and in His own Body and Blood that He gives to us in the sacramental mysteries of His Church. Amen!