49 - Christ Walks on the Sea, Aug 25, 2013

I Corinthians 3:9-17

Matthew 14:22-34

The Evangelists wrote their Gospels not to record a biography of Jesus, but to bear witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, so that believing in Him, we might have life in His Name. (Jn 20:30-31) We can believe that this purpose governed which of those signs performed by the Savior that the Evangelists chose to record in fulfilling their purpose to bear witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God.

This was in obedience to the commandment the Lord had given to the holy disciples when He ascended in glory. Just before He ascended, Our Lord said: “You are witnesses of these things (signs);” (Lk 24:48) specifically of the sufferings of Christ, and of His resurrection from the dead on the third day, as it was written in the Holy Scriptures. Moreover, Jesus left His disciples with the promise: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Our Lord is with us in the “promise” of the Father, which is the Holy Spirit, poured out on the holy disciples on the Day of Pentecost. (Acs2:1ff) The Savior Christ promised His disciples that In the power of the Holy Spirit, they, too, would perform even greater signs (Jn 14:12). They would cast out demons, speak in new tongues and heal the sick. (Mk 16:17ff.)

And we know this to be true. We know from the lives of the saints and the holy martyrs, and even from what we ourselves may have witnessed (e.g., myrrh-streaming icons, Mt Athos’ “Dr Do-A-Lot”, Brother Euthymius) that the “signs” which the Savior performed did not cease with His Ascension, because Our Lord did not leave us as orphans when He ascended in glory. He continues to be “in our midst” in His Holy Spirit; and, by the power of His Holy Spirit, He continues to perform “signs” through His faithful ones, which continue to bear witness to Him as the Christ, the Son of God, and to the Church as His holy, crucified, risen and ascended body in which He continues to “dwell among us” (Jn 1:13) in the power of His Holy Spirit who abides in His Holy Church in the mystery of Holy Pentecost.

The signs that Jesus performed, that witness to Him as the Son of God, have continued in His Holy Church. Do you see how this unbroken stream of signs and wonders in Christ’s Holy Church reveals an inner continuity between the “history” of the Savior recorded in the Gospels and the “history” of the Church down through the centuries even to today? It is an inner unity of the Spirit in whom the Church is both in time and outside of time. When we are baptized into Christ, we enter into the Spirit of the “signs” that Jesus performed in the days of His earthly life recorded in the Gospels. In the Spirit of Christ’s Holy Church, the power and meaning of those signs are as present to us today as they were then.

In this, one sees a coherency, a continuity between the “history” of Christ and the whole movement of biblical history and Church history. These three “histories” are not different histories; they are one history, and they are rooted in and summed up, recapitulated, in the history of the Holy Incarnation of the Divine Word of God. The events of Jesus’ life recorded in the Gospels were not just scattered, haphazard events that took place before His Passion. Everything Jesus said and did was in fulfillment of the Scriptures. They are signs united to the sign of His Passion, each revealing the other. The “signs” of His earthly life reveal the meaning or purpose of His Passion: to bring creation into submission to the Father, and to heal all who come to Him of all their sicknesses of both body and soul. His Passion reveals the meaning of His earthly life, His Incarnation: God becomes flesh and dwells among us” in order to deliver us from death, to raise us to heaven and to unite us to God in the glory, the virtue, the eternal life, the love, joy, peace and light of God’s Holy Spirit.

When we strive every day, every hour, every moment, in body and soul, in our words, our deeds, our thoughts, to unite ourselves to Christ, as we swore we would do in our baptism, we are incorporating our earthly life into the “biblical history” of the Gospel, for in the sacramental mysteries of Christ’s Holy Church, we are granted to become “members of the body of Christ” who performed His signs in the body He received from the Most Holy Virgin, and which we receive and even become members of through the sacramental mysteries of the Church.

 Our earthly life, then, as we see in the lives of the saints and holy martyrs, becomes a “sign” united to the signs performed by Christ in His earthly ministry that bears witness to the sign of Christ’s Holy Pascha. As we “conform ourselves to Christ”, we become “martyrs”, “witnesses” of “these things”, specifically of the sufferings of Christ, and of His resurrection from the dead on the third day. The meaning of our earthly life is interwoven with the meaning of Christ’s Holy Incarnation and Holy Pascha, and our earthly life becomes a sign that proclaims Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. In the words of our epistle this morning, we become the temple of God in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, and we become witnesses to the glorious destiny to which the Savior Christ has called everyone. It is to become one with God; to become temples of God in whom Christ dwells in the glory of the Heavenly and Holy Spirit.

Let’s look more closely, then, into the meaning of this “sign” of the crossing of the sea that we read in this morning’s Gospel. This is the second crossing of the sea that St Matthew records. In both crossings, the spiritual mystery of Pascha is clearly present.
We see the disciples progressing in their realization of who Jesus is. The first crossing, toward the beginning of the Savior’s public ministry (Mt 8:23ff.), leaves the disciples amazed and perplexed: “What manner of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” they asked. But, this second crossing, when Christ appears to them walking on the water, leaves them terrified, and they “worshipped Him,” it says, confessing that He was truly “the Son of God.” Yet, it is not until they see Christ risen from the dead, and Christ “opens their minds to understand the Scriptures,” that they finally begin to understand the fearsome and glorious enormity of all they had “witnessed”: the Word of the Lord who had spoken to the prophets has come in the flesh not to establish a worldly empire, but to “suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day” in order to destroy death and to open the heavens so that whoever wants to can, in repentance, be saved and enter the Kingdom of God that is not of this world, a child no more of the body but of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Beloved faithful: see how the Lord is found in this morning’s Gospel walking on the water outside of the boat in the midst of the storm. We can take the dark storm clouds, the mighty waves and the high winds as the troubles and sufferings that beset us in this life, both within us and outside of us. More profoundly than this, we can take the stormy sea as the face of the dark fears, maybe even grief and sorrow – from things we have done and from things that have happened or been done to us – that hide deep in our heart, which we mindlessly seek to escape by seeking comfort in the objects of our lust, our greed and our vanity – those things that are “pleasing to the eye and good for eating”. This inner movement of our soul, thing seeking of comfort and meaning in the seductions and pleasures of the flesh, is our offering to the spirit of disobedience that is active in this world, and so our bodies become pagan temples, not temples of God, in whom dwells this worldly spirit of disobedience, whose “activity” of disobedience in us activate in our souls dark stormy winds and rolling, high seas.

The boat is the ark of the Church riding the sea of life, surging with the storms of temptations, like Noah’s ark riding the flood. From the safety of the boat of the Church, the Lord comes to us from within the heart of our soul, where the storms are raging, having descended from the mountain as from the glory He shares with the Father in heaven. He descends to us in the boat of His Church, walking on the mighty waves of the storm as the Lord who has mastered the storm. He calls to us from within the storm of our soul; and He bids us come to Him, to follow Him – if we are willing, as Peter was – into the storm of our soul as into the tomb of His Holy Pascha.

Yes, St Peter began to sink when he looked and was overwhelmed with fear at the strength of the stormy seas. But, he did not perish. The Lord was with him and when he began to sink, the Lord saved him and brought him back into the boat, back to the safety of the Church, and the storm ceased, and those in the boat worshipped the Lord and confessed: “Truly, this is the Son of God!”

Beloved faithful, I see in the meaning of this “sign” the meaning of holy confession. Through Holy Baptism, we are brought into the boat of the Church, and the Lord commands us to make our way, to “pass over” to the other side, while He dismisses the crowds. But we come to Baptism by the sacrament of confession; and we complete the journey to the “other side” as we continue to take up our cross in prayer and fasting and regular participation in confession, and follow Christ into the storms raging in our soul as into the tomb of His Holy Pascha. This – prayer, fasting, confession – this is how we open the tomb of our heart, not just in theory but in concrete actuality, so that Christ can enter the tomb of our heart, and breathe His Holy Spirit on our soul lying dead and buried there, so that He can cleanse her and create her anew, and raise her to life, making her a temple of God, while He dismisses the crowds, while He shatters the bars of hell, and makes the storms in our soul to cease in the healing chrism and life-creating goodness of His Most Holy Spirit. This is the experience of salvation by which we know and worship this Jesus to whom the Gospels bear witness as truly the Christ, the Son of God. Amen.