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I Corinthians 1:10-18
When things don’t go smoothly, depending on our personality, we may panic, or become sulky and angry. We may believe the LORD is far away, not providing for us, certainly not providing for us as we would like. But, in this, we are judging according to appearances and not according to righteousness. The holy fathers remind us that our daily circumstances are the arena in which we work out our salvation, and that God Himself is working in us according to His will and good pleasure (Phil 2:12); which is not that we would cruise through life as though on easy street, everything happening as we would like and according to our specs, but that we should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.
Our Scripture lessons this morning are not only telling us that God is working in us for our salvation; they also are showing us how and where we can see this. This feeding of the multitude with but five loaves and two fishes is clearly very big; for, it happens again (Mt 15). It is an event manifesting the LORD Jesus as the One in whom all things were created and the One whom the Law prefigured and whom the prophets saw in their visions. Its biblical setting in the OT would be Mt Sinai (Ex 24), when God gives the Law to Israel and seals His covenant with them with the blood of sanctified bulls, and Mt Carmel (I Kgs 18), when the LORD through Elijah reminds Israel who her true God is when His Holy Spirit descended as holy fire on the altar built by Elijah and consumed the sacrificial bulls.
Like Israel at Mt Sinai, the five thousand are in a desert place outside the city. When Israel came to Mt Sinai, Moses was leading them on Exodus to the Promised Land. Here, Jesus, our Joshua, is on His way to the Heavenly Jerusalem, by way of Golgotha, the Cross and His Sabbath Rest in the New Tomb – His Jordan. On Mt Carmel, the prophet Elijah stood as the lone prophet of the Holy One of Israel against all the prophets of Ba’al, and against the rulers and leaders of Israel who followed Ba’al. Like Elijah on Mt Carmel, the LORD stands alone against the rulers and leaders of Israel; but, He stands against them not as a prophet but as the LORD Himself who spoke to them through the prophets of old. And, as their fathers rejected the prophets, even killing some, they call their God who has become flesh and now dwells among them as in His Holy Temple a devil.
On Mt Sinai, the LORD drove away all sickness from Israel, and then gives to them His Law, after sanctifying them with the blood of bulls. There is a linguistic connection between ‘Sinai’ and the burning ‘bush’. In the mystery of His flesh, then we discern the LORD in the mystery of His Holy Mother, healing all the sicknesses of the people, and then nourishing them with the fishes and the loaves He blesses.
But, can you not see in all of this that we are in the same spiritual arena today? We have come this morning from different parts within the city and we have stepped out of the city into the Church, into the mystery of Christ’s Body. We have come out of the city and into the desert, into the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest and into the mystery of the grave, our grave on the other side “outside the city” even as we still live in our bodies on this side “in the city.” And for us as for Israel, there is a spiritual contest we must engage: whether we will serve the ba’als of American society as our gods, or the LORD Jesus Christ as our only God.
Mystically, then, spiritually, we are in the desert this morning with these five thousand; and, with them, we are with the Israelites at the foot of Mt Sinai – except for this: we are not in the shadow but in the Icon, the Reality Himself. We are in the Light of Him whose Body casts the shadows of the OT. We are not in the prefigurement; we are in the Icon Himself.
Israel was cleansed and made strong enough to endure the Epiphany of God on the Holy Mountain of Sinai in the desert by the sprinkling of the blood of sanctified bulls. The LORD says to Moses: “I will bless your bread and your wine and your water,” and, as I indicated above, He says: “I will turn away all sickness from you” (Ex 24:25). In the desert this morning, the LORD, it says, feels compassion for the people who had followed Him out into the desert, and He healed all their sick (echoing Dt 32:36), and then He gives them food and drink that satisfies them completely. But so also this morning in the Church, the LORD has healed all of us of the root of our sicknesses, our death, in the mystery of Holy Baptism, and we are now preparing to receive from His holy disciples, the priests of His Holy Church, His most pure Body and precious Blood as our sanctifying food and drink. (The chalice of Holy Communion is a mingling of blessed wine and water).
The WORD of the Psalmist is fulfilled in these most sacred mysteries of His Holy Church: “He forgives all your iniquity; He heals all your diseases; He redeems your life from the pit; He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy; He fills up your desire with every good thing for as long as you live!” (Ps 103:3-5) And, what if we are given to live forever if we are given as our food and drink His own Body and Blood in which He has destroyed death by His death?
Israel followed Moses through the desert to the Jordan. There, Joshua, led them through and into the Promised Land. Always in their midst was the Tent of Meeting, the “moving temple”. The LORD is leading us from the Red Sea of our baptism through the desert of our life on earth to the Jordan of our death into the Promised Land of the New Creation. Yet, He is in our midst in the Temple of His Body – in you; for you are the Temple of His Holy Spirit. In the Church, then, we are making our way through the desert of this life in the Body of the LORD that is in us, for we have received Him, we have received His Heavenly Spirit not in theory, not as a religious idea that we “believe,” but as the oil (of Holy Baptism and the myrrh of our Chrismation) that makes our face shine, and as Living Bread that strengthens our heart and as Wine that makes glad the heart of man (Ps 104:15). In this inner exodus of the Gospel, the LORD Jesus Himself is our Manna, the Living Bread that comes down from heaven; His Blood is the Living Water flowing from the Rock (Ex 17:6) that was Christ, as St Paul says (I Cor 10:4). And so, if we are thus united to the LORD, not theoretically but sacramentally, bodily, it means that His life-giving Cross has been planted in the soil of my heart, ready to work in me whenever I take it up in self-denial and obedience to Christ in order to follow Him through the arid, trackless desert of this life. It means that Christ’s Body has been laid in the tomb of my heart as the Chief Cornerstone of His Temple that extends from the depth of hell to the height of heaven, embracing heaven and earth and the whole world of space and time – above below, east and west, past, present, and future. The Ark is at the dock, waiting to carry me safely to the Shores of His Heavenly Kingdom.
Like Israel on Mt Carmel, then, I must decide if I will live in the desert, putting my trust in the ba’als of America, or if I will enter the Ark of the LORD’s Body, His Church that I have been given to eat and drink as my spiritual and physical nourishment, so that I can become in my soul and body His Church, His Temple in whom He dwells, working in me, transfiguring all the circumstances of my life into steps on the divine ladder of His Cross by which I make my ascent to Heaven in the love and joy of God. Amen.