2 Corinthians 6.1-10
The Greek word in our Gospel this morning, charis, that is translated in most English translations as ‘credit,’ and in the KJV as ‘thank’ is, for me, the key word for rolling away the stone from the LORD’s Tomb and beholding the Resurrection of Christ in this morning’s Gospel. But, the translation of the word as ‘thank’ or ‘credit’ does not roll the stone away; it keeps us outside the Tomb, still running around in circles on this side of the grave.
The word also means, grace. I would translate it like this: ‘If you love those who love you, how is the grace of God working in you? Even sinners love those who love them.’
Charis also is the root word in ‘Eucharist,’ translated as ‘Thanksgiving.’ That’s fine as far as it goes, but that translation doesn’t do anything with the prefix, ‘eu’, which means good, well, even healthy. So, ‘Thanksgiving,’ too, does not roll the stone away, keeping us still outside the Tomb. The Church’s Eucharist is the Body and Blood of the incarnate God, Jesus Christ, risen from the dead. We call it the ‘medicine of immortality.’ It takes away all our sins and removes all our iniquities because it is the Body and Blood of the incarnate God who is Himself the ‘Resurrection and the Life,’ who destroyed our death by His death, and gave life to us who were in the tombs. A better translation of Eucharist, then, might be something like the ‘Healing Grace’ of God, because it heals us from the death and misery of our sins and raises us from death to life. Through it, the Heavenly Spirit is received into the tomb of our heart; He burns away the old heart of stone, the dead heart, and builds in us a new heart of flesh, a living heart. Our clay is reshaped and put into God’s Oven – His Tomb – and fired in the Heat of His Holy Spirit to become a ‘living stone’ fit for His Heavenly Temple, His Body risen from the dead, and so we are created anew to become what God made us to be in the beginning: immortal, images of His own eternity (Wisd 2.23).
When we translate the Greek word, charis, according to the biblical theology of the Church, suddenly, the earth shakes, and the stone of the LORD’s Tomb is rolled away. We peer into it, we enter, we see the linen cloths folded neatly, the turban off to the side; and suddenly, the strings of our soul begin to vibrate with the ‘music of the lyre,’ the music of Heaven, and we know that we are peering into the mystery of God hidden from the ages. We see with Mary Magdalene the risen LORD in the Garden not on this side of the Tomb but on the other side – in the deep, beyond all things, in the deep of our heart!
Now what we hear the LORD saying is this: ‘If you love only those who love you, where is the Grace of My Body and Blood in you?’ Where is the Power of My Resurrection in you? Have you not taken up your cross to follow me? Are you still running around in circles with all the other sinners here on this side of the grave, trying to save your life here in the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the pride of life in this world that is passing away, outside the Tomb of my Sabbath Rest?
For, if we love only those who love us, it means that we are still dead in our sins and trespasses, however religious or spiritual we may think we are. We are not denying ourselves, we are not taking up our cross, we have not begun to lose our life for the sake of Christ in the hope of finding it in the Tomb of His Resurrection. The love of the world that is passing away is what’s working in us, not the love of God that has overcome the world in the LORD’s Holy Pascha.
‘Self-love,’ says St Maximos the Confessor (d. 662 AD) ‘is the root of all evil. Where self-love is absent, there no trace of evil can exist.’ And is it not from self-love that we fear death; and is it not in our frenzied effort to save our life so as not to lose it, that we create and become enemies of one another?
St Silouan (20th cent.) was asked by Archimandrite Sophrony: what is the evidence that one has received the Holy Spirit and not an alien spirit? St Silouan answered: love for your enemy. St John the Theologian: ‘Beloved, test the spirits to see if they are of God. Every spirit that denies that Christ came in the flesh is not of God … By this you know the Spirit of God: if you have love for one another. How can you believe you love God whom you have not seen if you hate your brother whom you have seen?’ And Our LORD says to us this morning: ‘Love your enemies and do good to them, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.’
Here, then, is the test for those who long to become ‘sons of the Most High’: are you ready to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and begin losing your life for the sake of Christ that you may find it in His Tomb where He puts to death everything that puts us to death, even death itself? Are you ready to unite yourself to Christ in the likeness of His death; i.e., are you ready to participate in His death by putting to death hatred of the enemy in your heart, that you may be united to Him in the likeness of His resurrection; i.e., that you may begin to be raised from the dead as a new creation with a fleshy heart, a living heart, that lives in the Resurrection of Christ and is empowered to love the enemy even as Christ loves us – we who are His enemies because we are friends with the world?
The Israelite was directed by God in Leviticus to ‘declare his sin’ at the entrance of the tabernacle, and his sins would be forgiven him through the blood of the sacrificial bulls and goats offered to God. But we live in the New Testament. That is, we live not in the blood of bulls and goats but in the Blood of God, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. His Blood seeps down to the division of our soul and spirit all the way into the heart (Heb 4.12), our true self where we are deep, beyond all things (Jer 17.9 LXX), and it cleanses our heart; it heals our conscience, it destroys the root of sin, self-love, and sows in the soil of our heart the seed of God’s divine love. In the mystery of God, the mystery of Christ in you, the hope of glory, we are rooted in the death and resurrection of Christ who, on the Cross, prayed to the Father for His enemies: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
If our desire is to receive this new heart of flesh that lives in God, the LORD shows us the way. Begin to deny yourself and to lose your life for the sake of Christ and ‘declare your sin.’ We confess, we don’t hide, the self-love in our heart that engenders hatred for our enemy. For, ‘if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.’ The LORD cleanses our heart from self-love, the root of sin, by putting it to death in His death, and He replaces it with the root of His Resurrection.
We are spiritual corpses, paralyzed, powerless to walk in this Way of God. We cannot love our enemy because we are dead in our sins and trespasses. But, we can begin to love our enemy by uniting ourselves to the LORD in the likeness of His death. ‘Likeness’ means that we participate in the LORD’s death. We exercise our God-given power of self-determination, and we choose, freely, to deny ourselves the pleasure of loving only those who love us. We can begin the long climb of love for our enemies by at least praying for them and not returning hatred for hatred, but by doing good to those who hate us.
In this, we are exercising our free will and, as far as the strength of our soul allows, we are uniting ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. Now we are beginning to be crucified with Christ, so that it is Christ in the power of His Cross, which is the power of His resurrection, who is beginning to live in us. Now we are on the way to becoming ‘sons of the Most High,’ of becoming ‘merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful.’ For we have set our face toward the Cross of Christ. We are now living in order to lose our life for the sake of Christ and the Holy Gospel, in the hope and expectation that we will find it in His Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection. Amen!
Behold the Bridegroom comes at Midnight!’ Midnight is that ‘instant’ when, ‘in the twinkling of an eye,’ (1 Cor 15.52) the old passes away and the ‘dead are raised incorruptible, and we are changed.’ This change doesn’t just happen. It happens because the Bridegroom comes at Midnight and consummates His union with us, the children of flesh and blood, in the ‘bridal chamber.’ But the Church shows the Bridegroom consummating His union with us in the tomb. For there, having shared in our conception and birth through His Virgin Mother (Gal 4.4), He now shares in our death (Heb 2.14) in the flesh He received from Her, and it is in that instant that ‘we are changed.’
We find the divine mystery of Midnight, then, in the bridal chamber; and we find the bridal chamber in that ‘point’ in our inner man where we are dead. The bridal chamber, that is to say, is found in our heart, ‘for the real death is within, in the heart, and is concealed, and it is the inner man that perishes.’ [Macarius Hom XV.39, 125]
If the bridal chamber is in the heart, then it is in our true ‘self’; for ‘the heart is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man.’ [Jer 17.9] In the bridal chamber, then, we come upon our true self as the image of God. In this image, we yearn to attain to the likeness of God. And this character of the imago Dei which, as Origen wrote, constitutes our very essence, itself reveals that, by nature, we yearn to be one with the Bridegroom in the bridal chamber of our heart; but if Christ is Himself the Image of God in whom we came to be and in whom we move and have our being, then we are given to see that the bridal chamber of our heart comes to be and has its essence and movement from outside itself, in ekstasis, in the Bridal Chamber of the LORD Jesus Christ our God and Savior.
Illumined by the light of this doctrine of the Church, we begin to know ourselves. We see that the essential movement of our heart is the erotic yearning to belong not to ourselves but to the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight.
And so, when the mind that has caught the fragrance of the Bridegroom in its heart learns that the Bridegroom is coming at Midnight, it rouses itself. It hastens to descend into the bridal chamber of the heart to cry out: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God! Through the Theotokos, have mercy on me!’ For the soul, if she only knows about God in her head, she is still dead and her heart is still stone. The soul who longs to live is the soul who longs to know God directly; but ‘there is no direct knowledge of God without an exceedingly great love, and such love does not come from the head. It must come from the heart.’ [Art of Prayer 20] And so the soul hastens to descend with her mind into the bridal chamber of her heart, for she longs to receive Him and to cleave to Him, to become bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh, so that it is no longer she who lives but the Bridegroom who lives in her.
And the Bridegroom comes. He comes to us in our own flesh and blood through the woman [Gal 4.4]. He comes to us in the Bridal Chamber of the All-Holy Virgin’s sacred womb, in the inmost sanctuary of His Living Temple. Knitting Her pure blood into the ‘schema,’ the ‘garment’ of man [Phil 2.8], He clothed Himself in our flesh and blood and was no more ashamed to call us ‘brethren.’ [Heb 2.11]
And when the soul darkened and weighed down by her many sins, learns that He has come into the ‘house’ [Lk 7.37ff.] of her own flesh and blood [Heb 2.14], she comes to Him with an alabaster jar of perfume, and she stands behind Him weeping. She wets His pure feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. She kisses them, she pours perfume on them, and through her tears, she prays to Him softly: ‘Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior; but I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul and save me!’
And the Savior, ‘spellbound as it were by goodness, love and longing, relinquishes His utter transcendence’ [St Maximos Philo 281] to the point of death on the Cross. Partaking of our death, the Bridegroom breathes out His Spirit on the Cross [exepneusen, Lk 23.46] and destroys the death that separated us from His love in the bridal chamber of our heart;’ [Heb 2.14-15, Rom 8.39]. His Body was ‘placed in the tomb,’ the Tomb was ‘changed’ into the Bridal Chamber, ‘and the Sabbath dawned,’ says St Luke [epephosken, Lk 23.54]. And in the Bridal Chamber of the LORD’s Tomb, the soul was enlightened, and the heart that before was a tomb sealed off by a stone was ‘changed’ in that instant into a bridal chamber and into a heart of flesh, a living heart!
The wedding garment? It is Christ Himself, whose Light we put on when we were raised from the Font, having united ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death and resurrection. Can you see, then, that the Baptismal Font is the bridal chamber? And can you see that the Bridal Chamber is the Church? For the Church is Christ’s Body that He received from the pure blood of the Virgin, and in this Body, we are fashioned anew as children of God in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest, in the Tomb of our death that has received the Body of Him Who Is the Resurrection and the Life. When we pursue the Bridegroom in the baptismal Font, we receive His Seed into our dead, stony heart, and in that instant, our heart is ‘changed’ into a heart of flesh, a living heart; and we are ‘changed’ from children of blood born of the desires of the flesh into children of God born from above in the Love of the Holy Spirit.
From an ancient Christian text, we come upon this ancient biblical rubric of the Church: ‘By striving in the visible Church, we enter the invisible Church of the heart and the invisible Church of Heaven.’ (Liber Graduum XII) In the coming week, on the loom of this biblical rubric, we will weave the sights, sounds, movements, smells, all the elements of creation, both visible and invisible, into a wedding garment that can be seen, heard, smelled, and touched with the bodily senses. Who would not want to be clothed in this wedding garment who has caught the fragrance of the Bridegroom? For ‘He is the Beautiful and the Good whom all things seek at every opportunity, and there is no being who does not participate in Him, and He attracts the [erotic] desire of all who are drawn towards Him, and He thirsts to be thirsted for, He longs to be longed for, and He loves to be loved!’ [Philo II 280-81]
And if we would clothe the hidden man of the heart with the death of Christ made visible for us in the rites of Holy Week, then would we come invisibly into that ‘Midnight’ when the Bridegroom comes, and we are changed. We become like the children with the palms of victory. They are the emblems of the Cross of Christ our King. And on Pascha Night, we follow, mystically, our King who goes forth from the Tomb like a Bridegroom in procession. He is raising us from our graves and bringing us to our own land into the Jerusalem on high as His prophets foretold. [Eze 37.13-14]
For, if we have received into the bridal chamber of our heart, in the sacramental mysteries of the Church, the Seed of the ‘heavenly man,’ then we carry the Bridegroom’s death in our mortal body. [2 Cor 4.10] That is, we carry the Bridegroom’s love in our body—for His death is the supreme manifestation, the final Incarnation of His extreme humility and compassion in which He created the world, and in which He recreated it when we had fallen. And if we tend that Seed and cultivate it through the ascetical disciplines of the Church, the Cross of Christ the Church gives us to take up if we want to follow Him—for they are the ‘flower of abstinence that grows from the wood of His Cross’ [LT 231]—then yearning for the Bridegroom begins to grow in us into a tree of life, and love for the Bridegroom begins to reign in our mortal bodies. We tend that Seed by taking up the ascetical disciplines of the Church, our cross, our ‘palm of victory.’ By the Grace of the Holy Spirit that shines in them, we strive to be obedient to sin and its carnal desires no more. We strive to lose our life for His sake; that is, in our love for the Bridegroom, we now present our bodies to Him as instruments of righteousness and no more to sin as instruments of unrighteousness. [Rm 6.12-13] Now the Bridegroom’s death is swallowing our death; now our mortal and perishable bodies are putting on the immortal and imperishable ‘wedding garment’ of the Bridal Chamber; now the Life of the Bridegroom begins to manifest itself even now in our mortal bodies [2 Cor 4.10]. It manifests itself in the hope that begins to form in us from the Seed of God’s love poured out into our hearts in the Bridal Chamber of His Holy Church. This is a real and living hope; and it is the pledge of our inheritance, which is our own land that is not of this world. It is the kingdom of heaven with all its glorious riches, found through the doors of Midnight in the deep, beyond all things, in our deep heart, in the mystery of the bridal chamber. Amen!