Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, beloved, we have reached the mid-point of the great 50 days of our Paschal feast, “beginning with the Saviour’s Resurrection,” as the stichera says,
and sealed by the holy Pentecost. The first and the last glisten with splendor. We rejoice in the union of both Feasts, as we draw near to the Lord’s Ascension, the sign of our coming glorification (“Lord I Call” stichera).
As I noted Sunday, there is a sort of waxing and waning as we move between these two most glorious Feasts, but that does not infer there is a diminishing of Pascha in light now of Pentecost. Rather it is more of a necessary transition, as our Lord has indicated elsewhere, that if He does not ascend to the Father the gift of the seal of the Holy Spirit cannot be given. It is to our advantage, Jesus says, that He departs so that He might send the Paraclete (the Comforter or Helper) in His place (Jn. 14:16; 16:7). Great and Holy Pentecost, then, is the culmination of Great and Holy Pascha, the capstone of our salvation in Jesus Christ, according to the divine will! The whole point of the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is Pentecost. “God becomes man so that man might receive the Holy Spirit” (St. Athanasius). The Holy Spirit Who proceeds from the Father and is sent by the Son (Jn. 15:26; Nicene Creed) comes to us in order to baptize us with divine fire, to cleanse and restore the soiled and imperfect, to enflame and regenerate the degenerate, to infuse God’s own divine breath into this lifeless clay body rendered dead in trespasses and sin, so that through divine grace this old sinner might shine forth with the glory of the likeness of God and be made a “partaker of the divine nature” (Ep. 2:1-7; 2 Pe. 1:4)! And our Lord gave us a glimpse of this all along the way in those days, months, and years leading up to His Great and Holy Passion, Crucifixion, Descent into Hades, and Resurrection on the third day. The Resurrection caps off all that Jesus has accomplished by His coming down from Heaven for us men and for our salvation (Nicene Creed). It confirms and solidifies not only Who He is as the Son of God and Son of David, but the hope that is now ours guaranteed by the sending of the Holy Spirit (Rm. 1:3-4; 2 Cr. 1:21-22; Ep. 1:13-14).
Today’s Mid-Feast celebrates this happy reality with liturgical festivity. It is not a feast day as such rooted in an historical event like the Nativity, the Resurrection, or the Sending of the holy and Life-giving Spirit. It is a liturgical milestone and hallmark, inspired by our Lord’s presence at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and by the words of the Evangelist and Theologian who says, “Now about the midst of the feast, Jesus went up into the Temple and taught” (Jn. 7:14-30). This is reflected in our hymnody inspired by the Gospel’s words. The icon associated with this Mid-Feast is that of the young adolescent Jesus in the Temple among Israel’s teachers “both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him,” says St. Luke, “were astonished at His understanding and answers” (Lk. 2:41-50). It is from this episode in the Temple that we learn that our Lord from early on was lasered in on the doing of His Father’s will, of being “’about My Father’s business.’” Jesus of Nazareth is the prophesied Wisdom of God, the enfleshment of the Father and His divine will. “’ He who has seen Me,’” He tells His Disciple, Philip, “’has seen the Father’” (Jn. 14:9). To see the Son of God is to know the Father (Jn. 1:18; 14:6). That has been the basis of John’s Gospel and its fundamental Truth: Jesus Christ has come in the flesh to reveal His heavenly Father in His words as well as His actions. This becomes the bone of contention in His earthly ministry with all those who fancy themselves wise. Jesus Christ is the Wisdom of God the Father. All reality – this very world – must been seen through the flesh of the Son of God.
This is what we find in the reading from Acts this evening. Natural man, which is to say, man in his fallenness, is very limited by his darkened intellect in, what our Fathers call, the nous – that inner eye of the soul that alone has the capacity to know God. Fallen man can only “see” so far; fallen man can only “know” so much despite our best and sharpest logic or science. In our fallen state we are like the blind man whose sight our Lord restored in stages: he could only see men walking about as trees until Jesus made his eyesight whole (Mk. 8:22-26). We can only make sense out of this world when we are “in Christ” and through Him. We need Him Who is the Light of the world to enlighten our darkness and restore our sight. Only in His Light can we see light (Ps. 35 :9). The Apostles, Paul and Barnabas, come across “a certain man” at Lystra who was “impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother’s womb, who never walked.” In a sense, beloved, this is us; this is our fallen state from our mother’s womb, as the Prophet David lamented in his psalm of repentance (Ps. 50 :5). “The Lord looks down from Heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any that understand and seek God,” says the psalmist. “They have all turned aside, altogether corrupted; there is none, not even one, who does good” (Ps. 13 :2-3). We, like our brother here, are impotent from our Eve’s womb, unable to walk.
But, along came Jesus in the flesh of His Apostles and with one word of command to arise, “’Stand upright on thy feet!,’” the lame and crippled man leaps up and walks about! This is what Jesus does through His Church: all who are impotent because of sin’s power and death’s strong hold over us can be and are restored by the word of command – the Lord’s own word: “Arise! ‘Stand upright on thy feet!’ as thou has been created from the beginning.” “’”This is the word of the Lord . . . Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” saith the Lord of Hosts’” (Zc. 4:6). Like the woman bound by Satan for 18 long inglorious years and forced to live unnaturally hunched over, Jesus releases her, releases the man impotent in his feet and unable to walk aright, so that she, he, and we might walk upright in the ways of the Lord according to the intent of God at creation when He created Adam to be His priest serving at His Altar in Paradise (Lk. 13:10-17). In short, Jesus the Saviour and Great Physician of soul and body restores us to our true and natural life the way we were created to be. This is what the world today is blinded to and cannot see clearly because all it can see with are fallen eyes that behold men walking as trees and not as God intended from His good creation.
When the unenlightened Gentiles saw what the Apostles had done, they immediately declared them to be deities and announced aloud to the point of religious frenzy, “’The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men.’” If only these souls knew just how close they were to the Truth, that they were not far from the Kingdom of God (Mk. 12:34). But, they needed the holy Apostles to enlighten their darkness with the divine Truth,
‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, . . . He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, . . . .’
Scarcely, we’re told, could the Apostles restrain the misguided but well intended actions of the populace by the preaching of the Truth of God, the Word that enlightens the Gentiles and is the glory of Israel (Nunc Dimittis). The people of that place acted on what they “saw” but could not fully grasp until the Light of Jesus Christ shone on them through His Church in the flesh of His Apostles. The world, beloved, needs the Church and her divine revelation. Jesus says to all His disciples of every place and every time, “’You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven’” (Mt. 5:14-16).
The preaching and teaching of the Apostles bore fruit in that place despite the fact that they were chased out of Lystra by disgruntled Jews who had come to that place and stirred up the Gentiles against the Apostles. We know the Apostles returned to Lystra after a period of time to confirm the souls of those disciples made by the Word of God and to exhort these same souls to stay the course in the Faith once delivered (Ac. 14:19-23; Ju. 1:3). I can’t help but imagine that part and parcel of their catechesis was the divine revelation of the Incarnation of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became Man” (Nicene Creed), which is to say, to declare to them how, indeed, the God of Heaven and of earth took on the flesh of men in order to save us, so that men in His Name might “partake of His divine nature” (2 Pe. 1:4).
This story in Acts fleshes out for us that which Solomon in his wisdom once wrote, almost prophetically:
For all men while ignorant of God were useless in their condition. So from the good things that are seen they were unable to know Him Who exists, nor did they know the Craftsman by paying attention to His works. But they supposed that the gods who rule the world were either fire or wind or swift air, or the circle of stars or violent water or the luminaries of Heaven. If while delighting in their beauty men assumed them to be gods, let them know how much better than these things is their Lord, for the Creator of beauty created them; and if they were amazed at their power and working, let them understand from them how much more powerful than these is He Who made them. For from the greatness and beauty of created things the Creator is seen by analogy. Nevertheless there is little reason for complaint against them, for perhaps they go astray while seeking God and wish to find Him. For as they live among His works, they examine them closely and are persuaded by what they see are beautiful. However, they are not to be excused. For if they were able to know so much with their ability to investigate the world, how is it possible they did not quickly find the Lord of all these things? But they are miserable, . . . . (WS 13:1-10; Rm. 1:20-21).
This is the Mid-Feast, beloved, “let us be illumined by the Feast” (Paschal stichera). Let us stay the course in the Faith and wait together for the promised Power from on high, the Spirit of our God; the Spirit of Truth Who comes to enlighten our darkness with the divine fire of grace and “’to guide our feet into the way of peace’” (Benedictus; Lk. 24:49; Jn. 7:37-39; Ac. 1:8).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
Mc. 4:2-3, 5; 6:2-5, 8; 5:4-5
Is. 55:1; 12:3-4; 55:2-13