The text for the sermon today is taken from the Collect:
Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit.
I remember vividly a conversation I had years ago with my good friend Rex. We were sitting in a deserted train station because we had just missed our train. To me that meant more adventure but to my friend, who was a meticulous planner, my failure to guide us correctly brought a lot of aggravation. Instead of talking through our differences, we turned our anger into a debate, arguing, quite randomly, about whether Jesus Christ shed his body after he ascended into heaven. I would like to say that I had a theologically reasoned answer, but really I had found myself on the side of orthodoxy because it was opposite to what Rex had said. As we angrily debated, Rex brought up a point that stumped me.
We were on our way to Mitikas, the highest point in Greece, otherwise known as Mt. Olympus. Rex argued that the only gods who stayed in their bodies were the ones like the Greek gods–Zeus and Mercury, etc.,. Those gods stayed in their bodies and look at their examples! They lived exactly like humans, bickering and having petty fights after their grand feasts of gluttony. To me at this point, Rex was right–why would our God continue to live in this flesh? Why would he really care to eternally live in such restrictions?
Our train came and took us to the town at the base of the mountain range. We walked into town to the hostel I had planned to stay at. Unfortunately, there was no room for us at the inn because I had forgotten to reserve. We had to camp illegally on the outskirts of town and Rex’s aggravation grew. The next morning, we continued on the journey I had planned, following the directions I had received from some friends which was to hike from the town to a nearby monastery. Loaded down with our packs, we began what was one of the most arduous hikes I had ever done. And of course, a large rainstorm came in, the temperature dropped, and Rex stopped talking to me.
We were saved by stumbling across a small shrine in a cave, what I now know to be the cave of St. Dionysus of Olympus, a 16th century saint. We went inside and lit all the votive candles we could find. As the chances of hypothermia melted away and we rested, I noticed icons all around the shrine–St. George killing the dragon and the Theotokos, Mary holding her child. The child who was fully human and yet fully God. I started thinking how strange it was that Christ did take on our weak and fragile bodies at all. It seemed too humble, too delicate for a god! There was a remarkable difference here in that icon between the Christ child and the power and might of Zeus.
The next day, having made it finally to our camp, we started up Mt. Olympus. At this point, I really needed Rex whose eagerness for a difficult task took over and he helped me up an incredible climb. We summited the mountain in complete fog. WE could hardly even see the trail in front of us and all was quiet, still–bare rock wet with dew. And we were alone. There were no gods there–Zeus in all his might was gone, mercury had fled. Rex and I had ascended the greatest heights of human imagination and found that image of divinity lacking—it was cold, lonely, a pitiful expression of unrelenting power wounded still by sin and held in bondage to the world of lusts. I realized that God had saved us from such a life when he did not allow Adam and Eve, who had been wounded by sin, to taste immortality. Wounded human nature is not a pretty sight no matter how much power it has. What we needed was a light to shine through the fog and open to us the heavenly mysteries–the true presence of God.
On our descent, I thought again about that icon I saw in the cave. The Incarnation is not a vision of divinity shackled by flesh and sin but of healed humanity lifted up into perfect divinity. He took on our human nature and human flesh in order to restore what had been lost. He unified his divinity with humanity, fulfilling His creation and allowing Adam and Eve now again to walk with their Creator in perfect harmony. Like the Collect says, we are now regenerate and made children of God through adoption and grace. This is humanity glorified by divinity, and this is why Christ did not shed his body when he ascended, for now his risen body is divine. As the author of Hebrews: “when Jesus had by himself purged our sins, [he] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
And because we are joined to that ascended humanity through our baptisms, our own lives, yes even the lives we live in our flesh, participate in the divine life. Come now, in the middle of this night, and open your eyes to see the reality present here, the reality made clear by this feast. You will be invited by God to eat his flesh, drink his blood in order that He might be with you and you with Him. That you might join him in perfect life, free from the shackles of sin, the fear of death, and the incessant temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Worship God Almighty with a perfect worship and hand your life over to Him. And don’t forget, that this is possible because God became flesh and has renewed our humanity, because a human being sits on the throne of the universe.