“There are some standing here who will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Today’s gospel takes place six days before the Transfiguration of our Lord. You will remember that the Transfiguration of Christ permitted his disciples Peter James and John to see for themselves, on Mount Tabor, the divinity of our Lord. Today’s text is rich in many themes. However, I wish to focus upon “the coming of the kingdom of God with power”.
In chapter 2 of Acts we have the most wonderful description of this coming of the “kingdom of God with power.”
“And suddenly a sound came from heaven like a rush of a mighty wind…and there appeared to them tongues as a fire distributed and resting on each one of them and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”
At Pentecost the church, or Ecclesia, as we understand it came into active being. Born of the Holy Spirit, the church, endowed with Grace, began in earnest to fulfil the fullness of the coming of our Lord.
What is meant by the word ecclesia? To the ancient Greeks it meant a meeting place or forum where people met to discuss public matters. To St Paul it meant something quite different: he saw each one of us transformed into the body of the church with Christ being the head. As he put it “there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all”. Indeed, the visible church of God is incapable of being described by words and should be understood dynamically as a continual journey towards sanctification.
The church is thus the repository of our faith. Therefore the church and its teachings come from Christ. These teachings were handed like a torch by Christ to the apostles and from them to the church fathers throughout history to each one of us today. The theological undertaking that we have is to receive the same torch of faith and to make the meaning plain, in the phronema of the church fathers, and to pass the torch to the next generation unchanged. That is the theological task. That is the theological challenge.
Our mother church ensures, through the Holy Spirit, and through Holy Tradition, that there is no change to the gospel message given by Christ to us today through the course of the centuries. Holy Tradition means to reinterpret and make relevant to THIS generation the message of Christ. We are not called upon to interpret the message anew. The Christian message blazes through 2000 years of human history, never waivering and always true. The problem of the so-called modern charismatic churches is that have shut themselves off from Holy Tradition. These modern churches believe that Christ can talk to them directly today, ignoring the historical Christ. Thus in reality, each person preaching in those so-called ” Christian” churches perceive Christ in their own human image rather than seeing Christ as the king of all and the Lord of history through Holy Tradition.
How does the Orthodox Church understand Holy Tradition? Tradition is most certainly NOT blindly following what was done in the past. It is not static. It does not hide behind dogmatic formulas. It is the dynamic movement of God in history. Tradition is the living Word. Florovsky, a noted theologian said this: “tradition is… no outward historical authority, but the eternal, continual voice of God, not only the voice of the past, but the voice of eternity.” Thus the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that gave birth to the church at Pentecost, continues to keep watch and reveal the same truth throughout history. Thus there is no better guarantee for each one of us as Christians that we are following the right path than observing and preserving a loving relationship with the Saints – the holy men and women of past generations, who lived in communion with the Holy Spirit. Therefore the true traditionalist is not the person who lives in the past but the one who is open and alert to the voice of the Holy Spirit today that sustains and nourishes each one of us.
Our mother church, by grace through the Holy Spirit, TODAY reminds us through the veneration of the empty cross both the sorrow of the crucifixion and joy of the resurrection. The church fathers have long understood the power of the cross to fortify and sustain the faithful. It is a mystery how two pieces of wood that by themselves have no meaning, once formed into a cross, cause death to be abolished, open Paradise and make salvation possible. The cross holds the world. Its vertical beam connects the heavens to the earth below. Its horizontal beam embraces the entire creation. The cross is the symbol of the fulfilment of the promise. For this reason our church venerates the cross today so that we are encouraged to continue with our struggle during Lent.
Christ himself says “if any man would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” and further “who ever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it”. Accordingly, it is vital that we live the true gospel in the church today. Christ gave us the church at Pentecost when he sent the Holy Spirit to lead his church to its fullness. Our mother church has kept the message received from Christ intact. The Holy Spirit has moved and given life to the message given by Christ throughout the subsequent course of human history. The Holy Spirit has continued to give life to the church and to sustaining the human spirit. Christ, as promised, truly sent the kingdom of God with power after his ascension.
What does that mean to us? What it means is that we can continue our march through Lent to the passion of Christ revived and fortified by the power of the cross. What it means is that we do this as good soldiers expecting to share in the ultimate joy of seeing the king victorious over death. What it means is that Christ’s promise to send the paraclete is fulfilled. What it means is that our salvation is assured. So let us draw strength from the cross. Let us also share in the Eucharist. After all, our church draws her life and strength from the Eucharist and so should we. Let us remember that the Lamb of God at each liturgy is broken and distributed, broken yet not divided, ever eaten yet never expended, sanctifying those who partake. Why should we then deprive ourselves of this spiritual gift beyond compare? Amen.