Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 2)
Our journey through the Lenten Season to Good Friday will have been of no use if it has not been characterized by affection. Set your affections on things above, proclaims St. Paul this morning, and not on things of the earth, and if we have been conscientious, this is exactly what we have been doing. Affection is passion, desire, and yearning. And throughout the Holy Season of Lent we have prayed that the Holy Spirit might purify the thoughts of our hearts so that we can follow Jesus up to Jerusalem and beyond. If our affections have been set…on the things above [and] not things of the earth, then things divine have come down to us in the passionate heart of Jesus Christ. Out of the unquenchable ardor and fervor of His heart, He has desired that our affections might meet His in the dialogue of pure death which rises up into of new life. Easter is all about the pure affection of God in Jesus Christ for the transformation of the cosmos and the transfiguration of all men.
In the course of our journey to Easter we have learned that setting [our] affections on things that are above and not on the things of the earth is no easy business. And yet the distraction or diversion comes not from God but from us. God’s affection and desire for us has never ceased. From deep within His heart, emerging from the ground of Jesus’ incessant passion, the uninterrupted longing of God for our salvation has persisted. God’s Word has gone out. God’s desire and affection have neither dithered, nor demurred, nor doubted, nor drooped. The Word of God came down from heaven to live in man’s heart. His Good Friday is but one moment in the life that came from God and returns to God.
The common lot of men would have none of it then and will have none of it now. Their affections and desires are always otherwise dominated. Then, mighty engine of Caesar’s Rome could not accommodate the strange passion of a loving God whose affection is set higher and above man’s imagination. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, could not imagine how such love and affection could accommodate their Law and its piety. The fear and the cowardice of men, in all ages, with the best of intentions are rendered equally powerless in the presence of God’s desire. Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Human affection for God is fickle, unreliable, inconstant, and finally treacherous. Man is fallen.
And yet God responds in the heart of Jesus with a greater love that seeks to draw the hearts of all, even His worst enemies. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) In this, Christ says, Come follow me. Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) Again he is saying, Come follow me. Woman behold thy son…behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 26, 27) Come follow me. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) Come follow me. I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit. (St. Luke xxviii. 46) In Christ’s invitation to follow him, our love grows and expands as sin is swallowed up into Divine Life. Christ dies, and Man dies. Christ is coming alive, and so is Man. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22)
In the beginning God created the heavens and earth…and it was very good. (Genesis i…) And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. (Genesis ii. 2) Holy Saturday is the seventh day. On it Christ rested from the labor of bringing the old creation to an end. In pure affection God made all things, and in pure affection God will remake all things. Christ brings primal Man into death. In the pure affection of self-willed exile, man had desired God’s death. God had given man his desire. As you wish, or As you like it. And so God in Christ endures and suffers this choice. God is dead. Christ is interred, and with Him, it would seem, man’s affection for the things that are above is buried.
Holy Saturday must seem to be an end for those whose hearts fail, for those whose affection and desire for God seem to have died in the Crucified One. There is darkness. There is the death of a love that the world had never known. The affection for things above and beyond which He was, is gone. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. (Genesis i. 2) Darkness and death seem to have swallowed up the Love and extinguished the Light. Death holds hope hostage in its determined grip.
But as we move from the seventh to the first day, something strange begins to happen. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis i. 3,4) In the beginning God lovingly made the light to inform, define, and enliven all of creation. In the same light now, incandescent beams of love will open the eyes of believers’ hearts to a new creation being illuminated by that true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into world. (St. John i. 9) Darkness flees, sin flees, death flees, and ignorance flees as the loving Light emerges from the Resurrected One. The pure affection and eternal desire of the Father of lights has transformed the Son as flesh from death into new life. The old Man is dead and the new Man has come alive.
At first only angels and nature sense the truth of the Light. The elements stir, the air is parted, the fire blazes, the earth shakes and removes all barriers to the ever-beaming Light that is new life. The Father’s immortal, immutable, and immovable course of affection for man’s redemption and salvation will not be impeded. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans vi. 9, 10) The question and answer of the prophet Ezekiel is fulfilled.
Son of man, can these bones live? …And there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of Man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them…(Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-10)
Christ rises from the dead. In Him the Light of God shines through the redeemed and transfigured flesh of Man. The pure affection of the one for the other brings light out of darkness and life out of death. God’s Word speaks from the same Body now transfigured. Christ’s uninterrupted affection for God and Man is one Light that banishes darkness and makes death into new life. Christ is Risen from the dead…Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 20, 22; 1 Cor. v. 7)
But there is more. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) The Apostles and the women are as dead and lifeless, as those without light. But something of the old affection and desire begins to stir within them. On this first day of the week Mary Magdalene travels from the nearly lifeless, lightless tomb of her soul to the place of Jesus’ burial. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live. (Ezekiel. xxxvii. 12-14) She is moved by with what remains of her affection and love for Jesus. She finds the stone rolled away. Her affection and passion for the Light hastens towards an as yet unknown hope. They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (St. John xx. 2) In the darkness she thinks that Christ’s enemies have stolen the body. John and Peter affectionately and passionately run after this new truth. As Eriugena says, John outruns Peter because contemplation completely cleansed penetrates the inner secrets of the divine workings more rapidly than action still to be purified. John represents contemplation and hope. Peter represents action and faith. But faith must enter the tomb of darkness first, and understanding follows and comes after. (Hom. Gospel of St. John, 283, 285)
God’s uninterrupted affection and desire for all men’s salvation is at work in time and space. Stirring within the hearts of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John is the faith and understanding in the Light that said, I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (St. John xiv. 18, 19) Christ is risen. Soon the Apostles will see Him and rise with and in Him. Christ is risen. In the Resurrected Light that shines through His transfigured flesh, we must remember that we are dead and our life is hid with God in Christ. (Colossians iii. 2,3) In the Resurrected Light, let us reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) In the Resurrected Light let us match Christ’s affection with our own –that affection and desire for becoming very members incorporate in His Risen spiritual and mystical Body, transparent, obedient to His Holy Spirit…apt and natural instruments of His will and way, (The Meaning of Man, Mouroux, p.89) reflecting His Light and Love into the hearts of all others. And with the poet let us rejoice, sing, and rise with the poet:
Then comes He!
Whose mighty Light
Made His clothes be
Like Heav’n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stained man more white than snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone,
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick than light
(Ascension Hymn: H. Vaughn)