RETURN TO JERUSALEM
NEXT time you go grocery shopping take a look at the list of ingredients of the things you buy. Do they make you think about farms and fields, or do they remind you more of beakers and lab coats? People who became alarmed by this trend in the last century started an industry called "health foods,” but unfortunately that doesn’t solve our problem because neither junk food nor health food satisfy the hunger of the soul. Therefore God gave us a food that turns evil into good and restores the divine image to us. Jesus calls it the Bread of Life.
He Himself is that Bread. He is the Life-bringer, the Incarnate Word who once came in the flesh to redeem us; and who still comes to us in the scriptural and sacramental Word. This is where we locate Him today. This is where we delight in the richest fare and absorb the very life that He gives. Don’t be scandalized by this. Don’t be offended because God uses such under-whelming measures to dispense such over-whelming blessings. When Jesus told the Jews who were following Him: unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you, it stopped them dead in their tracks! They turned away at that moment and decided to go it alone, to try to live without the Living Bread, without the Good Shepherd to lead them beside still waters.
The Old Testament Lesson for today is a gracious invitation that beckons all who hear it to become partakers of God's life-giving food and drink. The original people to hear these words were the Judean exiles. Using the Babylonians as His agents God uprooted Judah from the land. He scattered them and deprived them of every earthly blessing in order to reprove them for their sins; for their idolatry and materialism, their lust and immorality, for larceny and greed, sorcery and fortune-telling, and above all for refusing to heed His Word. They were out of faith and out of hope so they hung their harps on the willow trees by the rivers of Babylon. They had no more songs to sing. Each day they would hear the local water vendor come down the street crying out: Come, everyone who thirsts, come buy a drink. He was a salesman trying to make a few shekels, but Isaiah was not selling anything. He was speaking for God. He was telling these exiles that God would again remember His Covenant, that His intentions were to draw near to His people again, to gather them back the Promised Land and to revive them under a New and better Covenant. By such promises as these God fed the souls of His ancient people.
We, too, are exiles; aliens on the devil's planet so the same gospel applies to us. The same prophet who spoke to the Old Testament church speaks to us. He assures us that though we are captives at this time our pilgrimage will soon end, the Savior will soon appear, our eager expectation will be fulfilled and we will be ushered into the Heavenly Banquet Hall. What does all this cost? It is free of charge. It must be so because we are all spiritually bankrupt. As the Jewish exiles could not afford the water in Babylon, so we have no ability to purchase God's mercy or to buy our way out of trouble, but Scripture assures us that Jesus paid our debt, in full, on the cross, and that God's grace is free to us. By it He finds us, calls us, chooses us, justifies us, keeps us in faith and makes us holy.
So why isn't everybody lined up to receive it? Are they pretending not to notice? Actually, they aren't pretending. They really are unaware that God gives these things because they're too distracted by what they think they want. They're looking for Mammon's goodies. They want to replace “the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting” with “the abolition of sin, and good times that never end.” When Jesus returns there will be a bonfire of all such vanities, but as St. Paul says God has called us to holiness. He made us holy in baptism, and continues to feed us with the flesh and blood of the Holy One of God. He wants us to intentionally pattern our lives after Jesus who is Holy. It has been a long time since the Church has publicly and unmistakably called people to be like Jesus. Even faithful church members do not actively seek that kind of holiness. They probably find the call to it unfamiliar. In what does real holiness consist? That we fear, love and trust in God above all things. That we treasure His Word, love His house and dedicate our lives to doing His will, but anyone who takes God's Commandments seriously also realizes that he fails early and fails often. In Babylon the Jews quickly adapted to the culture, and when it was time to go home many preferred to stay. In like manner Christians accommodate themselves to the surrounding culture. They prefer Babylon to Jerusalem, and the Church today finds few people who want to be like Jesus. We are more like the Galileans who were glad to follow the miracle-working Prophet up to a point, but bailed out when the conversation turned to crosses. By the sacrifice of Christ God made atonement for our materialism, our egotism and our short term goals for the soul. The Bread of Life gives new life; the Son of David died and rose again to raise up a new house of David. God joined us to Jesus in Holy Baptism giving us each a part in His death and resurrection. Jesus calls us regenerate, "born again of water and the Spirit." The Spirit of God makes us His new Israel. The Holy One dwells in the midst of us. How could we not be holy if the Holy One is constantly touching us?
How does this sanctity express itself? By the way we believe, the way we live, and the way we suffer. Without a single word these things preach a better gospel than a hundred week-end evangelism seminars, and they show the world that sainthood is not dead.
God, through the prophet, still calls to men today. He summons us to leave Babylon and to enter the Jerusalem above through the doors of the church. He who died and rose again is truly present with His church now and will be with it hereafter. Is it any wonder that the mountains are dancing?
Rev. Dean Kavouras