Bright Tuesday (2019)

Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death

and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

Bright Tuesday   Luke 24:12-35

St Gregory the Great writes:

You have heard, dearly beloved, that the Lord appeared to two disciples while they were walking on the road. They were talking about him, even though they did not believe. He did not show them an appearance which they could recognize, but the Lord behaved before the eyes of their bodies in accord with what was going on inwardly before the eyes of their hearts. Within themselves they were both loving and doubting; and the Lord was present to them out. outwardly, but did not show them who he was. He manifested his presence to them as they talked about him, but hid the appearance by which they would recognize him on account of their doubts. He did indeed talk with them, reproving the hardness of their understanding and opening to them the mysteries of holy scripture concerning himself: and yet, because as an object of faith he was still a stranger to their hearts, he made a pretense of going on farther. One can make a pretence as one can make a pot. On this occasion the perfect Truth did nothing deceitful; he was only manifesting himself to them materially as they were thinking of him. It had to be shown whether those who did not as yet love him as God were at least able to love him as a stranger. Since those with whom Truth was walking couldn’t be alien to charity, they invited him, a stranger, to be their guest.

But why do I say they invited him, when it is written that they compelled him? We must surely infer from this example that strangers are not only to be invited to be guests but even forcibly persuaded. They set the table, brought food, and recognized in the breaking of the bread the God they did not know as he explained the sacred scriptures. They were not enlightened by hearing God’s commandments, but by their own actions, for it is written, It is not hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but doers of the law will be made righteous. Let anyone who wishes to understand what he has heard be quick to fulfil in action what he has already been able to understand. The Lord was not recognized when he was speaking, but he deigned to be recognized as he was being fed.”

(Forty Homilies, pp. 176-177)

How We Shape God’s Revelation

“God condescends whenever He is not seen as He is, but in the way one incapable of beholding Him is able to look upon Him. In this way God reveals Himself by accommodating what He reveals to the weakness of vision of those who behold him.”  (St. John Chrysostom, in Archimandrite Amilianos’s The Way of the Spirit, p. 323-324)

Chrysostom’s observation that God accommodates His revelation to the capacity of the person beholding God is fascinating on so many levels, and really does seem true to what the Scriptures present about God’s manifestations to the world.  It does mean that God takes into account each person readiness for revelation and each person’s personal abilities and adjusts the revelation accordingly so the person can understand what is being revealed to them.  It also means that no two person have the exact same perception of God.  Take for example the Transfiguration – five people besides Jesus are present, and each would be encountering something slightly different about Christ according to their differing personal abilities to comprehend the revelation.   It means that no one person’s experience of God, no matter how true or how capable they are of describing it, ever has a full experience of God.    Certainly in the case of the Transfiguration, Orthodox Tradition as expressed in iconography has each of the apostles differently able to perceive and understand the revelation.  Peter, James and John are understand as experiencing the Transfiguration differently which is shown in the icon by their different responses to the event.

God reveals Himself as love and God reveals His love to us, and each of us experiences it slightly differently based on our own capabilities of receiving the revelation.  God does not require everyone to experience the exact same thing or to understand the revelation in the same way or even to be able to express what one has experienced in the exact same way as others do.   There is a true and unique synergy which occurs between God and each person to whom God reveals Himself.

A good example of this comes from the post-Resurrection experience of the disciples found in Luke 24.  We can consider a few verses as examples.

1] Luke 24:15-16  –    While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

Here are two disciples who are personally familiar with Jesus having been discipled by Christ directly as they sojourned with Him.   In this chapter, they are walking with Him and talking to Him and yet they do not recognize Him with their own eyes.  Apparently, not only do different people have different capacities for receiving God’s revelation, but also at different times in life any one person’s lifetime, the ability to understand God changes.  According to Chrysostom, God takes this into account and only reveals what we are capable of receiving, so while our experience of God may be true, it may also be incomplete or just beyond our comprehension.

2] Luke 24:19-26  –    And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

The people were able to see the mighty deeds of Jesus and to hear his powerful message, yet they did not fully comprehend either Him or His message.  The disciples admit they thought they understood who Jesus was, but their hopes were dashed.  The crucifixion of Jesus was an unexpected revelation about God which blinded them to the truth of what they were seeing in Christ.  And finally though some of the disciples were moved enough to go look into the claims about the empty tomb and resurrection, they still were not capable themselves of seeing Jesus yet.  They knew Jesus’ own teachings about the resurrection, they had the testimony of the women disciples, they saw the empty tomb, and yet still they were not ready to receive the revelation.   It takes time for them to realize and embrace what God is revealing to them.   God reveals Himself as the disciples are growing in their ability to understand the revelation.  It is a lesson for mission work as well – people may need time to hear the message and to understand it.

3] Luke 24:30-31  –   When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.

Seeing him with one’s eyes and realizing who He is are two different experiences.  The two disciples are talking with Him and yet their eyes are not opened.  However, in the breaking of the bread, they recognize Him – their eyes are opened and in that moment He disappears!  Seeing with one’s senses is one thing, but it is not the only vision we are capable of.  Another lesson is that as we are more prepared to accept the revelation, we may find ourselves less reliant on proofs and move more into a faith mode, letting go of the “props” that helped us believe and allowing Christ to enter into our hearts.   And we see in the icon that each of the two disciples sees Christ from their own point of view, they are not seeing identical things.  And Christ in these icons hands them a broken piece of bread – each receives a unique piece broken from the whole,  they are not given identical pieces.   They are given according to their ability to receive the gift.

4] Luke 24:33-35  –   And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Lord chooses to whom He will appear.  Not everyone sees Him in the same moment.  God respects those who are ready for the revelation.  Others may simply not be ready, and so God doesn’t appear to them, or He appears to them and they don’t recognize Him.  We see again Chrysostom’s point that God appears in the way and to the degree that the person is able to receive the revelation.  Peter goes to the tomb and is not yet ready to embrace the revelation, but in the right time, the Lord acts and Peter sees the Lord.

5] Luke 24:36-41  –   As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?”

The Lord chose the moment to reveal Himself at once to all the disciples.  We see their reactions – startled, frightened, doubts, thinking some ghost has appeared to them.  Not all can see as clearly, but Christ proceeds with the revelation as they are able to receive it.  So then, there is disbelief, wonder and joy.  What they experience and understand is changing and growing.  Christ accommodates Himself to the ways in which they are not yet fully prepared to see or believe or understand.    Christ is guided by mercy and empathy for those to whom He reveals Himself, taking into account their weaknesses and accommodating His revelation to them.  There is no need to admire those who understand more nor to despise those who understand less.  God is accommodating His revelation to the needs of each based on His own love for them.  There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to God’s revelation as each receives the revelation as they are able.  God entrusts to each person the revelation according to their abilities.  And there is no need for everyone to think exactly alike, because God accommodates His revelation to each.

Bright Wednesday 2012

“When the women arrived at the tomb early in the morning, they were perplexed, not knowing what to make of it being empty; they required an angel to explain what had happened. The Christian faith is not based on the empty tomb, for this ‘bare fact’ requires interpretation: was the body perhaps stolen?  The same holds true for the resurrection appearances: when he appears, not only do they recognize him, but they also start telling him about this Jesus who was put to death, and that the tomb was found empty (Lk. 24:22-24).

So, the Christian faith is not based on the appearances of the risen Lord. Only when the crucified and risen Christ opens the Scriptures to them, to show how it was necessary for him to have gone to his passion to enter his glory, do the disciples’ hearts began to burn, so that they are prepared to recognize him in the breaking of bread (Lk. 24:28-35). Yet once finally recognized, he disappears: ‘and their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he vanished out of their sight’ (Lk 24:31). At the very moment that the disciples finally encounter Christ knowingly, he passes out of their sight.”   (John Behr in Thinking Through Faith: New Perspectives from Orthodox Christian Scholars, pg. 72)

Scripture and the Word of God

When any of the authors of the New Testament mention the Scriptures, they are referring to what Christians today think of as “the Old Testament.”  That was the only Scripture for the Christians of the New Testament times.  The New Testament as a collection of writings did not exist during the time of the apostles

The early Christians saw their Scriptures because they revealed Christ to the world.   The centrality of the Torah and the Temple had been replaced by the Incarnate Messiah as the sign of God’s presence with His people.   God’s Word became flesh in Jesus Christ and this incarnation of God revealed the purpose of the Scriptures.

“When John declares that ‘in the beginning was the word,’ he does not reach a climax with ‘and the word was written down’ but ‘and the word became flesh.’ The letter to the Hebrews speaks glowingly of God speaking through scripture in time past, but insists that now, at last, God has spoken through his own son (1:1–2). Since these are themselves ‘scriptural’ statements, that means that scripture itself points—authoritatively, if it does indeed possess authority!—away from itself and to the fact that final and true authority belongs to God himself, now delegated to Jesus Christ. It is Jesus, according to John 8:39–40, who speaks the truth which he has heard from God.”   (N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, Kindle Loc. 407-12)

It is the person of Jesus Christ, not a book, who speaks the truth from God.  The book – the bible – bears witness to Him.  As Jesus Himself said to His fellow Jews:

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”    (John 5:39-40)

Christ Himself said that Moses, who is credited with writing Torah, wrote about Christ.  The purpose of the Scriptures is to lead us to Christ.

“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”  (John 5:46-47)

In Jesus’ own reading of the Old Testament,  He interprets the text of the Torah, including the Genesis creation story which Moses wrote, not mostly to be history but even more so a witness to Christ, a prophecy of  Christ, and a testimony about Christ.  This is how we should read these Old Testament Scriptures as well.

We encounter the same idea in Luke’s Gospel in the account of how on the day of Christ’s resurrection, two of His disciples are walking to Emmaus troubled by the execution of Jesus on the cross and mystified by reports from the women that Jesus had risen from the dead.  They don’t know what to believe.  As they are walking, Jesus joins them, yet for unknown reasons they don’t recognize their Master.   Jesus listens to their sad tale of woe and then,

“… beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”  (Luke 24:27)

Jesus explains to them what Moses and the other prophets wrote about the Christ.  So, too, when we read the Old Testament we should be reading with a mind toward recognizing Christ.  If we read Genesis mostly to learn about creation science, we miss the most important aspect of Moses’ writing, namely that he was writing about Jesus!  The Torah is most significant to us not as a scientific text, nor even as a historical text, but because it bears witness to Christ and we too can come to Him through these Scriptures.  Moses didn’t write to confound modern science, he wrote to bear witness to Christ.  And how did the disciples react to these revelations about Moses and the Jewish Scriptures?

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32)

Their hearts were opened to the truth about Scriptures and to Jesus as well.  The Scriptures of the Jews and of the first Christians, that part of our Bible which we now call the Old Testament, contains laws, history, poetry, narrative, theology, wisdom, prophecy and inspiration.  Christ sees its importance not at all in its literal reading, but in how it bears witness to Him.   Again, following His resurrection Jesus said to His disciples:

“’These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”  (Luke 24:44-48)

We need Christ to open our minds to the understanding of the scriptures, to discover in them what Moses, the prophets and Psalms had to say about Christ.  This is what Christ wanted His disciples, including us, to understand from Torah and the entire Old Testament.

“… the Bible itself declares that all authority belongs to the one true God and that this is now embodied in Jesus himself. The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to the books you are all going to write,’ but ‘All authority in heaven and on earth is given to me.’ This ought to tell us, precisely if we are taking the Bible itself as seriously as we should, that we need to think carefully what it might mean to think that the authority of Jesus is somehow exercised through the Bible.”  (N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today,  Kindle Loc. 78-82)

Jesus is the fullness of the revelation of God, not the Scriptures.  The Scriptures bear witness to Christ.  The Bible alone cannot give us the full revelation of God.  Only Christ can do that, and only He fully and rightfully interprets the Scriptures and reveals to us their meaning as well.  The Evangelist John tells us that Jesus did many other things not written in the Gospel (John 20:30, 21:35).   The Scriptures alone are not the full revelation and do not tell us everything that can be known about Christ Jesus the Son of God.  The Scriptures however bear witness to Christ, and if we believe in Him, listen to Him and follow Him as disciples, He will reveal their full meaning to us.   The significance of the Scriptures for us, as it was for those disciples on the road to Emmaus is that in them we find Christ and our way to recognize Him.  Those original disciples have not advantage over us.  Even walking with Christ didn’t help them recognize Him – He was revealed to them through the correct interpretation of the Scriptures and in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus the Key to Understanding Torah

One of the Resurrectional Gospel Lessons used in Orthodox worship is Luke 24:13-35, which is read as part of the recurring readings for Sunday Matins.   In this reading, our Lord Jesus risen from the dead is speaking with two of His disciples as these disciples are leaving Jerusalem following the crucifixion of Christ.  The disciples had hoped Jesus was the Messiah, but his execution had dashed their hopes.  They leave Jerusalem despondently, though puzzled by what to make of the rumors they had heard about His being risen from the dead.  Jesus joins them in their walk, though they do not recognize their Risen Lord. After listening to their disappointment in what had happened, Jesus spoke to them, and here I’ll mention only two things He says to these despairing disciples:

“Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you: that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” (Luke 24:42‑47)

 Basically what the Risen Lord reveals to these two disciples of His is that the Old Testament indeed is a treasury of God’s riches. But it remains locked in its vault until the key is given to open the vault. That key is Christ Himself.  (see also Christ is the Key to Open the Scriptural Treasury).  The key to understand all the Old Testament, including the Ten Commandments and all 613 laws of the Torah, including the history, the psalms and the prophecies is Jesus the Messiah.  That of course is going to be one of the main points of disagreement between Christians and Jews to this day. Christians accept the notion that Jesus is more important than either Torah or Temple, and that in fact He replaces both of them in by fulfilling their original purposes, thus enacting a New Covenant/Testament between God and His People.

The Evangelist John records Jesus saying to His fellow Jews:  “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf” (John 5:39). As in the Gospel lesson of Jesus with His two traveling disciples in Luke 24, so too in John 5 Jesus teaches that the Scriptures – the entire Old Testament – serve the purpose of helping to reveal or point out the Messiah.  Jesus fulfills all the promises, prophecies and apocalyptical sayings found in the Jewish Scriptures.

Next: Reading the Old Testament with Christ