Fr. Richard's Sunday Homily, November 12, 2017
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Christ Came to Us in the Real Physical and Imperfect World
Epistle: Ephesians 2:4-10
Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
In the entire universe, every galaxy, solar system and planet across 93 billion light-years, in all of that there is only one small area where the Creator of All Things walked upon the creation that was the work of His own hands, and that is the place we now call Israel. The modern state of Israel is only 290 miles long by 85 miles wide but here is where God’s interaction with Abraham, Isaac and Moses is recorded for us in the Old Testament as the Lord chooses for Himself a people who will be guided by His law and instructed by His prophets and the words of the Sacred Scriptures. Here in Israel you can travel to places you have only read about: Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah had a dramatic showdown with the priests of Baal; Jericho, whose walls collapsed in front of Joshua and his army; Beersheba, where Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for the price of a meal and where Abraham’s well still holds water; and of course, Jerusalem the city taken by King David where the first temple to God would be built by his son, Solomon. Then we come to that moment that stands as the center of all time—when God Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ, takes on a human nature and is born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. There in that city is a small portion of the floor of a cave, totally surrounded by a church, there is a star that marks the spot where Jesus was born. Now I have to say I struggle with believing that this exact spot is where the Lord was born, but it represents something that is always and everywhere a greater challenge to faith: to believe that God became man out of His great love for us. And it was, in a certain sense, a surprise for me to think about the Incarnation and the public ministry of Jesus when I was there. “What?” you rightly ask. “Isn’t that why you went there?” Yes, of course. But when you are there, and you look out over the Sea of Galilee and think of the miracle of the loaves and fishes; when you go up to Mt. Tabor and consider the Transfiguration of the Lord; when you stand among the rocky pagan shrines of Caesarea Philippi and recall the confession of St. Peter whom Jesus declares will become the rock on which He will build His Church; when you walk in the Garden of Gethsemane where there are trees that are so old that Jesus would have seen them—when you stand in those places, when you pray in these places, these physical sites, the hills, the valleys, the ruins that have suffered from time, the churches and shrines that stand as testimonies to 2,000 years of faith in Christ—these places can serve as a powerful witness to the truth of the Gospels and the truth of our Faith. Although now it is covered in asphalt, this was the path Jesus walked. Although now it is bordered by modern buildings and roads, this is the lake where Jesus calmed the stormy waters and called His first disciples. Here is the Kidron valley in Jerusalem where Jesus was led across under arrest the night before He was crucified. Here is the tomb where His body was laid to rest. There are so many places, so many sites, mentioned in just the New Testament it is truly amazing. But I think for me that these places were always rather unimportant to the Gospel message and our salvation history. Sure, this happened here, and that happened there, but the places were not really of great interest or concern. What happened was what was important, right? Not where it happened. But seeing the well in Nazareth, fed by a natural spring, and realizing this is probably where the Mother of God got her water for the family so very long ago; coming to the hill where Jesus would have stood within the Temple Gates; coming to the humble river Jordan where the Baptist professed His faith in the Son of God—these physical places took on for me a much greater importance because they testified to the reality of the Good News in which we believe, and they continuously reaffirmed that the Eternal Son of God became a man in order that we who share in His humanity might also share in His divinity. We can find it so much easier to believe in a Savior Who stands off in the heights of heaven, far removed from the rocks, the dust and the mud of this world we live in. A British man about 150 years ago came to believe that the ancient site of Christ’s burial tomb was not the real tomb. He found another tomb outside the walls of Jerusalem and became convinced that this was the actual place where Jesus was buried. It is set in a beautiful garden, and the tomb is a small room in a rocky hillside, with the spot where he claimed Jesus’ body was laid, closed off by bars so you can’t actually touch that spot. It’s called the Garden Tomb, and it is picture perfect. This tomb is the place that most Protestant tour groups go to. And I can understand why. It’s not like that other tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the walls are dark from oil lamp smoke, and people are kissing icons, and there are Armenian priests and Greek priests, and Franciscan friars all wearing robes and vestments and it’s noisy and crowded and people are shoving and pushing in line to get in to see the Holy Grave and a lot of them will even kneel down and kiss the rock. For me the Garden Tomb represents Christ the way many Christians would prefer to see Him: neat, orderly, tidy, and above all, very “spiritual.” On the other hand, for me the actual tomb represents Christ as truly of this created world, with its dirt, its noise, it gritty-ness, among a sea of sinners, weak men and women, people of every nation, a disorderly mass of folks in need of salvation. This is the real deal—the Son of God came to the real physical world to claim us as real people and call us to holiness in His divine life. Because we’re not meant to be here forever. And He comes to us today in our real world in a true and genuine way even though He looks like bread and wine.