The First Sunday after the Resurrection

MP3 Audio: Low-Sunday-2014.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.


Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, our God is One. Amen.

How many of you have been to Seminary? Taken any theology classes or anything like that? I just barely started with mine. One of the topics that we started with in the very first semester of reading was “Essence and Energies.” The Essence and Energies of God. I taught in our Sunday school class 8 months or a year ago, some of the distinctions between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox beliefs on God, and on the Church, and things like that. One of the things that we discussed was the Roman Catholic view of created grace versus Essence and Energies. So for some of you, it’s not the first time that you’ve heard this terminology. But when you are doing your reading about the Orthodox Church, you may run across the concept of God’s Essence and His Energies. I’m going to try to explain it to you, because it’s very important regarding what happens to Christ during His death and resurrection, and what will happen to us as well.

When you talk about the Essence of God..In Greek it’s the ousia, is what they call it…When we say, “being of one substance with the Father”, in the Creed that we just said, the Greeks would say “homoousia”…One substance, one essence. The “ousia” in Greek is basically speaking of his being, his nature or his substance. And as human beings we find that any attempt to describe God-ness, what God is, falls short because we don’t have any frame of reference on how to describe Him. We do know that God has a mind and a will and emotions and things like that, from reading Scripture, but God is uncreated while we are created. And so, his essence is pretty well incomprehensible to us, simply because there is nothing in creation that we can use to describe Him and say that “it’s like this.”

So typically what we use are negative terms. We’ll say, “You know how you and I are created? Well, He’s not.” “You know how you and I have a beginning and an end? Well, He doesn’t.” “You know how we have to be in one place all the time? He doesn’t.” We just say what He’s not. We describe things that we know, and then we say, “it’s not that.”

There’s an old story, Jon, you would probably know this better than I. “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.” They said these things were hovering in the air in the same way that bricks don’t. So however bricks don’t hover in the air, this is how those hover! Okay, this was just a line in a story, and that’s what we typically try to do with God. We try to explain Him, but we have no frame of reference to do it. Tell me, what is it like to be eternal? No beginning and no end? We don’t know. Because everything we know of had a beginning in creation. And everything that we know of has an ending in creation.

We try to say, “Well, eternal means not a beginning and not an end.” How do we describe eternity? As a kid I would try to do that, and it would rack my brain trying to think about it. I was like, “Who’s God’s Mom, and how did He come to be, and how has He always been there?” Trying to explain God-ness is like trying to explain infinity or eternity. We don’t have a way to describe it because we don’t understand it. It’s incomprehensible, so God’s Essence – who is God and what He is – we just take it and say, “He’s got an Essence.” Some parts are told to us, but we are not able to tangibly or even in our subconscious completely understand Him. So if you wanted to describe what God is, you couldn’t do it, at least not correctly. This God-ness is His essence.

Well, fortunately for us, God has chosen to interact with His creation. So the ways that He interacts with us is His energies. So when we say things about the grace of God touching us through the Sacraments, that we are actually touching the Body and the Blood of Christ, we are actually experiencing the Holy Spirit in our lives. The way that we experience God, the way that He touches creation, that is His energies. It is two parts. You can’t really dissect them, but you can describe them separately. You can’t take them apart and say, “over here is His essence, and over here is His energies.” God is Essence and Energies; we can not comprehend God-ness, but we can experience His energies. It’s a very deep theological concept. Books and books and years and years of talk and debate have gone into this. I’m trying to nutshell it so you can get an understand it. So, is this clear as mud? There are a lot of important theological ramifications to this, which is one of the things which separate the Roman Catholic Church from the Orthodox Church.

So what is important in today’s message is that all three Persons in the Holy Trinity are identical in Essence, in God-ness. Whatever it is that we are trying to describe, they all three have it. They are all three identical in Essence. Homoousia. Of one substance with the Father. That’s what that means. Now they have been identical from eternity past and they will continue to be identical into eternity future. They will remain always. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit all have identically in their Essence, what it means to be God, whatever that is. Where they are different, where they are distinct, is in their Energies, in how They interact with creation. For instance, the Father is eternally the Father and He could never go to the Holy Spirit and thank the Holy Spirit for sending His only begotten Son. The Holy Spirit didn’t send His only begotten Son; the Father did. The Son is eternally Son, and you could never thank Him for coming on Pentecost. He didn’t. He sent the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Do you get the concept? You can’t thank One for doing the Others’ acts. You can see them as the same in essence, but in the way that they act with creation, the way that they interact even with each other, is different. It is not identical. Their energies are different. So while they are identical in essence, in God-ness, they are not identical in their energies. They are indistinguishable from each other in their essence, but they are distinguishable from each other in their energies. . . .

An essence and energies distinction is not only with God, but us. We also have essence and energies. Okay, what is man-ness? Human-ness? What does it mean to be man? And someone would try to describe it, and I’d say, “No, that’s an energy.” What is man-ness? “Well, you have body.” No, that’s energy. I would make somebody mad doing that. I don’t want to do that, so I’m telling you, just as the essence of God is unknowable to us, the essence of man is unknowable to us also. We can’t really quite put our finger on it. You can’t really describe it. But, my face, my hands, the way I act, the way I talk, my voice, the way I smell . . . those are things that emanate from my essence and are distinguishable from each other. So, we are all equally distinguishable as man, in our humanity, but we are distinguishable in our energies, in the way that we play out into creation. You look different, you sound different, you smell different, you are different. Your emotions are different, your actions are different, the way that you operate in creation is your energies. Over here we have God’s essence and energies, and over here we have man’s essence and energies. We’ve got both.

This sounds more like a Sunday school lesson than a sermon, but there’s a purpose in this. What it is, and what it does. What it is and what it does. That’s the difference.

I teach you all to say this. And this is utterly amazing to me. Do you know what the Annunciation of Mary was? You know when the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and said, “Hail, highly favored one”, and told her that she would conceive a child, and she would conceive God. At the Annunciation, we believe and we teach that this is the point of the Incarnation, the moment at which God became flesh. He took upon flesh and became man. This means that God, complete in essence and energies, also took on the essence and energies of a man at the same time. Now, the Father didn’t do that. The Holy Spirit didn’t do that. The second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son, now has an essence and energies of deity, and an essence an energies of man in one person. He’s both. . . . He is everything that it means to be God and everything that it means to be man in one Person. Talk about incomprehensible. Talk about, “Whoa, what does that mean?” He kept his complete God-ness and also took on complete man-ness at the same time. Doesn’t this rock your world? This is cool to me.

I once heard this analogy. The Incarnation is like a hand in a glove. The hand represents God, taking on the form of flesh, and now this God can animate a glove. So it looks and appears as a glove, but inside the glove there is actually a hand. But when you take the glove off, what do you have? You have a hand and this dead, inanimate . . . that is a horrible analogy; do not use that! If you use that, you’re bordering on some kind of heresy that I probably can’t explain or even pronounce.

The reason why I tell you that is because you’re going to hear different times, people try to explain things. And we do this because we don’t comprehend it, so we try to say, “Well, it’s like this or it’s like that.” We try to form an analogy. But you have to be careful, because if you start to make these analogies,  you begin to travel this heretical road that has already been traveled centuries ago, and the Church has dealt with that. But what I’ve been told is that it’s kind of like that game Whack-a Mole. Have you ever played that game? You just think you’ve got the heresy knocked out and THUNK, it pops up over here, and you knock the heresy down and THUNK, it pops up over here and you spend your lives, or the Church does, playing this cosmic game of Whack-a-Mole, trying to kill all the heresies, and they keep popping up again because people aren’t plugged into the Church strong enough.

The Church will keep you grounded if you stay plugged into it. Don’t use that hand in the glove kind of thing, okay? Using that analogy would mean that Jesus could just take off His man-suit, like I take off my surplice and hang it up on a hook and walk around. This man-suit is just hanging over here, it’s a partially human body. But God is over here, essence and energies, with just this body of a man. That’s NOT how this worked.

Is that what it means to be human anyway? Just to be this “suit”? If there is such a thing as a complete human without a human spirit in it, I don’t know what it is. If you look at a dead body in a casket, is it fully human? It’s the body of a human, but would you say that the body laying there is completely human? Is it complete? No. It’s missing something vital, that human spirit that needs to be in there. So in order to be fully human, we have to possess both the body and the spirit. We have to have the essence and the energies together as well. So, you may be getting flashbacks from my two previous sermons, but the reason I was preaching them before, about the body separating and coming back together, was to reach this point eventually. When Jesus became incarnate, He did not keep His God-ness and then take on an inanimate human body and put it on like a glove. He didn’t do that. He took on the entire human essence and energies, both body and spirit. Jesus is fully human, just like you are, just like I am. There is nothing different in His humanity than what you have. The only difference is that He never sinned. He was sinless completely. Other than that, He was identical in humanity, just like you and I are. Identical to us! The same way that we have man-ness, He does. The same way that we have a face and hands and smell and has all that, He does. He is identical to us. But He also retains 100% of His divine essence and energies as well.

So prior to the Incarnation, before He became man, the Son of God did not have a human nature. He had no human body, He had no human will, He had no [human] emotions. I’ll tell you something weird: Jesus didn’t exist. The Son of God did. The second Person of the Trinity did. But there was no person named “Jesus”, son of Mary or son of Joseph. There was no Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t exist. Until He took on flesh and took on human nature at the Incarnation. The Son of God was only spirit, at that point just like the Father and the Holy Spirit are. And at the Incarnation, He took on flesh, took on the human nature, a human body, a human will, human emotions, everything that it means to be human, He took on and became “Jesus” at that point.

So the Son’s divine essence is Eternal. The second Person of the Trinity is eternal and uncreated, stretching unchanged all way into infinity, into the future. Jesus’ human essence had a beginning, but now will never have an end, just like ours will never really have an end. Except for one period of separation. One short period of separation that Jesus experienced. When Jesus died on the cross, His human nature was separated. It was not separated from the divine essence and energies, but His human nature was separated basically from itself, just as what will happen to me and what will happen to you when we die. Our spirit separates from our body and we have two separate pieces. Our human body goes and lies dead in the grave to decay in the ground. Our human spirit will either go to Hades or to Paradise. In this state we are still fully human; we’re just not together. So let me show you.

Right now, my spirit is joined to my body. My spirit can go [banging chest three times] “This is me.” I can touch me, because my spirit is inside of me and I can touch my body. When I die, and I become separated, my spirit can no longer go (banging chest again, three times), but it can go, “Over there, that’s me. That’s me too, over there in the grave.” That and this will be me. Just right now, they’re together, but then they’ll be separated. So if that’s me, and this is me, but together they’re me, we’re just separated right now. That’s not a preferred way in which to be. That’s not how we want to be. The Saints in heaven right now, Saints all around us right now – their relics, their body – we have a relic of St. Benedict underneath our altar. That is a piece of the body of St. Benedict. That is St. Benedict. He is also a spirit in heaven. That’s him too. The two of them together make him human. It makes him full. So Jesus, same thing. The body of Jesus dies on the cross. His spirit separates. The two together are still Jesus, but they are separated. The body goes into the tomb. It does not decay, according to Scripture, but the spirit goes to Hades. And it spends a little bit of time there, preaching to spirits in prison. (“He descended into Hell, the third day He rose again” from the Apostles Creed, right?) He goes down there and He is separated. The two parts make up Jesus.

When the blood dropped off of Jesus’ brow on the cross, that was the blood of God. When His body lay in the tomb, that is the body of God. Yet, His soul is in Hades. And guess what never died? The essence and energies of the divine nature. That divine nature never went anywhere. It never ceased to exist. It never stopped creating. It never stopped holding all things together by the power of His Word. The divine essence and energies of the second Person of the Trinity, is eternal and unchangeable, it is there forever! That didn’t die on the cross. . . . So the body of God lay in the tomb and His spirit is in Hades.

Try to grab this. I can’t! I’m sitting here trying to explain it to you, but it doesn’t make comprehensible sense to me really, because I have no frame of reference to explain this. I’m trying to get a point across here about how this works, because on Easter Sunday, something that had never ever happened before, happened. The divine essence and energies of God commanded that the human spirit of Jesus come back out of Hades and rejoin with His body that was laying in the tomb. And it completed His humanity once again. Instead of being separated, they are completely together. Now, divine essence and energies and man essence and energies are combined back into the God-Man, Jesus, the Son of God. And yet it wasn’t identically the same body anymore. Jesus says a couple of times before he died, imagine a seed – we’re planting gardens right now, right? – Imagine a seed being planted in the ground, when it grows, does it look like a big seed? No. That seed has to die. And that seed becomes a plant. It could be a tree. It could be broccoli. But the seed had to die and yet there’s continuity. You can still tell, “Well, I planted a watermelon seed and I got a watermelon plant.” But the seed had to die in order to make the plant. In the same way, Jesus’ body, and ours as well had to change. It’s not identical. And the way that we can see this . . . I’ve heard it told that the tomb stone rolled away, not so that Jesus could get out, but so that they could look in. Jesus’ body walked right through the walls of that tomb. He wasn’t Spirit when he did that; he was a body combined when he did that. And yet that body walked right through the walls of that tomb and got out of there. And when the tombstone rolled away and they looked in there and he was gone, that wasn’t because he had to walk through that hole; it was so that we could look in! Because we need proof.

What time is it right now? 10:25? How many of you looked at your watch when I asked that? I saw you do that! Is it because you didn’t trust her to be able to tell us what time it was? What was the reason? Maybe it’s habit? Maybe our man-ness has something to do with not trusting.

Poor doubting Thomas. He gets a bad rap. NONE of them believed. They all doubted. Several of them went to the tomb to look in. They didn’t believe Mary. They didn’t believe the women that went there to anoint His body. They had to check for themselves. And as we read in the Scripture today, they are hiding in the room. This is after they’ve been told of Jesus’ resurrection, they are hiding in the room with the door locked, hiding from the Jews. What are they doing that for? Because they had to check their watch too. They had to check and see if Jesus really . . . “Really? That can’t be!”

Jesus walked through the walls of the tomb. When Mary saw him in the garden, she didn’t recognize him at first; she thought he was the gardener. When the two men were walking on the road to Emmaus, they are walking with Jesus! I would love to have heard this sermon. It has to be the best sermon ever preached. He’s walking with these two men and he starts telling every single place in Scripture, in the Old Testament that they had at that time, that foretold the prophecy of Christ. Walking with them, and . . . “Oh, really? I didn’t know that…Yeah, this is where it prophecies this, and this is where it prophecies this . . .” They are walking with Jesus and they didn’t even know it until they get to dinner and they said, “Stay with us. Stay with us for dinner. Would you like to ask the blessing?” Sure . . . He holds up his hands and breaks bread and what do they see? They see scars. Immediately they recognized him and he disappeared. He wasn’t a spirit; he was a body and disappeared. How did he do that? Because his body is different now. It is not the same body that he had before he died.

Jesus’ body was different when he resurrected. He walked through the walls of the tomb; he walked through the walls where the disciples were all sitting up there scared to death. They are hiding from the Jews and Jesus just showed up right in the middle of them, it says that right here: “When the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst of them” . . . Just walked in. And at first they thought he was a ghost. One of the versions I read, said they thought he was an incorporeal being. I doubt any of them said, “Oh no! An incorporeal being!” No, they probably said, “a ghost!” You know? Could you imagine?

So, Jesus has to calm them down. He says, Wait…Wait a minute. Touch me. Whoa. You just walk through a wall and yet, I can touch you? Wait, touch these. (Holding out his hands) Touch this. (Showing his side). Well wait a minute. How come you don’t have any holes up here on your forehead. How come you don’t have any whip stripe marks from where the cat of nine tails… I got a new body. I’m keeping these other scars for souvenirs. I want you all to touch me. I want you to see me. And when you get to heaven you’re going to do it again. I want you to touch me, I want you to see me and feel me. I’m keeping these scars for a souvenir and I want you to see. You are all a bunch of doubting Thomas’ and you gotta touch me. Had Thomas not asked, they still would have been up in that room doubting. So he shows up and says touch me. Same thing happened at the death of Mary. . . .

Mary finds out a few days before she’s going to die that she’s going to die. And all the Apostles that can make it, come…Guess whose not there? Thomas. I think that he was in India at that time if I remember right. Somewhere a long ways away. He didn’t make it to the death of Mary. Mary was living with John, I believe in Ephesus at the time. He didn’t make from India by the time she died, and she had died and they put her in the tomb. They had closed up the tomb. Then Thomas shows up. Late again. I couldn’t make it, but I want to go see her. They said that she is already in the tomb, and he said, I can’t believe it! Open it up. And they go in there and open it up and the first thing they notice is the beautiful smell of flowers. Not decaying flesh as you would expect, but flowers! And they go in there, and she is gone. Her body is gone. . . . The Orthodox Church teaches that she did die, but that her body was assumed into heaven. Guess what? Guess what story we would have no clue about had Thomas not doubted? We wouldn’t know about the Assumption of Mary. We would have thought she was still in the tomb. We have no relics of Jesus, and we have no relics of  Mary other than a few items of clothing.

Deacon Joseph right now, today, is at an Orthodox Church in Hanceville, Alabama. And he texted me last night and let me know that he venerated relics of the true Cross, clothing of Jesus and Mary and of Joseph, and a relic of St. Elizabeth the New Martyr. The real Cross and clothing from the Holy Family! He saw them today! They are there! We don’t have any relics of Mary’s body, or Jesus’ body, because their bodies are in heaven. They’ve been assumed. But we wouldn’t know that, had Thomas not been the doubter again, and wanted to go look. We have Thomas to thank for some of our theology, because he had to touch. He had to see. And Jesus said, blessed are you who believe without touching, without seeing. But how many of us really could say that would be us? We had to have eye witnesses to do that. And so, Thomas is there to give us that . . . he touched him and put his fingers into the holes of his hand and into his side. He saw that Mary’s body was missing, and smelled the flowers. He was there . . . . We would have done the same thing had we been there.

And then, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” “Come on…Bring some fish, bring me some honeycomb. I’m going to eat.” Do incorporeal beings eat? Do ghosts eat? Uh, not that I know of. Jesus ate in front of them! So, they touched him, they talked with him, they probably smelled him. They heard him, they all experienced all their senses with him and then they watched him eat in front of them. And not for just one day. He stayed with them for forty days. And not just with the twelve, but with many of the disciples, many of the people that were around. He stayed for forty days to show himself to many people. He needed lots and lots of eye witnesses for this Christianity thing to take hold. And then forty days after his resurrection, Jesus gives them one final command. We call it the Great Commission from Matthew 28. And he begins to rise from the ground right in front of them. And he continues to rise, completely divine in essence and energies, completely human in essence and energies, Jesus rising up off the ground, up into the sky and into heaven. And Jesus in heaven, right now, continues to have both divine nature and human nature in one Person, right now in heaven, and He will for eternity!

Once again, He did not hang up his man-suit on the way up. He didn’t do that. He is right now in heaven, just that way. With his mother, by the way who is also assumed bodily into heaven. We know that there are at least two full bodies in heaven. We assume that Elijah and maybe Enoch, and could be Moses. There is a section in Jude that says that Satan and the Archangel Michael were arguing over the body of Moses. I bet I know who won, but if that is the case, then Michael could have taken Moses’ body. They both appeared on the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. There are real human beings in heaven right now! And that gives us hope. So as those who saw his glorious ascension looked up into the sky, and they watched his human body rise, all of a sudden there are angels. And they said, “This same Jesus who is taken up into heaven shall so come in like manner.”

He’s God, He’s man, together. He went up and He is going to come down in like manner, scars and all. Will so come in like manner. As you have seen him go into heaven, Jesus will one day return. Completely human and completely God, to complete the resurrection of our souls and our bodies. All these Saints that we are talking about in heaven that we pray to, that we venerate, and their bodies are here . . . they can’t go (stomp stomp) “I’m here, and I’m also over there.” They can’t even pat themselves; they have no hands to do it with. When that happens, when Christ returns, he is going to rejoin them together again. Push them back together again and make us fully, completely, un-separated human beings with a new body that can’t decay, that can’t get sick, that can’t get bruises, that can’t hurt, that can’t get hungry, that can’t stink…Okay? All those things about our bodies that are fallen…Gone. That decayed in the grave.

The new body rises up. Just like the seed. It has continuity, it’s a little different, but it’s the same. It comes back again. And we who have died and become separated in our humanity with our bodies in the grave and with our spirits in either Paradise or Hades, we get reunited and resurrected just like Jesus. And we will be forever, completely, whole human beings in essence and energies, only perfected as God intended for us to be at creation. The good news of Easter doesn’t end with Jesus’ resurrection. It ends with ours! Boy is that ever good news!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, our God is One. Amen.


This homily was preached on Sunday morning, April 27, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Sdn. Ambrose.

About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 2014 Homilies, Orthodox Homilies, Other Homilies. Bookmark the permalink.

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