1 Peter 2:4-9
From the beginning is was too much to bear, too much for the mind to grasp: the One greater than all being least, the One Who holds all the universe in His hands being born a fragile child through the humble frame of a teenage girl, in a narrow stable. He entered the world neither here nor there, birthed neither inside nor outside. A child of the homeless and the outcast descended from the greatest of Jewish Kings. Mysterious Magi appeared before Him as if from nowhere arriving to a place that later no one could find and then disappeared "by another way" where they could not be followed. Angels appeared with shepherds, the highest being joined to the lowest. He would be neither Jew nor Gentile, coming out of Egypt and thence to ambiguous Galilee Whose Father was God. He was neither man nor God, being both, always both in fullest measure and at once. What shall we say of the coming of God? A locus on earth that no one could pin-point. Overwhelming, yet elusive. The Son of Man, the One-Coming-into-the-World, Messiah/Christ/Anointed .... we still do not understand these titles. The Name above every name, yet set in a nameless grave and being of no account in the world that refused Him.
He was born into a world of seekers as He would be today .... or in any age. For a defining essence of the human spirit is to seek: "We have found the Messiah!" (Jn 1:41), Andrew announces to Simon. "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," says Philip to Nathaniel. Yet later would the Lord ask, "What did you expect to find?"
"What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?
What then did you go out to see?
"Are you able to drink from the cup from which I will drink or be
baptized in the baptism into which I will be baptized,"
As Jesus observes of the seekers around Him,
".... to what will I compare this generation?
It is like children sitting in the marketplaces
and calling to one another,
'We played the flute for you, and you did
not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn'" (Mt 11:16).
Who cannot see this restless seeking from the earliest chapters of the Sacred Scriptures: a people created by God yet rejecting Him, having a God-shaped void within in them, which can never be filled (as Pascal would later write), and then seeking, seeking, always seeking. But what do they expect to find? First, there is Abraham departing from princely estate, from glittering Ur of the Chaldees, in order to follow a still, small voice, dragging his household through wasteland after wasteland, never sure exactly what God said or meant. Then there is Moses, an Egyptian prince and the chosen of God, yet a refugee in a wilderness staring into a bush ablaze with hot fire yet never consumed. Then there is the people Israel following a cloud by day, thin tissues of nothing by the world's physical laws, and a column of fire by night, no less insubstantial in the hand. Finally, one man does stand face-to-face with God, on Mount Sinai, yet never really face-to-face. One man does speak directly with the Almighty ... and what, at long last, does he learn? They speak not of God, but of man, of the men and women just below at the foot of the mountain. Moses never really hears anything about God .... only that He is.
Yes, Moses does hear promises of a future land and condition .... but what a curiosity! The divine information man seeks always seems to point, not to God, but back to man. Everything these seekers see and hear point back to themselves. The Disciples depicted in our Gospel lesson morning are told that they have already seen the Father, that they have already been shown the way. But this only confuses them, for this is not, they protest, what they have been seeking. They step forth boldly on their own authority and demand of Jesus, by what route are you traveling to Heaven? Philip, arrogating himself above Moses, implores Jesus to present them before the throne of God: "Show us the Father!" he commands. "Then we will be satisfied," setting terms with God (!).
All of salvation history has taught them a deep truth, but they will not receive it. There is no mountain pass or secret tunnel that will lead them to Heaven. How could there be? This is mere rock and dirt and insensible debris. There is no person to see or meet who will show them the secret handshake. The way to Heaven is far deeper, far richer, far more subtle .... and far beyond the most intrepid and dogged explorer.
At the conclusion of Christopher Marlowe's play Doctor Faustus, the seeker/scholar/scientist Faustus, after trading his soul in return for unreachable knowledge, and then realizing that he has not learned anything he did not already know, asks finally this: Where, then, is Hell? The demon Mephistopheles replies, "Why this is Hell, nor are we out it."
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib'd
In one self place; for where we are is hell,
And where hell is there must we ever be:
The way to Heaven or to Hell is not a doing or a going. It is a being. Jesus does not walk down a way. He is the Way .... and the truth and the life. To follow Him is not to exercise your legs, but rather it is to be, to become .... Him. He is the man who is God. His very Being and Nature is the path to Heaven, and we follow the path of this Nature and Being, slowly becoming more and more like Him. And when we transform ourselves to the mind of Christ, as St. Paul would say, we become a particle of Heaven. We ourselves become the Kingdom of God.
Have you ever known truly holy people?
Have you ever prayed with them, even dwelt with them?
Then the Kingdom of Heaven has drawn nigh to where you are.
And they welcome you to dwell with them .... as the Kingdom of Heaven.
For then the Kingdom of God becomes indistinguishable from your own mind and your soul:
"The thoughts of His heart" become your thoughts, as our Psalm this morning promises.
You yourself become "a living stone" built into His imperishable Temple, as we read in St. Peter's First letter this morning.
you understand at this moment that all the laws of physics,
all the propositions of philosophy,
all the axioms of mathematics
have been provisional all along:
for He is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.