Rejoice ye in Hierusalem; and be glad for her, all ye that delight in her.
St. John vj.
Here we are, in the midst of Lent. Six weeks ago, we buried “The Lord’s Song” (Ps. 137) and entered the exile of Babylon. On Ash Wednesday, the English church remembers the expulsion of our first parents from Eden. But while this is often and rightly understood to be a time to mourn our sins which brought us to this place, and to do penance, it is also a time to reflect without distraction about where we have come from, and where we are going. We fast not to deprive ourselves of what we need, but of what we don’t need, adopting once more the diet of Eden. As we’ve been singing at Mattins the past week,
“2. Thus Moses dear to God became, / And fitly did the law proclaim:
Thus heav’nward was Elias raised, / On steeds of fire, and wheels that blazed.
3. Thus Daniel mysteries beheld, / And rage of fiercest lions quell’d:
Thus, as the Bridegroom’s friend, alone / Is John in holy lore made known. ”
And now we aim for a return. A return to Eden, to the Promised Land, to Hierusalem. But what is the nature of our return? Is it back to the status quo, back to how things were? Or is it “back” to how things should be?
And so Paul asks us, do we wish to be children of the Hierusalem “which is above” or of the earthly Hierusalem? What is the difference between them?
I think that the difference is primarily one of disposition. The verse of the Office was from Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said unto me * We will go into the house of the Lord.” To “Go into the house of the Lord” has been interpreted by our forebears as meaning to be in that place called in “folk psychology” “right-brained”: Being in the present, and apprehending intuitively the “deeper” or “bigger” picture. The child of the Heavenly Hierusalem, we read, is born “after the Spirit:” just as we discussed last night in regards to chanting the psalms and using the spirit, or breath, to help bring ourselves into the House of the Lord, the better to hear his scriptures.
So how does the gospel today exemplify this heavenly Hierusalem? At first glance, it seems unrelated: it takes place “over the sea of Galilee.” But I think that it is showing us an example of the disciples themselves being divided between the Heavenly and Earthly Hierusalems. They, like us, “in the midst of life are in death” as we sang at Compline. They are in the exile of the earthly, seeking the heavenly.
The people hunger, and the disciples note that they have no bread. They are like baren Sarah, who didn’t yet believe the promise; but they, like Sarah, in spite of their doubt, do what they are told. Jesus took the bread that was procured, blessed it, and gave it to the disciples. So far, nothing remarkable. The disciples distributed it to the people. Also, unremarkable: but wait! The people were filled, and twelve baskets remained! At what point did this happen? This is a foretaste of the Hierusalem above. Rejoice ye in Hierusalem; and be glad for her, all ye that delight in her.
This is the economy of the Hierusalem which is above: an economy of abundance. Unlike the earthly Hierusalem where we live our day-to-day lives, it is through giving up, sacrifice, and yielding that enough, and more! is found. But, through grasping and hording, one looses even what was has. This is emphasized again and again in scriptures... Cast your bread upon the water. Ho, ever one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money, come ye, buy, and eat - yea, come, buy wine without money and without price. We read last night that Joseph’s brothers went to Egypt to by grain, and came home with grain - and with their money also! This is the way that the children of freedom, the children of the promise, the children of heaven live.
And so, during Lent, we practice this heavenly way. A diet of less - that is more than enough. We give alms not to punish ourselves but because God freely gives, and in giving we open ourselves to his gift. And we can take comfort in knowing that, like the disciples, we don’t have to understand, and we can be full of doubt. But if we have faith only the size of a mustard seed, if we take the bread he gives us and distribute, we will find that all have been filled, and more.