Ephesians 4:7-13; Matthew 4:12-17
In our liturgical cycle, today is the Sunday after Theophany, which we celebrated on January 6. Christ was baptized and, for the first time in Scripture, God explicitly reveals Himself as Trinity. Today, we witness the fruits. St. Paul informs us:
Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” — Eph 4:7
Paul is quoting Psalm 68, which intimately links the Baptism of Christ with Pascha, because it is the opening verses of Psalm 68 that we sing during the Paschal season:
Let God arise, and His enemies be scattered: and let those that hate Him flee before His face.
As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish, as wax melts at the presence of fire.
So shall the wicked perish at the presence of God; and let the just be glad.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
In other words, the Church is telling us that what happened at the Baptism of Christ is really important. In the person of Jesus Christ, with the first explicit revelation of God as Trinity, our humanity fully participates in the work of the Trinity. When Christ has gone to the cross, has risen from the dead, ascended into heaven and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father, our humanity is along for the ride the whole way. The gift given to us by Christ is access to God Himself through our participation in the Holy Trinity.
We see this manifest in the liturgy at the Anaphora — the prayers surrounding the words of institution:
Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.
Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.
At the beginning of the Anaphora, we hear these words:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.
The word I want to focus on here is “communion,” “κοινωνία” in Greek. Both the English and the Greek offer us a nuanced understanding of this word. In English, communion shares the same root as communicate. In Greek, the root of the word means “to share with someone in something.” In other words, the communion of the Holy Spirit is a means to communicate with God and to share with Him the eternal work of the Trinity, including the grace of Christ and the Love of God the Father.
The Holy Spirit is our entry point. We see this in Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires the men and women who wrote and translated Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Mary at the Annunciation. We say in the Creed, that Christ was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. It is the Holy Spirit that descends upon Christ at Theophany. It is the Holy Spirit that then leads Him into the desert for forty days to prepare for His ministry (Luke 4:1). In the Book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit come upon the Apostles and they speak in tongues (Acts 2:4). It is the Holy Spirit that gives St. Stephen the strength and the wisdom to preach at his martyrdom (Acts 6:5; 7). At the council of Jerusalem in Acts the Apostles declare that “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28). We are given the gift of the Holy Spirit at our baptism.
We continue to see this in the liturgy (emphasis mine):
Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.
And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ. And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ. Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.
So that they may be to those who partake of them for vigilance of soul, forgiveness of sins, communion of Your Holy Spirit, fulfillment of the kingdom of heaven, confidence before You, and not in judgment or condemnation.
That our loving God who has received them at His holy, heavenly, and spiritual altar as an offering of spiritual fragrance, may in return send upon us divine grace and the gift of the Holy Spirit, let us pray.
Having prayed for the unity of the faith and for the communion of the Holy Spirit, let us commit ourselves, and one another, and our whole life to Christ our God.
Christ, in condescending to be baptized in the Jordan by John, baptizes us in the Holy Spirit. In our own baptism, we have access to the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that we have access to the Body and Blood of Christ. It is through the Holy Spirit that we have access to the love of God the Father.
This entry point and this access is freely given, but it requires our participation. Communication demands that we take part in the conversation. Sharing in something requires that we take part. In today’s Gospel, Christ tells how to do this with the first words of His ministry:
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. — Matthew 4:17
In Greek, the word for repent used here is “Μετανοεῖτε” — change your mind! Change your purpose! Christ is telling us to change our focus from this world to Him because the Kingdom of Heaven is here and now! God is with us!
From a practical point of view, the primary way we plug into the Holy Spirit is in worship, as we can see from the prayers of the Anaphora. Worship prepares us. It softens our heart, opens our eyes and allows us to listen. It is here that we learn about who we are and what we are supposed to be. It is here where we see:
that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. — Eph 4:11-13
Every one of us has been given skills, abilities, talents, treasures and even weaknesses by God. Our task is to repent — change our purpose — and use these gifts for the glory of God. We are to find the time to use our talents and our treasures to build up His house, to make the purpose of our lives the Church. We do that first and foremost by worshipping. When we do this, we learn how to soften our hearts, to open our eyes and to listen. God will send us people to help us understand what it is that He has created us for. We need to have a soft heart, open eyes and the ability to listen so that we know when God is showing us the way. Worship allows us to encounter God in an intimate way in the person of the Holy Spirit, and through Him to our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ and the love of God the Father. This intimacy will allow us to get familiar with His ways, with what His will is for our lives. We must repent — change our purpose — and make Him the center of our life.
As You were baptized in the Jordan, O Lord, then the worship of the Trinity became manifest, for the voice of the Father bore witness to You, naming You the Beloved Son; and the Spirit, in the form of a dove, confirmed the certainty of the word. O Christ God, who appeared and illumined the world, glory to You. — Apolytikion of Theophany