He riseth up from supper, and laid aside his garments, and took a towel and girded himself.
Tonight you and I are invited to the last supper of Jesus Christ. We move into a realm that is fraught with the fear and trembling of Jesus’ friends, who do not understand the meaning of it all and what will come next on the tomorrow of God’s today. For the Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God at work in Him. In a sense there was so much to be thankful for, so many wonders and miracles, so many beautiful teachings and sayings, so much that seemed so very positive. But there were also the ominous words of frightful prophesies and impending doom. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me, they might have forgotten or chosen to ignore the negative in Jesus, focusing only on his powerful and loving presence. Surely what was coming would not be all that bad. It couldn’t be as grim as He implied. Perhaps this is what they thought. At any rate, surely Jesus the Son of the Most High God would be able to work some miracle or wonder in order to lessen the severity of possible unpleasantness. For this, they hoped and prayed.
But what we observe tonight cannot be disconnected or severed from the complete and total fabric which we call the life of Jesus Christ. The signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper reality that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. He has come to redeem human nature through rejection, suffering and death. Jesus and the Father are one. He has been tempted to reject his Father’s will and way, but He has successfully resisted this to the end. The outcome has been the revelation of God’s Grace in every aspect of His earthly life. For what we find in the life of Jesus, prior to the end, tonight, and then tomorrow is the real desire of God for His people. God has been at work in Jesus reconciling the world to Himself. (2 Cor. V. 19) Through Jesus, God has spoken the words of promise. Through Jesus, God has communicated the way to salvation. Through Jesus, God has revealed that He is never far away and distant, but rather always present and powerful. His power in Jesus has opened the eyes of the blind, unloosed the tongues of the dumb, and moved lame legs. His love has been manifested in the constant desire of God for His people. God has been at work in the life of Jesus. The today of God has never been denied by Jesus, and that reality persists in the drama of tonight.
Tonight’s celebration marks the Last Supper that Jesus will share with the Apostles. Tonight, Christ shares the Passover supper with his friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to His friends, and said that this bread and wine will become His Body and his Blood. What it means is surely obscure and hidden from the Apostles at that time. But what is crucial to our meditation upon it is that Christ still offers the today of God to his friends. The today of God will become something of greater meaning and substance after His Resurrection and Ascension and at the Pentecost. But on this night, He continues to piece together the elements of His life as they begin to form the future of God’s today. He offers His friends a meal that is packed full of promise, as the today of God’s desire and love continues to call and summon those who believe and those who will follow. Bread is broken; wine is poured out. Tomorrow a body will be broken and blood will be poured out. The two will not be, in the end, divided, but one will become the other as God’s love in Christ moves beyond the confines of history. Tonight the body –soon to be broken on the Cross, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of its disciples. In the today of God’s nearness, Jesus reveals to us that He is the servant of His Father’s Love and ministers it to others as He has always done. In the today of tonight’s Gospel, Jesus waits upon his friends. In the today of tomorrow’s meaning, He will do the same in another form. He is the servant who comes to wash and to cleanse, today with water, and tomorrow with blood. Both will be one. We are washed through water and blood. We are purified through Baptism and Eucharist. The today and tomorrow of God with us and for us, God near to us in Jesus, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of God and shown forth in the actions and gestures of Jesus. Tonight seems warm and reassuring. Tomorrow will be ghastly and horrific. Both combine to give to us the one Today of God’s purpose and intention, behold I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5)
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp as we move through the drama of the Last Supper and Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. What Jesus does and who He is are what He intends for us to become. He will give us bread and wine, and will wash men’s dirty feet. He will give us his Body and Blood and will wash the dirty feet of our souls. He must do this, that we might be strengthened and nourished by His presence in the inner man. The today of God desire and service approaches us, first on the outside and then within.
Tonight, Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we react with horrified surprise and proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse God’s desire to wait upon us and to cleanse us. This is our arrogance and pride. Our sense is that the holy one of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to the slave. Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. (St. Luke v. 8) Jesus answers, If I do not wash thee, thou hast no part with me. (Ibid) In the today of God’s nearness, again, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to wash our dirty feet, the dirty feet of our souls. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God stoops down from heaven to offer us imself completely, not just to wash and cleanse us with water and blood, but to feed us also with His flesh and His blood. In the today of God’s nearness, we learn that God is ever present to heal and save us, to give himself to us and for us, to nourish and strengthen us with nothing less than Himself, at work in our souls. God will bring us into death and new life.
Tonight, we learn that the God of today is a loving God, one who knocks at the doors of our souls in order to make all things new. The God of today is in Jesus Christ and we need Him. If He does not wash us, if He does not die for us, if He does not rise for us, then we can have no part with [Him], and the salvation He brings. We do need Him. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today for us is seen in Jesus who washes the disciples’ feet. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today is seen in Jesus who will feed us forever in the future with broken bread and poured out wine. The outward and visible sign of God’s service tomorrow will be seen in a broken body and poured out blood. Will we allow the today of God to touch us, to wash us, to cleanse us? Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our sinful predicament and condition? Will we begin to understand that God alone in Jesus Christ can endure and overcome our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, lust, and so forth? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed his death?
And as we shall see, this same Lord, in His own body hanging upon a tree, will say this: I love you and forgive you. Come follow me. I die and you will die. I will rise and so shall you. Come follow me. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My life and my love I offer to you, always and everywhere, ever broadening, ever expanding. God’s love for you in me. Your love for God in me. Come follow me, and you shall find your true life. Come follow me, and you shall find your true love. Come follow me, and you shall find your true home and destiny, prepared for you by my Father from before the dawn of the ages. Amen.
Although all be offended, yet will not I.
(St. Mark xiv. 29)
We ought to remind ourselves that our membership in the mystical Life of Christ is no easy business. To become a tried and true member of the life of the Crucified One takes time, practice, the development of spiritual discipline, and an ongoing surrender to the Mind of Christ that longs always to remold and remake us. One thing that we learn about the spiritual life today is that membership in the life of Christ requires vigilance, acuity, or alert. Of all the virtues that protect and defend the spiritual life, the need for watching and waiting is of preeminent importance. Watching and waiting demand, of course, stillness and silence as we face our demons and overcome them with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. To be vigilant means to be awake, circumspect, alert, cautious, and ready for whatever the devil may throw our way. And what we ought, at all costs, to be prepared for is the devil’s determination to lead us into the sin that separates us from Jesus Christ -our way, truth, life that leads back to God the Father through the Holy Spirit.
The supreme act of sin is illustrated for us today in the freely will choice of Judas Iscariot. Because Jesus refused to become Israel’s political liberator from Roman domination, Judas sells Him for thirty pieces of silver. One tradition has it that Judas orchestrated his Master’s arrest so that Jesus might be provoked at last to use His Divine Power to banish the Roman occupiers and to put down the Jewish Sanhedrin, whose comfortable cohabitation with the Roman occupiers was viewed by many as malicious betrayer. Judas wanted Jesus to reveal His Divine power once and for all in the interests of Israel’s temporal and earthly restoration. But, Jesus would have nothing to do with such an earthly passion that was possessed by life in the City of Man. So Judas betrayed His Master. Later he will repent. despair, and hang himself.
Today we are called to be vigilant against the temptation to provoke Jesus Christ to meet our earthy needs by overcoming our earthly suffering and sorrow. We are called also to be vigilant against demanding Divine intervention when we have not done our part in conditioning our lives to the operation of Divine Grace. So we are called to be awake to the fact that Jesus Christ does not come to us to ensure the prosperity and peace or the comfort and enjoyment of this life in this world. Jesus Christ came to die for the sins of the whole world, and in so doing to bring that old, limited, fallen human nature, alienated from God, to death. In His death Christians find the first beginnings and stirrings of their own death –death to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Today we ask ourselves, How have we betrayed Jesus Christ in our lives? Have we sold Him for next to nothing, and thus betrayed Him because we pursue earthly and temporal peace, comfort, accommodation, happiness, and contentment? Have we betrayed Him because we will not allow Him to reign as King Supreme from the soil of our souls and so to guide our footsteps to His Kingdom?
In a similar vein, we must be on guard against that kind of relationship with Jesus Christ that depends upon another kind of earthliness. That would be the demand for bodily, physical, and sensory ecstatic or transfiguration moments. Holy Week teaches us that our relation to God hinges upon suffering and death. Our spiritual state in relation to the Father, through Jesus Christ, and by His Holy Spirit, can never be measured solely by the body’s feelings, sensations, emotions, and passions. It is good for us to experience Him at a distance and almost as absent at times so that we might contemplate His glorious power, wisdom, and love. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. God often seems to be far away and removed from our senses because He wants us to learn to fear and obey Him out of spiritual love. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the holy is understanding (Prov. ix. 10) The fear of the Lord is that awesome apprehension of the One upon whom all life and salvation depend. The fear of the Lord engenders that poor in spirit self-knowledge of powerlessness and utter dependence upon God for both being and redemption. The fear of the Lord moves a man to ponder, wonder, study, explore, and investigate the ways of God.
This is the fear of the Lord which St. Peter had forgotten throughout Christ’s Passion because he feared men. Because of it, his rash, enthusiastic, even premature determination never to be offended by Jesus Christ came to naught. Not only does he eventually abandon Jesus, but he even denies ever having known him. An overly enthusiastic, impulsive, compulsive, and impetuous relation to Jesus Christ is very dangerous indeed. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. (St. Matthew xiii. 20, 21) Faith that is not rooted and grounded securely in the fear of the Lord and obedience thrives temporarily and then dies a swift death. It is, more often than not, unpremeditated, unrestrained, and unthoughtful. It reveals superficial religion, too close to the immediate gratification of the body, to pain and pleasure, to fear and trepidation, to the changes and chances of this fleeting world. It is unstable and uncertain, and in the end, with St. Peter, is as easily swayed to deny the Lord as it was to defend Him heroically to the end. It is rash and not grounded in the silence and stillness that contemplate God’s nature.
Today we must ask ourselves, How have I denied Jesus Christ? How have my thoughts, words, and deeds denied any familiarity or acquaintance with the Suffering Servant and the Lord of God’s Love? How have I talked the talk but refused to walk the walk up to the place of Love’s new birth on Calvary Hill? How have I failed to accept that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that obedience to His will through Grace leads to true understanding?
Let us pray today for vigilance. Couldest thou not watch one hour? Watch ye and pray lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak. (St. Mark xiv. 37, 38) Let us pray for the fear of the Lord, obedience to His commands, and a determination to follow Him silently and conscientiously, to watch, see, and learn what the Lord of Love will do for us from His Tree of New Life. Amen.
And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly.
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
There is a good deal of silence that is meant to surround us as a response to the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God during Holy Week. Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence and stillness. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it assaults and confounds our human reason, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual desire. But if we sustain the stillness, and with a silent mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, a reassuring blanket of divine quiet might begin to warm the soul this week, enveloping it with the Word that desires to be made flesh in us so that we might journey with Jesus from death to new life.
In the lections for today, we already begin to observe the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. There is a lot of commotion. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt to bring calm and stillness out of chaos and confusion, on what should be just another fine Friday afternoon in an ordinary outpost of Caesar’s Empire. He seems a reasonable enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has stirred up the people of Jerusalem. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian, that has successfully stilled and silenced the then civilized world. Earthly calm and peace comprise his vocation. Mostly he will try to treat this Jesus of Nazareth as the cause of a small-town Jewish family squabble from which he longs to wash his hands. But he cannot, for it threatens the peace of Caesar’s city. So he will aim at commanding silence and stillness in order to reestablish that kind of peace that all Romans cherished. In the service of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews and urge them to judge Christ themselves, or send Him to Herod. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Needless to say, none of this works. To complicate matters, another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this Christ. It will be so unsettling that Pilate marvels greatly. (Ibid, 14) For Pilate knows that out of envy the Jews have delivered Jesus up. Yet, their jealousy threatens the Pax Romana. The city’s peace must be maintained. Caesar’s rule cannot be questioned. Pilate’s wife will tell him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19) and in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus crucified. Pilate desires stillness and silence and then finds himself drawn into the noisome conflict: Why, what evil hath he done?(Ibid, 23) Pilate will exclaim. The Jews are not interested in any alleged crime. They want blood. Let Him be crucified, they cry. So, in response to that determined envy that promises only to breed further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Pax Romana is asserted. The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, an on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Pilate will believe that he has rid the world of Jesus Christ for political expedience. The Jews hatred of Him will be quenched. Even the disappearance of His Apostles into hiding seems promising for the silence and stillness of the Roman Peace. The problem seems to have been solved quickly and satisfactorily. The greater silence and stillness in Christ’s heart that ensure His obedience to the Father have not, as yet, startled and triggered others into consciousness of what is transpiring. The still and silent core of His mission and meaning have not yet found fertile ground in men’s souls. And so the external chaos of this week will drive them into the world of sadness and confusion. Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) God’s own Good Shepherd and Sacrificial Lamb, it would appear, are rejected on a number of different levels, and for a variety of reasons. Men always find reasons to explain why they persist in being lost sheep.
But for a few others, the silence and stillness of the dying Son of God will begin to move the ground of their souls. From the still and silent center of His obedience to the Father, this Jesus of Nazareth will begin to speak to those whose stillness and silence comprise the fertile ground that can receive His meaning. Christ the Word will be heard and heeded, slowly, even imperceptibly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now as the world and its words assault and kill the human Jesus, the Word of God persists and endures in order to speak from the stillness and silence of His dying heart. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ, is always dying to Himself and coming alive to the Father for the world. He did not cease to do so, especially when He will be most tempted to do so in and through His earthly suffering and death. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers himself to God and man by laying down His life in death so that all might live.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ’s silence and stillness in suffering and death are the centrifugal points around which His mission of service is perfected. Here, He does not desperately pry into the secrets of His Father’s will and plan. He is content to humbly obey. Rather, He prefers to die so that the Father’s will might be realized in Him and for all. He will become the new Man, the Second Adam, who once again is happily free because in silence and stillness, He joyfully obeys and fulfils the Father’s desire. He knows that only in silence and stillness, only in death to Himself, can the Father’s plan and purpose emerge into new life.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. Some people are too busy to do so. But let us make an effort to travel up to Golgotha in this place and at set times. Let us come to this place when the busy world is hushed and the feverish day is over to be still and quiet in order to be confronted by Christ’s silent and still adhesion to the Father’s Word. All of us can go with Christ to his Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so should we. This Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see as the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now persists in revealing itself to others from that ample supply of forgiveness and hope still remaining to be shared by this Man from His Cross. Ultimately and perfectly He still loves and gives so that all men might live.
On this Palm Sunday we hear Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that no sooner has the jubilant song of praise and celebration been sung than the new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution rise and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. We must try to pry silence and stillness out of this inconstant and fickle emotion. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53. 4-6)
Let us follow the Word, and quietly listen to the words of T. S. Eliot:
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness
and Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word. (Ash Wednesday V)
In stillness and silence let us acknowledge that our lost words are lost and our spent words are spent. They are dead. Let us remember that that God’s Word alone brings life, meaning, and salvation. Let us hear Christ the Word in silence and stillness from the Cross of Calvary. Amen.
Before Abraham was, I AM.
(St. John viii. 58)
The threat of God’s nearness and proximity are quite enough to unnerve, unhinge, and unsettle men in all ages. There is something about human nature that is resistant, refractory, and recalcitrant to God and His Word. Most men treat the existence of God carelessly, incautiously, indifferently, or haughtily. Think about it. The majority of men in our own time say, I am spiritual but not religious. What that usually means is that he or she isn’t in the least bit interested in the intellectual pursuit of God, and is, rather, smugly and self-righteously self-contented. Evidently he’s got it all figured out and he doesn’t need to know more. Or he or she is using arrogance and hubris as a shield against their own fear of confronting themselves and then necessarily finding God. If such a person goes on to describe the philosophy or theology that moves him, what emerges usually amounts to little more than a spiritualization of feeling. If it feels good, and I do it, it must be authentic and morally good. Of course, such a philosophy of life is nothing more than an adolescent approach to reality, where the ideal of adult behavior has long since vanished, since adult behavior would testify of norms and ideals, which our society has deemed hurtful.
Of course, Jesus Christ meets all opposition to God’s visitation then and now with the words that read in this morning’s Gospel. Which of you convicts me of sin? And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God, hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (St. John viii. 46) To be fair to post-modern nihilists, who have stopped caring about Jesus Christ because they are drenched, drowned, saturated, and soaked in the pagan culture which envelopes and enables them, it is no small wonder that Jesus Christ and His message are not only alien but antagonistic. They have become habituated and hardened to a new religious dogma whose benefits demand that they have a spiritual right to feel good, and do whatsoever pleases them. With Christ, they find a real enemy of their secular religion, and thus soon become they become the new Pharisees. What is threatened is their supposed freedom. In Christ and His religion they fear only what will enslave and oppress them to the shackles that impede their progress. What threatens them most is that there might just be one form of goodness and truth that is absolute and not relative, true and not false, right and not wrong, and forever binding upon their consciences. Who and what they fear most is Christ.
So they are like the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel who find Jesus Christ who questions their religion and the gods whom they worship. Because they are so unacquainted with the Divine Goodness they can only react to what they consider to be evil. Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? (St. John viii. 48) What is alien, strange, and contradictory of our ways and mores we fear. That we might be questioned about our choices and customs might irritate or enrage us. Jesus of Nazareth calls most of our lives into question. And when He does, wouldn’t we rather think that the problem is more with Him than us? This is how we convince ourselves that we need not heed with too much seriousness who Jesus says He is and what He asks of us. If He irritates us merely, we pardon, excuse, and justify our failure to follow Him on the intellectual or emotional grounds that who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of common sense. If He succeeds in enraging us, we proceed to silence and kill Him.
Of course, technically speaking, we are right. Who He says He is and what He asks are beyond the reach of what most mortal men think makes sense! If who He says He is was within the scope of human intelligent creativity, we would have invented it long ago and saved ourselves. So the real question is this. Do we believe that He is who He says He is, and will we give Him what He asks of us? Jesus claims that God is His Father…[He] has come from God…that [he came] not of [Himself], [but was] sent. (St. John viii. 42)The Pharisees are irritated because they can’t imagine that Jesus could ever be who He says He is, and so condemn Him as demon-possessed. Their rage is enkindled when He challenges their reliance on a Law that cannot save them. Jesus answers, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. (St. John 8. 49-50) Jesus comes to honor all men with God the Father’s desire for their salvation. The Pharisees honor themselves and seek glory from men. Those who are sinking and going to decay boast most of how other men hold them in the highest esteem. Christ knows that their arrogance stands only to make them not better but worse. What He offers, He has received from the Father, and honors it as what alone can touch human hearts and transform them with eternal glory. He is sent by the Father on a Divine Mission: My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work. (St. John iv. 34) What He will offer is something that the world has never before experienced in quite this way.
We are irritated and might become enraged. Jesus claims that if a man keeps [His] saying, he shall never see death. (Ibid) What He promises to faith exceeds our wildest imagination. We are offended because He challenges us to imagine something beyond our frail powers. Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, if a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? (St. John viii. 52-53) The Pharisees mean: You are a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and when you die, your words will die with you. Abraham and the prophets are all dead. And their words have died with them. Indeed their words are as dead as they. So, we cannot believe that your words will ensure our everlasting life.
This is the response of all men who conclude that God’s transcendent Word was dead to Abraham. Christ speaks once again. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that He is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you; but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. (St. John 8. 54-58) Christ the Word teaches us that human life is made by God to be blessed, honored, transformed, and perfected by the indwelling Word of God’s love. What He communicates to the world as the Word made flesh is God’s love for His people and passion for their salvation. Christ discloses also that His Father has always intended to save and deliver His people. Christ keeps the Father’s saying because it is the power of love that through Him will save all men. The Father’s saying is the Word of love that moves and enlivens the whole of the universe. The Father’s saying is the Word of love that longs for His people in the life of His Son. This is the same unchanging Word of God, the same saying that moved Abraham to hope in salvation and the life with God that never ends. Jesus says, Before Abraham was, I AM. I am the Word, that was heard of old, is with you now, and will be with you forever if you believe and follow me. I am my Father’s eternally-begotten Word of love for you. Will you follow me? If our faith is dead like that of the ancient Pharisees, our irritation will become the rage that kills Jesus and longs to drag Him into our spiritual death. Then took they up stones to cast at him…. (St. John viii. 59)
Jesus, God’s Word as flesh is sent to do His Father’s will. God’s Word is His will, His will is His Love, and His Love is the utterance and expression of God’s deepest desire and delight for all men’s salvation. His Love is that passion that longs to come near to us on this Passion Sunday. This is the passion is that Love that does not count the cost. His Love is as broad as the universe and as deep as the human heart of Jesus Christ. His Love incessantly, persistently, and relentlessly desires to make us His own. His Love is His Passion. This is the Passion that stirred Abraham to hope for the salvation of the nations through God’s Word. This is the Passion that resonated, reverberated, and resounded in the spirits of those ancient souls who heard God’s Word and were athirst for God, yea, even for the living God…. (Ps. xlii. 2) This is the Passion of God in Jesus Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, to purge our conscience from dead works so that we might begin to serve the living God. (Hebrews ix. 11)
On this Passion Sunday, Jesus Christ persists and perseveres in His determination to reveal God’s Passion and Love for us. Our English word passion comes from the Latin word patior and it means to suffer, endure, or even to be hurt or wounded. Today, Christ calls us into a vison of His suffering love. He calls us also to overcome our prideful irritation and arrogant rage with a humble desire for the love that He brings. Our first opening to His passion will not feel good. He comes near to us. If we are humble enough, His approach will challenge and shake us. If we remain with Him, He will begin to smite and wound us. If we persevere with Him up to His Cross, we shall be smitten and wounded by His suffering death. So let us consider Christ’s approach and with Henry Vaughn gaze with awe upon the Love that dies to smite and wound us into a death that cannot help but lead to new and glorious life.
Ah, my dear Lord! What couldst thou spy
In this impure, rebellious clay,
That made thee thus resolve to die
For those that kill thee every day?
O what strange wonders could thee move
To slight thy precious blood and breath!
Sure it was Love, my Lord: for Love
Is only stronger far than death.
(Henry Vaughn, ‘Incarnation and Passion’)
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
(Gal. iv. 26)
At the very beginning of Lent Jesus said to his disciples, Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) We began our journey at Christ's command. Long journeys are hard work, and this Lenten journey is no exception. For nearly some seven weeks Christians are invited to walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Walking to Jerusalem is what our lives are all about. We walk with Jesus in order to see how He conquers the temptations of Satan and triumphs over sin for us. We walk with Jesus to discover that, like the woman of Canaan, we are more like dogs than men, aliens and exiles to God’s promises, and yet wholly hanging upon crumbs that fall from His table. So, we learn to long humbly for that mercy that persists in obtaining Jesus' mercy and healing. As dogs, we learn also that we are, more often than not, dumb and mute, incapable of comprehending and articulating God’s Word and will in our lives until His inward Grace opens our spiritual senses to His desire.
Our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus up to Jerusalem, (St. Matthew xx. 18) will not be easy. We learn much about ourselves on this journey, and so we become spiritually exhausted. We grow haggard, hungry, and perhaps even dejected and discouraged. Lenten fasting and abstinence do that to a person. At times, we become distracted and even lose our way. The pull and tug of certain temptations may well have been overcome, but seven other demons worse than ourselves threaten to consume us. (St. Matthew xii. 45) Satan realizes that he is losing our spirits, and so he attacks our bodies with renewed vigor through the elements of this world. (Galatians iv. 3) We have the best of intentions and yet feel ourselves the children of the proverbial Hagar, the bond woman –mother of an earthly bastard child. We do want to become free men, children of promise, and followers of Jesus, who go up to Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Galatians iv. 26) And yet it seems the more we try that further back we fall.
So today Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church, provide us with what we need. Today is Dominica Refectionis –Refreshment Sunday or Mothering Sunday: the day on which Mother Church asks us to sit down and rest awhile, to find some spiritual refreshment so that our pursuit of Jesus Christ will not be in vain. Today we are asked to stop, to breathe, and to contemplate Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Ibid) So we read that Jesus went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. (St. John vi. 3) Jesus bids us come with Him to the mountain of His holiness so that He might strengthen us for our continuing Lenten journey. He knows that we are in danger of spiritual languor and listlessness. So, He intends to provide us with that spiritual food which will give us dogged and dauntless determination to press on.…Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) St. John Chrysostom tells us that Jesus calls us up to rest at intervals from the tumults and confusion of common life. For solitude is a thing meet for the study of wisdom. And often doth He go up alone into a mountain, and spend the night there, and pray, to teach us that the man who will come most near to God must be free from all disturbance, and must seek times and places clear of confusion. (St.J.C.: Sermon…)
So, we must sit down, listen, and trust. And yet in Lent, worn out as we are, when asked by Jesus, Whence shall we buy bread that [we all] may eat? (St. John vi. 5), our minds jump back to earthly provisions for earthly refreshment. Jesus asks this question this morning to prove Philip, for he Himself knew what he would do. (St. John vi. 6) He intends to enlarge and deepen Philip's faith so that he might find refreshment in spiritual and not earthly food. Philip has seen the finger of God at work in the miracles that Jesus has performed. Will he believe that Jesus can provide food that no man can find or afford and that can satisfy far more than the physical hunger of a paltry five thousand? What measure of faith does Philip have? Philip answers, as most of us would, as one in bondage to the elements of this world. He responds that even two-hundred penny worth is not enough for this crowd. (St. John vi. 7) Philip is thinking in earthly terms and thus calculates the monetary cost of feeding the hungry thousands. Too many people, too little money, he conjectures. Thus, Jesus intends to reveal the smallness and poverty of Philip’s faith. His faith should have been in process of enlarging and expanding because the same Jesus who made water into wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee would surely be able to feed the hungry multitude. His faith should have seen too that if Christ has asked whence shall we buy bread that He intended to provide refreshment of another kind and from another source.
Philip’s faith is small and weak because of what they do not have. Andrew’s faith is small and weak because of what they do have. There is a young lad who hath five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they among so many? (St. John vi. 9) As Philip’s faith was overcome by too much, Andrew’s was constrained by too little. To offer so little to so many could only stand to mock and offend them, Andrew thought.
True faith can often be destroyed because we conclude that we never have enough or we complain about having too little. Jesus tells us to sit down, listen, and trust. He asks us to remember that we are going up to Jerusalem, that we are dogs eating from the crumbs that fall from His table (St. Matt. xv. 27), and that we must not only hear the Word of God but keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) The disciples obey the Master, though as yet they have nothing to set before the guests. Nature serves her Master and so affords Him and His guests a plush, green carpet of cushioned grass. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. (Ibid, 11) Before we make use of God’s gifts to us, we must give thanks. What He gives to us is more than sufficient to satisfy our hunger. Jesus asks us to entrust our wellbeing to Him as we travel up to the Jerusalem of our salvation. Five loaves and two fishes will feed five thousand. Tiny morsels, fragments, or crumbs that are blessed by God’s Word will always be sufficient to fill and refresh hungry souls. Andrew’s poverty becomes Philip’s plenty. Something small becomes something great. The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field. (St. Matthew xiii. 31)
Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (Ibid, 32) Jesus says, gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) Faith is fed with such spiritual plenty that fragments remain from Christ’s feast –twelve baskets full to continue to refresh twelve Apostles and the multitudes in the world whom they will convert. Those who think that Jesus Christ comes to satisfy only earthly hunger are in bondage to the elements of this world. (Gal. iv. 3) They are the children of Hagar. They are like Christians who pursue earthly needs and wants to the detriment of their souls. Their faith rests in earthly things and does not enlarge to embrace Christ’s true desire for man. To them nothing remains of Christ’s desire to feed the faith of their souls. But faith’s sustenance is food for men wayfaring. As St. Hilary suggests, The substance [of the five barley loaves and two fishes] progressively increases. (The Passing of the Law: St. Hilary of Poitiers) And as Archbishop Trench says, So we have here a visible symbol of that love which exhausts not itself by loving, but after all its outgoings upon others, multiplies in an ongoing multiplying which is always found in true giving.... (Par’s. p. 213) Christ does not exhaust His loving power merely in provisions for the needs of the flesh. His love intends always to fortify, enlarge, and refresh that faith that will follow Him up to Jerusalem which is above, and is free. (Gal. iv. 26)
Therefore the Apostles gathered the fragments together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. (St. John vi. 13) St. Augustine tells us that the fragments that remained were the parts that the people could not yet eat. (Tr. xxiv. 6) What remains over and above from this miracle is the spiritual meat that the people cannot yet eat. Yet, Jesus says, if you follow me, you will desire to eat of these fragments that remain. In the fragments that remain are hidden gifts of mystic meaning. In the fragments are contained the more of God’s food, which Jesus will give to them that hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Jesus always provides more and better food to those who follow Him in faith. Faith sees that the more than the multitude can eat is Spirit and is Truth. Within fragments and crumbs of earthly food lie hidden the spiritual nourishment of God’s Grace that will be food for men wayfaring. There is more to be seen, grasped, and ingested of this Giver and His gifts, but not until the eyes of faith are opened and the believer’s heart is softened. Let us then gather up the fragments that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) We will need them, for remember, behold we go up to Jerusalem, and mere earthly fare will never feed and sustain a faith that seeks to behold and plumb the depths of that love that never stops giving. Amen.
Against thee only have I sinned and done that which is evil in thy sight…(Ps. Li. 4)
Ultimately when we sin we rebel against God. Even when we sin against our neighbors, we are sinning against God because they are His craftsmanship and work and deserving of our righteous respect. At the end of the day, whether we sin against others or ourselves, we shall have to give an account of our sinning before God our Righteous Judge. In the final reckoning, all sinners must deal with God.
The good news is that God’s nature and property is always to have mercy and to forgive. (Penitential Service, BCP, p. 63) God desires that we should approach Him and repent so that He might forgive us. Sin for God is something that we must claim, confess, and own. Sin for God is something over which we must be contrite, compunctious, remorseful, and ashamed. Sin for God is no call to punishment, but a signal for forgiveness. God is love and that love is always ready to forgive sorry sinners.
But God does not forgive sinners without conditions. The sinner must repent and be in possession of a temper that is truly sorry for his sins to be forgiven. What God forgives is sin and man’s way of obtaining forgiveness is through sorrow over the wrong that he has done. To obtain forgiveness, we must submit ourselves to God’s judgment and then to express our deepest remorse and grief over our rebellion against His Will and Law. God cannot and will not forgive us if we are not sorry.
Now this brings up an interesting point. When should we repent? When we have transgressed God’s Law for human beings. Where is God’s Law found? In Holy Scripture. What is that Law comprised of? Well, basically, what the Church has concluded from Scripture as the Seven Deadly Sins. These sins are not simple but complex and multifarious in meaning. They are pride, envy, wrath, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. A good enumeration of their multifarious expressions can be found in the St. Augustine’s Prayer Book. The Seven Deadly Sins comprise all sins that ignore or neglect, violate or overturn, or reject and deny God’s plan for human life. God’s plan includes the redemption of our minds and hearts, or of reason and will. God’s plan involves every choice that we make and every motivation that fuels it. God’s plan involves not only what we do by why we do it. Sin against God’s will is exhaustive and exhausting. And if we don’t repent of all of our sins, we shall not be saved and returned to God.
So we must locate, name, claim, confess, and grieve all of our sins. Only in this way can and will God forgive us. God is too respectful of our created being, of our reason and free will to expect anything less from us. As men are free to obey or disobey the Law of God, so are they free to accept or reject the forgiveness of sins He is always ready to offer to them. (Times of London, The Christian Year, p. 69) Forgiveness is never forced. It cannot be. It must be only and ever be God’s desire for our betterment and perfection. Desire and love are never forced. God longs for us to desire to die to sin and come alive to righteousness, to move out of exile and towards intimate communion with Him. Forgiveness must be desired as what alone can bring sinners from their vice into the operations of Divine Virtue. Forgiveness must be longed for as what alone can bring us all from death into new life
Neither does God overturn the Laws of His truth. Sin is its own punishment. Those who suffer the effects of their sinful choices often endure the abuse, suffering, torture, chastening, discipline, and correction that might very well awaken the soul to its wayward meanderings. Sin often disappoints, especially if the sinner is conscious of his desire for the more lasting, enduring, and permanent joys that he finds in others. Sin might alert him to its imperfect approximation of perfection. Sin might cause a deluge of sorrow and unhappiness to arise in his heart. Sin might hurt his body, his soul, and his spirit. Sin might hurt others and stir the conscience to guilt. Sin might bring pain to those who are awakening to the Spirit. Such pain may very well trigger the desire for forgiveness and the love that heals and saves. Whatever effect sin has on the human soul, God desires that the sinner might turn away from his wickedness which he hath committed to do that which is lawful and right so that he might save his soul alive. (Ez: xviii. 27) The turning is found in conscience that desires finally to abandon alienation and exile from God and to embrace the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness of sin is freedom from its power and must issue in righteousness which rejoices in the liberty of service to God. (Idem, 69)
To come to see and experience the forgiveness of sins brings the deepest sense of liberation, joy, and peace. It is an act of creative Goodness. (Idem) A man can be said to come alive truly only when the forgiveness of his sins has been registered and appreciated. God alone has created us for Himself and His redemption in Jesus Christ promises always to enlarge the creation by way of the forgiveness of sins. With the forgiveness of sins comes an awareness of new life and the meaning that attaches to it. With the forgiveness of sins comes that piercing truth that life is made for return to God with all of the creative energy that newborn babes desire as they embark on life in God’s new creation. Man is born again, born from above, and regenerated through the forgiveness of sins. The forgiven man becomes aware that he has passed from death unto life, from slavery unto freedom, and from darkness to the light of God’s presence. (Ibid, 70)
Will we accept the forgiveness of sins? We must repent to receive it. We must repent to enjoy its benefits. Will we accept that Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, became the Forgiveness of Sins for us? Will we embrace Him as God’s forgiveness? Will we participate in His mercy and forgiveness and share it with others? Will we see that the Forgiveness of Sins is alive and well in the Holy Spirit of the Father and Jesus His Son? Will this Forgiveness of Sins issue forth in Jesus’ Death and ours? In Him, will we begin to be dead unto sin but alive unto righteousness? This is what Lent is all about.
Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps which thou
hast sucked. But Jesus said, Yea rather, blessed are they
that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 27, 28)
In last week's Gospel, a heathen woman taught us how to come to know ourselves, repent of our sins, and to supplicate Christ for His merciful love and His all-powerful healing of body and soul. You will remember that the Syro-Phoenician woman taught us how to express humility and obedience to God- that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. (Collect Lent II) She taught us also that if we are to be healed inwardly and spiritually we must persistently pursue the Lord Jesus and to say at all times O Lord, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.(St Matthew 15. 22) I hope that like her we came to know ourselves as spiritual whelps or dogs –which is to say that we are never worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under [the Lord’s] table. (Prayer of Humble Access)
I hope that we learned also that the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman is not meant to reveal a temporary appeal to the Lord. It is meant to become the habit of our lives. We are to come near to the Lord in good times and in bad. We are to search for Him, find Him, and hear His Word persistently in our souls. As Jesus insists in today’s Gospel, Blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 11. 28)
Today, another woman, this time a Jewish one, having witnessed Jesus’ healing of the deaf and dumb man and listening to His Word, praised and lauded Him with these words: Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps that gave thee suck. (St. Luke 11.27) Or, Happy is the Woman that has Thee for her Son. The mother…of one who ‘speaks as never man spoke’, that has so much of the Grace of Heaven in Him and is so great a blessing to this earth, as Matthew Henry explains it. (M. Henry Comm…) But Jesus corrects the woman. He insists that the source and cause of all wisdom and righteousness is God. It may very well be true, and indeed is, that the womb that bare Him and the paps which He had sucked were blessed- His mother was, after all, the Blessed Virgin Mary. But she was blessed because she heard the Word of God, and kept it. In other words, she was blessed, indeed blessed…among women (Luke 1. 42)) because her soul magnified the Lord, and her spirit had rejoiced in God her Saviour.( St. Luke 1. 47) Blessedness comes from hearing God’s Word, retaining it, nourishing it, and giving birth to it literally and spiritually in human life.
Since the source of all truth is God’s Word, we are called to hear this truth, keep and perfect it. Keeping the Word of God in our souls is what faith's pilgrimage back to God is all about. We must not seek to be healed of incidental demons only to travel on our merry way, forgetting about the nature of God’s Word that longs to transform us more deeply and lastingly. We are called not to treat God and His Word as the doctor and his medicine at Urgent Care. Faith seeks for healing on an ongoing basis. Sometimes faith has a particular demon that needs exorcising. Sometimes faith needs help in making it through the common drudgery of life. But faith must always be banishing its vices amassing those virtues that fortify it against the assaults of other demons. Faith seeks comprehensive healing. The medicine of faith must be allowed to cure the body, soul, and spirit if true spiritual health is to be found.
At the beginning of today's Gospel we read that Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb.(St. Luke 11. 14) The man whom Jesus finds is physically deaf and dumb. Obviously, then, he can neither hear nor speak. Can we identify with this man? We may not be physically deaf and dumb, but are we spiritually deaf and dumb? Is it possible that we have not heard the Word of God addressing us, because we have been too moved and defined by the noise of this world? If we are honest with ourselves, we must confess that we blither and blabber, shoot out vain words in mindless chatter that makes us deaf to the spiritual address, call, and summons of God in His Word, Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that mindless jabber, filthiness, foolish talking, and jesting (Eph. 5. 4) too often express and define our lives. He warns us against being deceived by vain words that provoke the wrath of God. (Ibid, 6) He reminds us also that when we hear the Word, and keep it as a habit in our hearts, we must then give thanks for it. (Ibid, 4) We cannot begin to give thanks to God for His Word, until the demons of our deaf and dumb natures have been cast out and off. Hearing God’s Word and keeping it, St. Paul suggests, cannot come about if we are having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. (Ibid, 8, 11)
In our Gospel for today we read that When the devil was gone out…of the deaf and dumb man…the dumb (man) spake. (St. Luke 11.14) and the people wondered. Those present were amazed. And so too, in our own fallen world, people will be confused and sore-amazed when we are bent on hearing God’s Word and keeping it. God no sooner unlooses our tongues in new spiritual ways, begins to change our lives, than our family members, friends, and others become judgmental and censorious. In the Gospel today some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. And others sought a sign from heaven.(St. Luke 11. 15,16) When we begin to hear God’s Word and it begins to grow and mature in our lives, people will suspect that psychological imbalance and mental instability are hard at work within us. They will judge us. Many will become impatient and then indignant with us. Some will sense that this world and the words that enslave them to it are being judged and measured by the still small voice of God’s Word hard at work in our hearts and souls. They might begin to perceive that silence is true Wisdom’s best reply. (Euripides)
But Jesus makes it clear that when our spiritual ears are opened and our spiritual tongues are unloosed, God’s Word and not the devil has responded to man’s silence. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore shall they be your judges. (Ibid, 19) The Devil disrupts, divides, stirs up, confuses, and confounds men with noise, noise, noise. Jesus says, But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (St. Luke 11.20) It is the finger of God alone that is powerful enough to find our dumb and deaf silence and to infuse it with the healing and salvific Word of Truth. The Devil or Beelzebub ensnares and entangles us in meaningless blubbering, blather, burble, gabble, gibberish, and gossip. Through television, the internet, and the cell phone he whips us up into a world of words, exaggerating our fears, entrenching our anxieties, endangering our relationships, and emboldening our depression. He fills our ears with words that divide and clutter our minds with the noise that makes us deaf to the Word of God. The Devil is no friend of spiritual silence and the Word of God that will liberate all men. He is not divided against himself (St. Luke xi. 18), for his single determination and desire is to sever us from the still small voice of God (1 Kings xix. 12) that would save us.
Someone much stronger than Satan must drive Satan out. Someone whose power can overcome all confusion must enable us to hear and respond to God’s desire once again. That one is God’s Word, spoken to us in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. For when a stronger than [Satan] shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all the armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. (St. Luke 11. 21) When Jesus the Word drives out Satan, Satan's power is gone. When the Word drives the Devil out, then the Devil is silenced. Goodness and healing come from God alone, and Satan is positively dislodged and unhinged when their invasion is at hand. God speaks His healing Word through His Son Jesus Christ and the powers of darkness, disorder, disharmony, and dolor are scattered. The spiritually deaf and dumb can neither hear nor speak unless and until God’s Word of love dismisses and dispels all disorder and enables us to respond to God’s merciful work. Yet, only with our response can sanctification begin. Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 11.28)
Keeping the Word of God is the hard part. Because of silence and stillness, the unclean spirit has gone out of us. (Ibid, 24) But then there is a danger. We walk through dry places. (Idem) We have been emptied but not filled, healed of Satan’s indwelling and yet not his future threats. As Abbott Bruno says, we are
Empty, since he finds there no charity, nor true faith, nor humility, nor patience, nor justice, nor mercy, nor any of the other things with which the souls of the saints are furnished. How does he find it? Swept and garnished: he finds it as he desires to find it. (St. Bruno, Toale)
In this Lent, we must find more than courage to welcome Jesus the Strong Man into our hearts. We must pray too for His Holy Spirit so that our sins might be overcome by their logical positive counterparts, God’s virtues. Will we then pray for stillness and silence in our hearts as we long the more earnestly for Christ the Word to infuse us with that holiness that enables us to keep His Word? Will we be blessed because first we heard the Word, and in hearing the Word, we believed, and in believing we safeguarded it? (St. Bruno, Toale) Safeguarding requires the same daily silence and stillness that forever embraces the Word that overcomes all evil within with good. Will we then be blessed because Christ says, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it? (Ibid, 28) Amen.
[Love-2.1-15] Eusebius. Oh! Theophilus, you have forced me now to speak, and I cannot contain the Joy that I feel in this Expectation which you have raised in me. If you can make the Scriptures do all that which you have promised to Theogenes, I shall be in Paradise before I die. For to know that Love alone was the Beginning of Nature and Creature, that nothing but Love encompasses the whole Universe of Things, that the governing Hand that overrules all, the watchful Eye that sees through all, is nothing but omnipotent and omniscient Love, using an Infinity of Wisdom, to raise all that is fallen in Nature, to save every misguided Creature from the miserable Works of its own Hands, and make Happiness and Glory the perpetual Inheritance of all the Creation is a Reflection that must be quite ravishing to every intelligent Creature that is sensible of it. Thus to think of God, of Providence, and Eternity, whilst we are in this Valley and Shadow of Death, is to have a real Foretaste of the Blessings of the World to come. Pray, therefore, let us hear how the Letter of Scripture is a Proof of this God of Love.
To know God as Love seems to commonplace for comment. But post-moderns mistake God as Love with God as Sympathizing Sentimentality. God is not sentimental. God does not affirm us in our sinful rebellion against Him. Love is Wrath when we reject His Will. The Love we speak of here is the Being of Power who enlivens and quickens invisibly all things simultaneously. This Love pierces and penetrates every being with that potential meaning towards which it strives. It is omniscient and omnipotent. It is All-Wise. This Love offers to lift all fallen creatures back into the realization of their ends and to thereby perfect them. This Love offers to reward willful obedience with Happiness and Glory. This Love is never forced. It must be desired and embraced by the mind and the heart, through reason and will. Every creature who becomes sensible of this Love through intelligence will be seized, captured, and ravished with delight. The contrary nature of the Divine Love as perceived ‘in the valley and shadow of death’ stands only to reinforce desire of it and transformation by it. But before we move on with Love, we must examine the nature and condition of Wrath. Such will better enable us to understand God as Love.
[Love-2.1-17] Now there are two Things, both of them visible to your outward Senses, which entirely open the true Ground and Nature of Wrath, and undeniably show what it is in itself, from whence it arises, and wherein its Life, and Strength, and Being consist. And these two Things are, a Tempest in the Elements of this World, and a raging Sore in the Body of Man, or any other Animal. Now that a Tempest in the Elements is Wrath in the Elements, and a Sore in the Body of an Animal a Wrath in the State of the Juices of the Body, is a Matter, I think, that needs no Proof or Explication. Consider, then, how or why a Tempest arises in the Elements, or an inflamed Sore in the Body, and then you have the true Ground and Nature of Wrath. Now a Tempest does not, cannot arise in the Elements whilst they are in their right State, in their just Mixture or Union with one another. A Sore does not, cannot break forth in the Body, whilst the Body is altogether in its true State and Temperature of its Juices. Hence you plainly see, that Wrath has its whole Nature, and only Ground of its Existence, in and by the Disorder or bad State of the Thing in which it exists and works. It can have no Place of Existence, no Power of breaking forth, but where the Thing has lost its proper Perfection, and is not as it ought to be. And therefore no good Being, that is in its proper State of Goodness, can, whilst it is in such a State, have any Wrath or Rage in it. And therefore, as a Tempest of any kind in the Elements, is a sure Proof that the Elements are not in their right State, but under Disorder, as a raging Sore in the Body is a certain Indication that the Body is impure and corrupt, and not as it should be; so in whatever Mind, or intelligent Being, Wrath or Rage works and breaks forth, there, there is Proof enough, that the Mind is in that same impure, corrupt, and disordered State, as those Elements that raise a Tempest, and that Body which gives forth an inflamed Sore. And now, Gentlemen, what think you of a supposed Wrath, or Rage in God? Will you have such Things to be in the Deity itself as cannot have Place or Existence even in any Creature, until it is become disordered and impure and has lost its proper State of Goodness?
God cannot be in a state of Wrath, Rage, Ire, Fury, or Anger. In His Nature, He is one with the created universe. To Him, the created universe is wholly Good, True, and Beautiful. Even sinners sinning in their sins can only ever be some Rational and Logical Part of the Good that is established and Being Fulfilled. Wrath, Rage, Ire, Fury, and Anger are expressed at disorder and impurity. To God the greatest of evils are the poorest of choices in a nevertheless rich and abundant Providential Plan that will unfold despite bad angels and sinning men’s rejection of Him. God can turn all evil to good and all sin to the benefit of His Unchanging Love. His Love is Unchanging and thus He never ceases to desire the worst of sinners, though they have willed their eternal destiny in the furthestmost depths of Hell. God’s Love extends into Hell itself and the greatest anguish is felt in the hearts of those who have denied its effectual offer for the highest happiness and joy.
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us about the order in which Satan tempted Christ.
For at first he tempted Him to that which men desire, however spiritual they may be—namely, the support of the corporeal nature by food. Secondly, he advanced to that matter in which spiritual men are sometimes found wanting, inasmuch as they do certain things for show, which pertains to vainglory. Thirdly, he led the temptation on to that in which no spiritual men, but only carnal men, have a part—namely, to desire worldly riches and fame, to the extent of holding God in contempt. And so in the first two temptations he said: "If Thou be the Son of God"; but not in the third, which is inapplicable to spiritual men, who are sons of God by adoption, whereas it does apply to the two preceding temptations. (Summa, III, xli. 4)
As we have said, the first temptation was to things earthly and necessary for physical nourishment of our bodies, their clothing, and their comfort. The second temptation was to spiritual self-importance, the protection and security of the holy man and ascetic, or to pride and vainglory. The third temptation seems to be a combination of the first two, where the importance of the earthly man and his pride take precedence over God to the extent that Christ is tempted to sever Himself from His heavenly Father. In the final temptation we hear this:
Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and
sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and
saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and
worship me. (Ibid, 8,9)
St. Thomas reminds us that here Satan does not address Christ with If thou be the Son of God since this temptation is for those who will become purely carnal men and not spiritual sons of God by adoption and Grace. Here Satan strives to sever Christ entirely from God. If Christ need perform miracles neither on the body or the soul, neither against nature nor reason, then perhaps Satan has finally reduced Christ to the pure potential of becoming His own God severed from the Father. Perhaps Satan now can convince Christ to move beyond good and evil, beyond right and wrong, beyond any final victory of the one over the other. Perhaps He can become the ruler of a universe where good and evil can find peace, coexist, and live happily ever after together. To worship Satan is to settle for a world in which God and the Devil are opposing forces and mutual antagonists. To worship Satan is to make something of evil that is nothing to God. To God, evil is absolutely without power, meaning, significance, or durability. But perhaps Christ will accept a world with good and evil, God and the Devil, or two realities and not the one reality of God’s rule and governance. I guess this world is not so bad. Some years ago a fellow seminarian commenting on various theological innovations at dinner one evening by repeating the phrase, That doesn’t bother me. An old Welsh Canon finally responded to him with, What does bother you? It doesn’t seem that very much bothers you. You must belong to the ‘that doesn’t bother me school of theology’. The only problem with it is that it is a school of thought that will lead both you and your sheep into Hell. Think how easy it is to become acclimated to the heathen culture that surrounds us. Think how often we can shrug our shoulders and exclaim, What can I do about it? What we can and must do is pray. Everything should bother us.
Christ is here tempted to accept and affirm that sin cannot be overcome by obedience to God’s will. Christ is here tempted to believe that God’s goodness in His heart cannot overcome sin and death. Christ is here tempted to believe that His trust in the Heavenly Father cannot win over, transform, convert, sanctify, and save sinful men. He is tempted to give up and settle for less when God Almighty can always do better and more and always wants better in the service of His best.
Men in all ages want Jesus Christ to be King of this world over and against the demands of the Eternal Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.
When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him
by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself
alone. (St. John vi. 15)
Jesus cannot surrender or sacrifice the demands of His Heavenly Father to the demands of this world. Some, like Judas Iscariot, wanted Jesus to deliver the Jews and Israel from Roman oppression. Modern men want Jesus to deliver the United States of America from the grips of Satan by establishing a kind of Christianity as the state religion –of course, the kind that won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Jesus must be faithful to the Father. He must continue to bring men to the Father through the pattern that leads to His all healing Death, Resurrection, and Ascension.
Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptations in order to travel up to the throne of His Cross. He must resist this final shortcut. Jesus Christ is called to resist Satan’s temptation in order to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus Christ is called not to compromise with evil not to make peace with Satan but to overcome evil and Satan by the power of that Love and Goodness that lives to die and dies to live.
Satan now treats Christ as a mere man and not the Son of God. Evidently, Christ had not proved Himself to Satan as the Son of God. Christ will be a mere man. Behold the Man (St. John xix. 5), Pilate will exclaim. Indeed. The Son of God is satisfied to be treated as a mere man. He is a mere man. He is the new first mere man, the new Adam, who will establish the pattern of our new life for return to God the Father. This is the first day of the new creation. Christ is not troubled by being treated as a mere man. He is honored and privileged to subject Himself to the same law that He decreed for all of us. A true ruler and governor is ruled and governed by the principles which He lays down for his people.
And this ruler and governor comes like no other. He comes to bow down in humility, to serve, to wash the dirty feet of our souls, to minister to us, to give His life for us, and to surrender His own importance and dignity for our sake. He comes to establish a Kingdom also. He will do it quietly and inconspicuously. It will be hidden beneath the layers of the Parable that His life is. His Life is the Pattern and the Pattern is a Parable for those with eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel. His Life will be the way, the truth, and the life for those who long to find God, for those who long to find in their end their beginning.
Christ says to Satan:
Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
Christ has resisted the final temptation. He invites us into the power of His resistance. It is a power that works from the inside out, from God’s heart into the world, from Heaven down into earth, and from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit into us. It is a power of joyful obedient love that will overcome all evil with good, all hate with love, and all madness with the Divine Wisdom. The pattern is a parable whose inner meaning calls forth our joyful obedience.
Next we read:
Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Behold the Man who has resisted Satan and all his minions. The angels now come and minister unto Him. At last they can be useful. They come to love and comfort Him. They have been cheering Him on all along. They love Him with unceasing love. They know too, however that His work is far from over or done. He desires for another place to lay His head also. Will He lay His head on our hearts? Will we find that we too want to love and minister to Him. He must go to His Cross before this comes to pass. Will we find Him there, down at the Cross? Will the pattern of the parable, the parable of God’s love for us become our reality at the Cross?
Now, He comes down from the mountain. Next, He will ascend the mountain of the Cross. But He comes down to find us again today. How? Through the Holy Spirit. He comes down to find us again today armed as the Word of God. He is with us and for us. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem with Jesus. Let us travel up with Him. May Christ the Word banish the devil from our hearts. May Christ the Word infuse us with His Spirit. May Christ the Word take us up to death and beyond. May Christ the Word embrace us with a love that will never die. No shortcuts.
Let us pray:
WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defence against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Let us Pray:
O LORD, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights; Give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness, and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. (St. Matthew iv. 5,6)
Fulton Sheen reminds us in his Life of Christ that Christ is tempted to take shortcuts for the redemption of man and to the Kingdom. So many Christians are tempted to take shortcuts in their Christian pilgrimage. They think that they are blessed enough with earthly prosperity and they give up on the pilgrimage before it even begins! Man shall not live by bread alone (Idem), Christ insists. We believe that we have done enough, given enough, prayed enough, and sacrificed enough. We believe that we have sufficiently followed Him. And now we find the Second Temptation. We no longer want to turn stones into bread or bread into mammon. Stones are stones and bread is bread. True bread is food for the soul and true wine is a spiritual drink.
So, beyond the first kind of temptation, Christ invites us into a second. Rather than treating material things like food, drink, clothing, mammon and money as gods, Christ is tried, tested, and tempted to treat his own abstemious human nature as an end in itself. Like all of us, having fasted and prayed, abstained from food and drink, and relying on the nourishment of God’s Word, Christ is tempted to presume that God will ensure His safety no matter what. Here, Satan says, Well, it is good that you are entrusting your body to nourishment on God’s Word. If that is the case, it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. Throw it down. God will rescue you for your faithfulness and obedience to His Word. He will not let any harm come to one who is so faithful and true!
Satan tempts us into thinking that because we have embraced a certain degree of holiness and righteousness in our lives, we can do whatever we like with our bodies. Our souls are what matter. The soul lives on and the body is of no consequence. The first temptation is alive and well in the second. So long as we are faithful, say our prayers, live respectable enough lives, don’t harm our neighbours, God will not allow any harm to come to us. Since earthly things are of secondary importance we can do something heroic or maybe even rash in order to prove that God is with us and will not suffer any harm to come to us! We might be tempted here to throw ourselves to the proverbial lions or to provoke the Caesar’s of this world to wrath. God will rescue us and then the people will believe. So we aim at becoming martyrs. We shall provoke or tempt God to perform a last minute miracle for us as we prove our faith in Him! God will protect us. He will ensure our security. Our overindulgence of earthly food and mammon have threatened us with despair. If we have overcome them, we might be tempted to presume that God will protect us as we prove to the world that He is with us in our asceticism.
Now our abstemious denial of things earthly threaten to tempt us with a presumption of things heavenly. Our fasting from food, drink, clothing, money and mammon might very well urge us to prove to a fat, drunk, glamorous, rich, comfortable, and otherwise occupied neighbours that we are faithful and true to God. We will wake you up to it as we provoke God’s favour before your very eyes! People who give up earthly things are often tempted to lust for miracles, signs, and wonders. I had a very ascetic Orthodox priest friend who was forever fasting and praying. But he had this very odd habit of having to tell me about his miraculous icons, one of which was always weeping real tears. He kept insisting upon talking about these miraculous icons and finally he screamed at me because I wasn’t much interested. You seem so uninterested and bored with what I am telling you. I responded, I am. He screeched back at me: Why? I replied: Because I am much more interested in how we can bring real human beings to shed tears over their sins because they realize that Jesus wants us still. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I was being honest. Denying things earthly only to have to provoke signs and wonders to prove our faith in Jesus the Saviour of the World isn’t very faithful. It is superstitious and highly problematic.
Satan tempts Christ to think that we provoke signs and wonders from God to prove His presence in our world. So many around us worship mammon. Now the ascetics want mammon miracles. Mammon miracles are supernatural events that are meant to jolt and shake us out of unbelief. Don’t just stand there, do something! Satan cries to Jesus. Throw yourself down if you are the Son of God. Throw yourself down and God will snatch you up and bring you back to Himself. Throw yourself down. There is no need for suffering, passion, or death upon a Cross! Give us a good miracle and all will believe and follow you back to God!
The priority of the body has been denied. The soul is right with God. But most men won’t see it. So, it seems rational to throw down the body to prove that the soul is most important and that God will not let such a faithful soul perish. If the soul’s good is of utmost importance, then surely, we should prove to the world that our souls are protected and secured by God’s never failing providence! Like the Orthodox priest, haven’t you noticed that when people give up the food, drink, sex, and money they start blabbering on about miracles and signs and wonders?
But how can what is irrational and unreasonable be of God? The body is created by God, is good, and is to be used in His service. The soul is made for reason and knowledge and should never embrace what is irrational in order to provoke God’s favour! Christ has taken on our human nature. He has taken on the laws that rule and govern our lives. He has taken on our natures not to destroy the body or the soul and not to overturn the laws that rule both. He has taken on our natures to save us through the good use of both in the service of the Father! God doesn’t rescue His children from the logic of their choices. God doesn’t cater to the immature whims of rash or cowardly fanatics who want to win the applause of a mob. God’s providence doesn’t allow men to suspend wisdom so that men might be won by cheap Grace. God’s Grace is not cheap. God’s Grace does not destroy nature but redeems it.
Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Jesus will not lead us back to God the Father through signs and wonders. The effects of miracles last for about as long as post-modern man’s attention span. Jesus has come down from Heaven to work sin out of the world and righteousness in. This can happen only when man embraces the pattern that Jesus establishes. This pattern is one where human life becomes a living sacrifice to the Father because God’s mercy moves the human heart. That mercy must move our hearts to hear the Word of God and keep it in our bodies and in our souls as we move with Jesus through temptation and towards the holy city of Jerusalem. There will be time enough for signs and wonders. But the real sign and wonder that we shall find will be in the human heart that begins to believe that Jesus the Crucified One is the miracle of God’s love before our very eyes. Here is the pattern. The real miracle comes about when we shall see the great wonder of God’s own Son suffering and dying for us. Follow the love of Jesus down to the Cross and discover that Jesus is still loving us in death. Follow the love of Jesus down to the Cross and discover that Jesus is living to die and dying to live. Embrace the love of Jesus with joyful obedience. This is the true miracle, the true sign and wonder. The real miracle will be found in that joyful obedience that in utmost faith with love gives itself over to Jesus. Willy Mae Ford Smith, the African American Evangelist, reminds us that when we give ourselves over to Jesus, His Holy Spirit comes alive in us deep down and in between the bone and marrow.
Do I demand that God should prove His existence by dancing to my tune and fulfilling my every whim and fancy? Come down from that Cross and save both yourself and us! Do I provoke His favor by feeling that I have done enough and should not be required to do any more? Is Christ’s obedience to the Father not enough for me? Is the shedding of His blood not sufficiently miraculous for me? Is His giving from the Cross not adequately loving of me? Why is Jesus not enough for us?
In our quiet time let us pray about how we have sought for signs and wonders in our Christian lives. Let us pray about how we have desired miracles on our bodies, others’ bodies, and yet only at the very last minute have called God into the picture to have the priest sprinkle holy water on those who waited too long to call upon God. Holy water won’t save us. Priest mostly aren’t much good at miracles. Let us pray that we might work on our souls, the souls of our loved ones, the souls of our brothers and sisters in Christ so that rather than provoking and tempting God, we might have a rule of life that welcomes Jesus into our struggle with sin. Let us embrace the Word of God in our hearts so that we can walk with Jesus down to the Cross. No shortcuts to His Kingdom! No shortcuts to avoid Suffering Love!
Let us Pray:
ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons