The world shall rejoice, and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (St. John xvi. 20.)
THREE things are noted in these words. Firstly, the foolishness of the worldly, The world will rejoice…I said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What good is it? (Eccles.ii. 2), Secondly, the wisdom of the saints: Ye shall be sorrowful….The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning: but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. (Eccles. vii. 4) Thirdly, the future song of the saints, Your sorrow shall be turned into joy…, Blessed are ye that weep now, for ye shall laugh. (St. Luke vi. 21)
b.That this world is a place of sadness, and not of joy. In his heart he hath disposed to ascend by steps in a vale of tears, in the place which he hath set. (Ps. Ixxxiii. 6,7) An angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, into the place of weepers. (Judg. Ii. 1)
Sadness is a virtue characteristic of those who are not alive to this world but alive to the joy that is yet for to come. Sadness is a virtue that reveals man’s honest summation this world and those who worship it. So a truly pious man mourns over those who do not yet know God. He mourns that others are distracted and carried away but the purveyors of wickedness and its ways. He mourns because too many men set there hearts ‘on the changes and chances of this fleeting world’ and ‘do not see that their hearts should surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found’, even upon the will of God. He mourns that the devil has so many in his grip. He mourns until all eyes are opened to the Grace of God in the Redemptive life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
c.They joy in evil. Who rejoice to do evil. Prov. ii. 14 The foolishness of the joy of the worldly is sufficiently manifest, since they rejoice in a time of sadness, in a place of misery, in the doing evil. S. Augustine says, What is the joy of this world? say briefly, unchasteness, worthlessness, cheating, to do that which is base, to be gorged with feasting.
The false gods which men of the world pursue make them lovers of evil. For they treat the sources and causes of earthly pleasure, delight, and joy as ends in themselves. And so they misuse the creation and worship it instead of the Creator. Thus they sin. For what they do is to embrace a limited and particular good in alienation from its Divinely ordained and intended purpose. The things of this world then become false gods that ensure temporary satisfaction alone. The worshipers of them become idolaters. And so such men are counted foolish because that do not treat and use creation as a means for deeper knowledge of and dependence upon God.
Sadness over sin brings humility and meekness. Humility and meekness lead from contrition through confession to satisfaction. A man is broken through sorrow, he confess the evil that he has done, and he is given penance in order to be renewed by God’s Grace. The broken heart is thus opened to God’s desire to heal and save. Evil is overcome by the goodness that the Grace of God brings in forgiveness and newness of life to man who is made wise by knowing himself and the God in whom alone he finds his perfection and happiness.
b. By momentary sadness man escapes eternal torment. St. Gregory the Great says, The Saints regard this present life as a gain, because by this they know that they will not escape eternal life;, The Prophet says, I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more. (Nahum i. 13)
Through the fiery caldron of suffering and repentance a man comes to see this life as a great gift. In this life he finds that he can begin to die the first spiritual death to sin, death, and Satan. In this life he welcomes the opportunity to come to know himself truly, to learn from his mistakes, and to grow in the knowledge and love of God. Affliction is but that suffering that enables a man to die daily unto sin and to come alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
c. By a mean measure of justice they acquire eternal joys: For our light affliction which is but for a moment worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. (2 Cor. iv. 17, 18)
The sorrowful and contrite heart desires for Jesus Christ to become His Judgment beginning here and now. Christ is the Word of God, and thus is the Measure by which we are judged on in our earthly pilgrimage to the His Heavenly Kingdom. We are thus rebuked, chastened, punished, disciplined, and corrected by the rod of Mother Church that we might be found amenable and accustomed to the judgment of Christ in the end times. So our hearts and souls are judged now as we endure the Lord’s chastisement and are made better and wiser. And what we look for is not what can be seen with earthly eyes, but with spiritual eyes through deeper vision of a greater reward, even the invisible Glory of our Lord and God.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, that the future joys of the saints are said to consist of three things
a. In the consolation of the Divine Presence. Jesus says, I will see you again. Saint Augustine says, Lastly, there will be God Himself, Who will be all in all, Who will be to us salvation, honour, and glory, joy, and every good. I am ..... thy exceeding great reward. ( xv. 1)
Our reward is that we shall see Jesus again face to face. And more than this, we shall even see the Father whom He alone has revealed to us. Then we shall know our origin, source, and true beginning. Then we shall know even as we are known. (1 Cor. xiii. 12) Our reward shall be unbreakable union and communion with God the Holy Trinity in vision and knowledge of God, neighbor, and self.
b. In the highest exultation of heart, Your heart shall rejoice: They shall obtain joy and gladness. (Is. xxxv. 10)
The reward of vision shall be perfect delight, happiness, and joy. The heart’s deepest longings shall be fulfilled as man is loved perfectly and then reciprocates this love with equal perfection and good will. Man’s inborn desire for God shall then find it purest expression.
c. In the attaining of eternity: The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their head, which joy, no man can ever take from us.
Both the head and the heart, vision and desire shall be wed together in perfect bliss where joy in God and joy in man become one font and source of the unending exchange of perfect love. Man lives in God and God lives in man, forever, with a joy that words can never express.
Any man who thinks that the Genesis account of Creation and the Fall is a fable crafted for the simple-minded should be silenced by what follows on the heals of Adam’s first transgression. Interestingly enough, what ensues is not a violent response to man’s disobedience, but an inquisition. And the interrogation is couched in the context of an eerie calm that alone can facilitate rational discourse. They heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. (Genesis iii. 8) The elements and nature will not be disturbed or disrupted by man’s sin; why should they? They remain faithful to the contours, lines, and biddings of their respective natures. The only physical alteration to the environment is the cooling of the air, perhaps nature’s subtle way of distancing herself from man’s selfishness and idolatry. In any case, man senses that the atmosphere has changed. Man cannot bear the spiritual encounter, and so he and Eve hide themselves. That he thinks that he can hide from God reveals the corruption wrought by his willful idolatry. When man disregards the Spirit of God in the world and worships the material and physical, his remembrance of the Maker’s nature is lost. He believes that the Spirit of God is as avoidable as any other creature. He supposes that he can conceal or hide his being and knowing from God.
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? (Genesis iii. 9) God questions Adam not because He needs to inquire after Adam’s physical whereabouts, but because he wants Adam to describe his newfound spiritual condition. He means, where are you spiritually? What is moving and defining your soul today, Adam? Tell me; confess the truth. Adam must answer for himself, and the self-confessed truth shows that where he is, is in mental and volitional alienation and separation from God. His answer comes in response to the Divine Presence; it is a relational confession. He perceives God’s nearness: I heard thy voice in the garden. He begins to feel the punishment of freedom from the Divine protection and governance: I was afraid. He experiences the temptations that assault the soul no longer clothed with God’s holiness and righteousness: because I was naked. He is afraid also because for the first time he hears God’s voice as what he has chosen to reject, or as what, even if for a fleeting moment, he has decided to circumvent. God’s voice is his Word; his Word is the commandment that defines and governs every creature’s meaning and purpose in the creation. God’s voice or commandment is essential for the harmonious unity of every particular with the whole. Man now knows himself as alienated from the Word that alone can ensure any future participation in the creation he has dishonored.
It might well be that the author of Genesis is describing here the genesis of conscience. Conscience comes to us from the Latin word conscientia, and it means knowledge or awareness. Here, specifically, it means an awareness of one’s being in relation to the truth. Adam has separated himself from the Divine goodness; it stands against him. He hides himself from God because now he fears him. His being has become as nothing. Nothingness is not only nakedness before the Maker, but powerlessness. It is the state out of which man was made; the difference now is that man knows and experiences its raw and primal impotence. So he experiences a non-being that he was never made to endure.
But hiding from the Divine Truth is a kind of suicidal wish that God, in his Divine Mercy, will not tolerate. The naked truth must be not only endured but in some new way formative in man’s journey back to God. So the dialogue between man and God continues. God in His mercy will allow that, at least. Without it, God would deny the integrity of the rational creature and His own power in relation to it. That evil has been actualized for man does not mean that God's goodness cannot overcome it through man's return to his senses.
I grow weak, my Lord, before Thy wonders and, at a loss, I long to take refuge in silence. Yet I do not know what to do. For if I keep silence, amazement overwhelms me; but if I dare to say something, I am struck dumb and rapt away. I regard myself as unworthy of heaven and earth, and as deserving every punishment, not simply because of the sins I have committed, but much more because of the blessings I have received without my showing any gratitude, contemptible as I am. For Thou, Lord, who dost transcend all goodness, hast filled my soul with every blessing. I dimly perceive Thy works and my mind is amazed. Merely to look on what is Thine reduces me to nothing. Yet the knowledge is not mine, nor the endeavour, for it is Thy grace. Therefore I will lay my hand on my mouth, as Job once did (cf. Job 40.4), and will take refuge in Thy saints, for I am bewildered. ..." (The Eight Stages of Contemplation)
We begin our sermon on this Good Shepherd Sunday with the words of the twelfth century Syrian Saint Peter of Damascus. And at the outset we are confronted by awe-stricken wonder and speechless rapture. The contemplative is, as it were, convulsed and shaken, bewildered and then dumb-stricken. He is overwhelmed by the wonders of God’s forgiving Being and cut down by his failure to make good returns in thanksgiving and praise. He is struck dumb and rapt away in the presence of the all-loving God who towers over his selfish and ungrateful nature in piercing contradistinction. His conscience is shame-riddled and at the very precipice of response, he fails. His failure is natural. God is all love and St. Peter of Damascus is far from Him. The good saint thinks it best to put his hand over his mouth…and take refuge in the saints.
Such is the kind of response that we might imagine filling the hearts of the Apostles at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Amazement, wonder, bewilderment; confusion, uncertainty, ignorance; shame, guilt, remorse; silence, stillness, and then the stirring of some small hope. Indeed, we might imagine it. But have we ever felt it? Has it ever occurred to us that it might be necessary to seek out and find this experience for ourselves? Has it ever crossed our minds that this kind of spiritual encounter is precisely what coming to know Jesus Christ is all about, and that without it we have little hope of salvation? Prayer, after all, is not about assaulting God with a Christmas list of wants and desires. Prayer is not about thanking God for our godless suffocation in money and mammon. Prayer is about getting to know God, and responding to the nature of His being. Prayer is about a relationship with God that establishes our unity with Him through the fulfillment of His will.
And, for Christians, the only way to it is through Jesus Christ. You might say that Jesus Christ is Prayer made flesh –the pure and perfect posture of prayerful Man united to God the Father. Christ alone as human flesh sees and knows His Father and can then respond to Him perfectly in knowledge and love. We pray this morning that we may endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed footsteps of Christ’s most holy life.(Collect Easter 2) And we do this because this is the only way in which we can be reconciled to God the Father and so fulfill and perfect our God-given human nature. But, as the Collect continues, we cannot do this until we have most thankfully received the inestimable benefit of His love and care for us, shown in Christ’s sacrifice for sin and His invitation into the new life of His Resurrection. (Ibid)
Eastertide is all about a radical encounter with God that generates true prayer –prayer for the right thing and in the right way. And if we open our eyes in prayer onto what God has done in Jesus Christ, we shall find that God is Love. (1 St. John iv. 8) The Love that we find, if we meditate upon it, is of a type that confounds all of our rational expectations. We find a Love that creates and sustains all of creation. We find a Love that orders, governs, leads, guides, divides and unites an infinite number of elements into an harmoniously beautiful whole that no man can alter. I grow weak, my Lord, before thy wonders….We find a Love that makes and molds the human person from conception until death, and speaks to him through nature to reason and by revelation to faith. We find the Love that makes God man, a Virgin a mother, a man God, and even the creature into God’s instrument for salvation and perfection. I grow weak, my Lord, before thy wonders…We find too a Love that responds to hatred, cruelty, injustice, rejection, and death with nothing less than an incessant benevolence, tenderness, compassion, pity, and mercy that longs to heal all sickness, overcome all pain, and annihilate all sin. The man who prays finds himself, in other words, in the presence of a God who longs to unite all of creation with Himself through the death and resurrection of His Son. I grow weak, my Lord, before thy wonders…
And yet it is perhaps in the realm of desire itself that we are most astounded and unsettled. For it is here that St. Peter of Damascus felt a love so passionately intense that he could not speak. Here God’s love for man is felt so acutely that man begins to enter into his own spiritual suffering and death. It is the kind of suffering and death that alone can move a man to follow in the blessed steps of His most holy life because he begins to be touched by the inestimable benefit of Christ’s love. Another St. Peter, this time the blessed Apostle himself, reveals the nature of this same love to us. He invites us to respond to it by cleaving not only to the vision of Christ but by embracing the real presence of His Holy Spirit in the heart. He writes,
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: 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: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.(I Peter ii. 21-24)
St. Peter invites us to study and contemplate what Love in the flesh has done for us first by seeing how He responds to man’s rejection of Himself. Love does not render evil for evil, does not threaten, but rather commits Himself to the insistent expression God’s desire for all men’s salvation. He does so because God’s desire in Christ’s human flesh will conquer sin and evil with love and goodness. Nothing alters God’s intention, passion, yearning, and longing in the heart of Jesus Christ. Nothing, not even unjust suffering and wrongful death, can frustrate the expression of this desire. In fact, in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, this love will rise up as glorified and perfected desire in Man– the form and matter, the very substance of Man’s new life, in and through which all men can become a part of God’s desire for them. I grow weak, my Lord, before thy wonders…
And yet there is more. St. Peter the Apostle claims that this Jesus Christ is Love in the flesh that has sought out and found men who were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls.(1 Peter ii. 25) This Love in the flesh is so persistently itself from eternity and into time, that it will call and summon men from time back into eternity. In the face of man’s Fall and his many falls, the original intention for man’s created nature becomes the fodder of God’s ongoing desire for the same man’s redemption. This Love in the flesh is resolutely determined to seek out, find, and carry those who are HIs lost sheep back into the fold of their intended destiny.
Jesus Christ, the Resurrected Saviour says to us this morning, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.(St. John x. 11, 14-15) God the Father knows the sheep. Christ the Son, who bears about within Himself the prayerful knowledge and desire of the Father, knows the sheep. He will lay down His life for the sheep. The sheep know Him as the Good Shepherd, the Son of the Father who will shepherd His sheep to the kingdom. [He] will lay down His life for the sheep now through the Holy Spirit. His Holy Spirit will take them into spiritual death, will bury their sins once and for all, and will lead them out of the grave and into the new and sanctified reality of Jesus Christ’s Risen Life. The Father’s desire for man’s salvation, the Son’s desire as what Love bears and shoulders in order to affect it, comprise the Gift of the Holy Spirit that is offered to sinful men who are now being made members of Christ’s Risen Body.
St. Peter of Damascus became keenly aware of God’s love and desire made flesh in Christ the Good Shepherd. According to St. Thomas, Christ the Good Shepherd desires to defend the sheep from all attacks of the evil one, to lead and feed them in good pastures, and to restore those who wander. (Sermon: Easter I) So let us return, with St. Peter and the Saints to the shepherd and bishop of our souls (1 St. Peter ii 25), to the Good Shepherd who longs to lift us onto those shoulders, which alone can carry us into His Kingdom. And remember this, that when Christ rose and ascended back to the Father, He bore the wounds of glorified Love, the scars of Divine Desire. The wounds and scars of our rejection of God are understood mercifully in the heart of Jesus who patiently awaits our conversion and turning. These wounds and scars remind us that even at our worst, before we turn, there is a place reserved in God’s heart for our future. So let us, with St. Peter and the Saints, place our souls into the wounded hands of our Good Shepherd who longs to carry us home, to that place from which He has always known us, and where we shall know Him even as we are known. (1 Cor. xiii. 12) I grow weak, my Lord, before thy wonders….Amen.
There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, the water, and the blood.1 S. John v. 8.
IT is necessary that we should believe Christ to be the true God and true Man, and He therefore wished to furnish us with many testimonies that He was God and Man. We have both — i.e., the testimony of His Divinity, as above, There are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 St. John v. 7)
The Divine witness, as St. John reminds us, is traced back to the inner life of the Divine Trinity. St. John had already spoken of this life in the Prologue to his Gospel. The Father is the uncreated and unbegotten origin and source of His only-begotten Word through the ever-proceeding Spirit that is reciprocated between the two. So the Father speaks His Word through His Spirit of love. The Word returns Himself to the Father as spoken through the same Spirit of Love. The community of three inform and define, enliven and quicken, and return and reconcile all things to the one essence or substance of the Divine Being.
Of the testimony of His humanity He says here, There are three that bear witness on earth.
The heavenly witnesses which Christ had to His Divinity are twelve — (1) The Father, (2) the Son, (3) the Holy Ghost, (4) the working of miracles, (5) the saints, (6) the angels, (7) the heavens, (8) the air, (9) the water, (10) the earth, (11) Hades, (12) the fire.
The Holy Trinity is revealed in the earthly life of Jesus Christ. The Divinity is revealed and disclosed through Jesus, who is the only-betotten Word as flesh, in the expression and communication of the Father’s will in time and space via the Holy Spirit. The miracles testify of the power of God. The saints testify of the mercy and compassion of God towards men who through obedience to the Father are already receiving the Word and Will of God in Christ either before, during, or after His Incarnation. The angels and their visitations to men disclose and reveal the Divinity of Christ as God’s wisdom, love, and power made flesh. They prepare men for the Divinity. They secure men in the Divinity. The heavens and the four elements give evidence of the Divinity of Christ because they reveal the Word or Logos through whom all things are made. They also respond to Christ’s crucifixion in harmonious recognition of the commencement of the new creation. Hades, or the place of the dead, reveals Christ’s Divinity since by it the faithful dead rise up to find their unity with the Risen Christ.
The earthly witnesses which S. John gives here to His humanity, in which chiefly His love to us appears, are three — first, the effusion of blood; secondly, the emanation of water; thirdly, the emission of the spirit. Of the first two: S. John xix. 34, Forthwith came there out blood and water."Of the third: S. Matt, xxvii. 50, Jesus, when He had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
The water relates specifically to the humanity of Christ when he sheds water and blood following His death. This water is the effect of death and thus is a sign of His death that reveals the true meaning of Baptism. Baptism is a washing away with water and the Holy Ghost of Original Sin. The washing away of sin can come only from the meritorious death of Jesus Christ. And so in Baptism we are made one with Christ’s death through water and the Holy Ghost. ‘Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.’ (Romans vi. 3,4) Water incorporates us into death and new life. Water washes away sin and death and thus enables us ‘to walk in newness of life’. Thus water cleanses and purifies and thus makes us fit to be very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, the blessed company of all faithful people. (BCP, p. 83)
(2) The water of wisdom for the extinction of spiritual thirst: Ecclus. xv. 3, And give him the water of wholesome wisdom to drink. S. John iv. 14, Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst. S. Augustine says, that if anyone has drank of the water of Paradise — of which one drop is larger than the ocean — it results that the thirst of earthly desire would be extinguished in him.
Water is also a sign and symbol of wisdom. The water of wisdom satiates man’s desire for knowledge and the means to happiness. The water of wisdom purifies and cleanses the mind of all error and ignorance. The water of wisdom then refreshes the mind with the desire for truth, beauty, and goodness as the means to happiness. The water of wisdom stirs a man to seek the truth always and to know that with whatever knowledge he is satisfied there is more to had from the faithful and humble mind that seeks further understanding. The water of wisdom washes away any hunger or thirst for earthly things. The water of wisdom moves a man to find delectation and delight in spiritual things.
(3) The refreshing water of the Holy Spirit: S. John vii. 37-39, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink. But this spake He of the Spirit.
The water of Christ’s Holy Spirit overcomes man’s thirst for truth and happiness. Man is meant to drink in the water of the Holy Spirit. This is the water of sanctification whereby a man is established and secured within the Body of Christ through faith, hope, and love. This water enables a man to do the will of the Father, to cultivate the goodness of the Beatitudes, and to perfect the Image and Likeness of God in himself. This water enables a man to live by the faith of the Son of God. This water brings a happiness and joy that are beyond reason and the natural life. This water initiates the generation of affection and desire in the human heart that draws from the font and source of all love and peace.
2. On the second head it is to be noted, that by the shedding of blood seven benefits were wrought for us, which we studied last week.
3. On the third head it is to be noted, that He breathed forth His Spirit for three ends.
(1)That He might quicken us: S. John x. 15, I lay down My life for the sheep.
The Holy Spirit quickens us to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ has died for us and we are meant to become living members of His Mystical Body. This means that in us he desires to apply the efficacious merits of His suffering and death, that we too might be dead unto sin and alive unto righteousness. (Romans vi. 11) He pours out His Spirit in suffering and death so that we might be enabled to suffer and die to ourselves that we can be saved. So this is the quickening Spirit of Christ’s love that begins to create His new Body in time and space through his love for all men.
(2) That He might deliver the saints from hell. The soul of Christ, with His Divinity, descended into hell, and delivered the saints who were there at that time: Zech. ix. 11, I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.
Christ breathed His Spirit in order that human beings who had been faithful to His coming might also enter into His humanity in order to be reconciled to the Father. He breathed His Spirit out of love for those who were born before His Holy Incarnation. And thus the love of His Spirit reaches down even into Hell in order that those who rested in hope might be saved.
(3)That He might give us an example of laying down our lives. For whosoever desires to follow Christ, ought entirely to surrender his life: S. Luke ix. 23, If any man will come after Me. 2 Cor. v. 15, He died for all, that they who live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him Who died for them. He who so dies will come to that life in which no one dies; to which life may Christ, Who is our life, bring us.
Christ pours forth His Spirit in death that all men might live unto Him who died for them. Laying down one’s life means leaving the selfish self behind and loving all things as if we loved them not in comparison to our love for God in Jesus Christ. True life is found in death to the world, the flesh, the devil, and the self through the Holy Spirit. True life is found in Jesus Christ beginning here and now. In time and space then, while the time remains to us, let us live in and through our Saviour Jesus Christ. Let us become a part of His earthly body that we be denied not our heavenly reward. Let us become living members of His earthly body now so that through His humanity we may find His Divinity that alone reconciles us to our predetermined end.
The author of Genesis does not always provide the literal details of the creation he describes. This is because he assumes that his readers are rational creatures who analyze and study the material he provides. From their contemplation of the text they are meant to elicit the rational truth that lurks necessarily beneath its surface.
One such example of this process can be found in the description of man’s creation. There we seem to find scarce few details of man’s nature in relation to nature and to God. And yet there are truths which must be assumed if the text is make any sense. Again, the text is meant to make sense, since it was written to be understood. And it was written to be understood because man was made to understand. This is why we assume that the man whom God addresses in Chapter Two of the text is rational. This means that he can understand what God says to him, and that when God commands, he is meant to obey. Obedience is a response to a rational command. In this case the rational command comes with a warning. And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Genesis ii. 15-17) As we have said before, the man whom God addresses can understand God’s commandment and the meaning of it. He would understand that he lives in the garden of life and that there is no such thing as non-life or death in it. He would understand death as the absence of life- as what has no life or is deprived of it. He would understand that death is other than what the good God desires and wills. And so he would have understood that it would be something outside of and other than what he experiences because of his obedience His Maker. So man clearly comprehends the commandment and the consequences of disobeying it.
What man (or the Adam) should have realized also was that the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil represented something that was beyond his power to manage and control. The tree itself contained a meaning and truth that man does not make and thus cannot rule and govern. He was made to live in and through God’s goodness alone; to live and to live well according to his nature depended upon God’s rule and governance of all things. What this means is that the absence of goodness, should it be entertained and then embraced would introduce another power or principle into man’s life that would compete with God’s sole sovereignty. Man would then condition his being to the habit of God and God’s absence, or of good and evil. Thus his being would be forever torn dualistically between two kinds of knowing that would vie for the affections of his heart.
God knew, of course, that man would not be able to sustain this schizophrenic reality. God’s goodness alone can resist evil and treat it as non-reality. But man chose to reject the known Good. He chose to ignore that he was made in God’s image and likeness, and that the perfection of his nature was sustainable only through perfect adhesion to His Maker’s will through obedience. Now man knows himself in isolation and alienation from the fontal Goodness that would have united him to God, nature, and himself. Now man will come to participate in Goodness only through that pain and suffering that is ongoing death. But through that death, God’s desire slowly and methodically brings man back into possession of the Word of life.
The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts--a child--as a competitor, an intrusion and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the dependent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters. And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners.
― Mother Teresa
As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just emerged from a rigorous Holy Week and Easter, when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ through his Passion and into His Resurrection. Here are my prayers. I pray that we have striven to move from death into new life. First we meditated upon the external and visible events that comprised the last days of our Lord Jesus Christ. They were contemplated with a view to see exactly what happened. And second, hopefully, those same events began to affect our inward and invisible natures, as His death became our death, and His offer of Resurrection the seedbed of that new life in Him that leads us to Heaven. Having confessed that I it was denied thee, I crucified thee (Ah Holy Jesus), I pray that our souls began to open to Christ’s response in the forgiveness of sins and His persistence in pursuing our salvation beyond the grave. I pray that we have begun to receive this Divine Love, which alone can make us into members of the Body of Christ and children of His Resurrection.
So I pray also that we shall stop treating Jesus of Nazareth like a dead teacher from past history or one who said and did good things for His own generation but has been rendered irrelevant and obsolete in ours. G.K. Chesterton noted this tendency, even within the churches, when he said, Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you any more.(The Everlasting Man) Imagine the sense of loss that every student has felt with the loss of a great mentor or teacher. The student finds himself at a crossroads, for a stellar mind is gone and his voice is silenced. Chesterton continues: Imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. (Ibid) Think about what it would be like to have your favorite writer or thinker back from the dead to help you to interpret and respond to the mad, mad world that surrounds you.
Perhaps this is not unlike what the Apostles were thinking, when they began to mourn Jesus’ death after the Crucifixion. Why, if only He were here, they must have thought. And yet when He was here, men were determined to ruin Him. Would it be any different? So they mused on the might-have-beens. Then they remembered that they too had abandoned, forsaken, denied, and betrayed Him. So now they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews,(St. John xx. 19) precisely because they feared what guilt by association might mean for them now. Yes, the Apostles were afraid, troubled in conscience, trembling at what the enemies of Jesus might be plotting. Their faith was weak, they hopes were confused, and even their desire for His return might have been half-hearted.
And then, despite themselves, their beloved departed returns. Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when He had so said, He shewed them His hands and His side.(St. John xx. 20) Their master and teacher has returned, and as the scales begin to fall from their eyes slowly, they begin to recognize Him. The vision of their faith is weak and fragile but grows and strengthens. He shows them His hands and His side to confirm their faith in Him, that they might not have it by hearsay only, but might themselves be eyewitnesses of His being alive. (M. Henry) He comes to them alone, and does not appear to the whole of mankind. He does not reveal Himself to His enemies and He does not reveal Himself to those who had no interest in God or the salvation He has promised to bring. As St. Peter will recall a bit later, Him God raised up the third day, and showed Him openly; not to all of the people, but unto witnesses chosen before God, even to us who did eat and drink with Him after He rose from the dead. (Acts x. 40,41) An event of supernatural making presents itself to them. The Apostles are baffled, bewildered, perplexed, puzzled, and flummoxed. Those who fled the Cross wondered: Did He truly die? Perhaps, in the end, He was spared; we did not see with our own eyes. Others might have thought: This is an optical illusion. Perhaps He was never a true man and that even now He is nothing but a Spirit. And if it will take time to convert His Apostles, there is no small wonder that He did not appear to the chief priests and people.
For forty days Jesus will teach His friends about the great mystery of the new life. He will teach them about how His coming was prefigured in the Old Testament and that He is its fulfillment in the New. He will teach them about the nature of the new life that He brings to them, and, most importantly, that the first principle of that life is the forgiveness of sins that He embodies. He will show them that without His suffering and death there could be no new life. For the new life that He brings into the world is perfect forgiveness that alone can overcome the grip of evil through love. His love will draw the new life out of them as His Holy Spirit enables them to be forgiven and to forgive. Suffering and death will begin to be consecrated as essential spiritual moments in the soul’s journey back to God. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you….If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you…. (St. John xv. 18-20)
Peace be unto you: as my Father has sent me, even so send I you; and He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive the Holy Ghost.(St. John xx. 21-23) The Word made flesh is with them, and He calls them into His service again. He breathes His Word into them and they begin to become living members of His Resurrected Body. He has laid down His life for them, and now He gives it back to them renewed, rekindled, and roused. These He restores, comforts, warns, and inspires. (Newman, Witenesses of Resurrection, 184) The onslaught of fear and the cloud of confusion recede into the past as He forms them into Himself slowly and methodically, as their faith grows that that they might show forth His praise. (Idem)
So the Apostles begin to live the new life. Christ is the vine and they the branches; Christ is the root and they are the shoots. As Chesterton says, What the Apostles were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener, God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but at dawn.(The Everlasting Man) The Apostles’ mental unrest and uncertainty flee. The Master has returned as He had promised, and is now teaching them how to live the new life in the garden of a new creation. Their faith in Him is being grown into new life with new meaning, where God the Gardener and man the new life reveal to the world the great possibilities in creation’s redemption.
In this joyful Eastertide Jesus Christ calls us into the new life. St. John tells us this morning, Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is He that overcometh the world, but He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?(1 John v. 4,5) What the Apostles begin to see is that faith in Jesus Christ is the victory that overcomes the world. They see that, This [Jesus is He] that came by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water and the blood.(1 John v. 6) The Spirit has raised up the One who has poured out water and blood to make man just with God. The Spirit has raised up the One who has died one death for the sins of the whole world. The Spirit has raised up the One who calls all from death into His new life. The Spirit enlivens the One who will be the Gardner that tills and tends the Garden of the new life in the hearts of all who believe and follow. Through the waters of Baptism, His Spirit will cleanse and purge the spiritual seedlings of all pestilence. The Spirit will cultivate and grow God’s Word in the soul so that obedience to the Father might flower and blossom. The Blood of the Eucharist will drown sin in death and flood the heart with a longing for all goodness. Spirit, water, and blood will raise man up from the ground of his death into the breath of that Love that leads into the new life. His Spirit will animate a new Body- the Church, that fertile Garden that will bloom with beauty and blush with delight.
And yet none of this will come to pass unless we lost souls, who are promised redemption, face the Resurrected Jesus Christ. Solomon tells us that this process will be strange and painful. In the sight of the unwise [we shall] seem to die: and [our] departure [will be] taken for misery; and [our] going from [them] utter destruction….(Wisdom ii 2) But once they see what is happening to us, they will conclude that we are in peace. For though [we] be punished in the sight of men, [our] hope is full of immortality. And having been a little chastised, [we] shall be greatly rewarded: for God [will prove us], [to find us] worthy for himself…And…[we] shall shine, and run to and fro like sparks among the stubble. [We] shall judge the nations, and have dominion over the people, and [our] Lord shall reign for ever. (Wisdom ii. 5-8)
Then we shall find Blessed Gueric of Igny’s words surprisingly true:
The man who enters Christ’s garden becomes a garden himself, his soul is like a watered garden, so that the Bridegroom says in praise of him: ‘My sister, My spouse is a garden enclosed’ (Cant 4, 12). Yield the fragrance of incense. Blossom like the lily, and smell sweet, and put forth leaves for your adornment. (The Garden of Delight)
Indeed, yield fragrance, blossom, shoot forth, and reveal the beauty and love of the Risen Christ to the world!
He must rise again from the dead. — S. John xx. 9.
IN these words five things are to be noted. Firstly, the infinite goodness of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Secondly, His delightful beauty. Thirdly, His wonderful love. Fourthly, the joyful solemnity of God. Fifthly, the fervent charity of the women.
God’s goodness is shown to us in that He subdues, conquers, overcomes, and crucifies all malignant and demonic spirits that threaten the flow of goodness from God to man. His goodness then removes those obstacles to man’s reconciliation with the Creator and the created. His goodness opens the way for man’s return to God.
(2) Because today He saved us from death, which He vanquished today: Hath overcome death," &c. (Collect). 1 Cor. xv. 54, Death is swallowed up in victory." For today Christ victoriously rose, having conquered death.
Not only has Christ conquered the makers and molders of the sin that threatens man with idolatry and idiolatry, but He conquers their natural fulfillment, which is death. Christ conquers death, and in so doing He destroys that termination of life, which is alienated from the life of God.
(3) Because He saved us from hell, which he unchained today: Ps. cvii. 16, He hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder.
Christ has saved us from ultimate and permanent separation from our Heavenly Father. He has broken the chains and cords of Hell. Now He invites us to see and behold the Hell we have made for others, ourselves, and thus for Him. We are privileged with a vision of Hell beginning here and now. As with sin and death, He makes Hell also a present state to be contemplated as that condition which we should treat as destroyed and dead to our Saviour, and thus destroyed and dead to us if we would live in the life of the Risen Christ.
But there were in Christ three kinds of flowers — (1) red flowers, (2) black, (3) white. The red flowers are drops of blood; the black, the stripes of the wounds; the white, the splendours of the glorified Body. Of the third and first, Cant. v. 10, My Beloved is white and ruddy.
Christ is beautiful and His Beauty is revealed in three flowers. He is a red flower because He wears a robe of blood. The blood in poured out because the Saviour empties Himself for us on the Tree. The blood is shed because He will surrender His life for us, that in and through the nothingness that He becomes, God in Him might remake and remold us. He blossoms as blood because the poured out Blood does not mean death but the new life that God is already making for us in His Death.
He is a black flower, because He dies and His wounds signify the darkness of death. He endures death that we might find life. His death is our death, for in His death, He brings to death our old Adam, old man, or old fallen Human Nature. His death is beautiful because in it He abnegates His very being for us.
He is a white flower because He rises a gloirifed body that now wears the color of purity, holiness, righteousness, and perfection. This beautiful white reveals the love that conquers sin and death, and yet, more importantly, desires the salvation of all men through His victorious Resurrection.
Of the second, 1 S. Pet. ii. 24, By Whose stripes ye were healed. Jesus was altogether blooming, because girt with roses — that is, with drops of blood; adorned with violets that is, with the stripes of wounds; entrenched with lilies — that is, with the splendours of the glorified Body: Cant. ii. 12, The flowers appear on the earth.
The Beautiful Saviour never ceases to bloom with the Father’s desire for our salvation. Never once in the whole of His suffering and Death does He cease to express, reveal, and manifest the Father’s passion for our salvation. Even when He utters the words, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsake me’, He is the desire for God and for man’s salvation at the point of their most extreme separation and division. But His Desire never fails. The Love never ceases. Christ always blossoms and blooms with that Love that gives until it hurts, to the point of death, death upon the Cross.
III. On the third head it is to be noted, the charity of Him rising again from the dead S. Matt, xxviii. 5, Jesus Who was crucified. The death of Christ was such an inestimable love of charity as no mere man was able to conceive of: Eph. iii. 18, The Love of Christ which passeth knowledge. S. John xv. 13, Greater love hath no man than this.
Can we imagine such love? This is the love that forgives His enemies and desires their salvation. This is the love that is still making life in the process of unjust, undeserved, and unmerited death. This is the love that draws all men into Himself to carry them into a death that they cannot die. And yet as this love carries them into His death, He who alone can die this death shares the merits of it all with those who will open to His love. And He loves them all unto the end.
For three reasons especially He wished to die the death of the Cross — (1) That He might show manifestly to all that He both truly died, and from this death truly rose again. For it was patent to all that He was really dead when the Cross raised on high showed Him, on it, dead: Acts x. 39, And we are witnesses of all things which He did ...... Whom they slew and hanged on a tree.
Christ died on the Cross to reveal to us what He actually has done for all men that would follow Him into their intended future and destiny. He died truly because if He did not, then we have no chance of salvation and deliverance to the Kingdom.
(2) That as the Tree had produced the fruit of death, so the Tree having produced the fruit of this life might quicken all: Who by the wood of the Cross wrought salvation for the human race (S. Greg. Mag.) (3) That as the Devil had overcome man by the Tree, so He might similarly, by the Tree, triumph.
He died on the Cross that the Tree of Life might once again bear the fruit of man’s unbreakable union and communion with God. One tree has produced the fruit of death for man. The tree was not the culprit, Man was. The tree is now cut down, lifted up, and becomes the throne of the King who brings new life to the world. The Devil had overcome man through a tree, and now the Saviour conquers the Devil and his sin through the same tree. The tree is planted in the Garden of New Life. The Garden of New Life is fertilized, cultivated, and harvested because of the Blood of the Lamb of God that drops down from this Tree. The Garden of New Life is procreant, fecund, uberous, and fertile because its soil is enriched with the Blood from that Death that all must die in and through the Crucifixion of God’s Son.
Three events have made this day to be solemn — (1) The sending of an Angel from Heaven: S. Matt, xxviii. 2, The Angel of the Lord by descending from Heaven.(2) The earth, by leaping for joy: S. Matt, xxviii. 2, There was a great earthquake. (3) Hell, by restoring the Saints: S. Matt, xxvii. 52, 53, Many bodies of the Saints which slept arose and came out of the graves. So that the heavens, the earth, and Hades all finished their testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This day is solemn because the angels descend from Heaven to take their part in the communication of the truth of Christ’s Resurrection. The angels, to this point, have not understood the Death. But with the Resurrection they learn of the reconciliation of flesh to the Spirit through the triumph of God’s Word. Now they take their part to celebrate the final victory over they old enemy Satan. They rejoice to see this day, and they lend their praise and adoration to God by visiting the empty tomb with their glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, that unto them is born again as Saviour who is Christ the Lord, Who has risen from the dead and will incorporate all believers into the new life which He has won for them.
Nature rejoices. The enemy that has violated nature and enslaved her to his designs for man’s destruction is now defeated on the ground of his own kingdom. The earth and nature are freed once again to become cooperators with man in the pursuit of salvation. Nature has groaned for this day, and now shakes in joy with the news of Satan’s defeat and the possibility of new friendship with man through the Word made flesh. This is Word that has made her, preserves her, informs and defines her vocation in relation to man, and now she can hope that man will be born again to respect and honor her.
The bodies of saints rise up from their graves. Those who died in faith, with hope, and loving God are now raised up so that they may become part of this new Resurrection life. The saints are on their way home to God as new members of the Body of Christ whom they can now see, perceive, and follow. They are welcomed into Christ’s Risen Life, and so they move closer and closer to the Kingdom of His love.
Jesus is to be sought for in a threefold manner — firstly, in faith; secondly, in hope; thirdly, in charity. (
(1) Reasonably he seeks Him by faith, who seeks the light of His truth.
In faith we seek to find, discover, know, comprehend, and understand Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. (St. John xiv. 6) In faith we seek to see and follow Jesus. Faith seeks to hold on to Him and to be transformed by the virtue that issues forth from His being, knowing, and loving.
(2) Earnestly he seeks Him in hope, who looks for the glory of His Majesty.
In hope, we seek Jesus’ glory and so set our affection on high and not on the things of the earth. In hope we stretch forward in eager expectation not only of what we shall be then, but in zeal and passion for what He can make of us beginning here and now.
(3) Fervently they seek Him in charity, who long for the sweetness of His goodness.
With deepest yearning, longing, groaning, hungering, thirsting, passion, appetite, and affection let us long to be with Jesus, that where He is, we might be also. (St. John xvii. 24)These are the three Marys who came to the sepulchre. O Lord Jesus! make us to seek Thee and to find Thee. Amen.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 2)
Our journey through the Lenten Season to Good Friday will have been of no use if it has not been characterized by affection. Set your affections on things above, proclaims St. Paul this morning, and not on things of the earth, and if we have been conscientious, this is exactly what we have been doing. Affection is passion, desire, and yearning. And throughout the Holy Season of Lent we have prayed that the Holy Spirit might purify the thoughts of our hearts so that we can follow Jesus up to Jerusalem and beyond. Our affections have been set…on the things above [and] not things of the earth, things which have come down to us in the passionate heart of Jesus Christ. Out of the unquenchable ardor and fervor of His heart, He has desired that our affections might meet His in the dialogue of pure death which rises up into of new life. Easter is all about the pure affection of God in Jesus Christ for the transformation of the cosmos and the transfiguration of all men.
In the course of our journey to Easter we have learned that setting [our] affections on things that are above and not on the things of the earth is no easy business. And yet the distraction or diversion comes not from God but from us. God’s affection and desire for us has never ceased. From deep within His heart, emerging from the ground of Jesus’ incessant passion, the uninterrupted longing of God for our salvation has persisted. The Word has gone out. God’s desire and affection have neither dithered, nor demurred, nor doubted, nor drooped. The Word of God came down from heaven to live in man’s heart. His Good Friday is but one moment in the life that came from God and returns to God.
The common lot of men would have none of it then and will have none of it now. Their affections and desires are always otherwise dominated. Then, mighty engine of Caesar’s Rome could not accommodate the strange passion of a loving God whose affection is set higher and above man’s imagination. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, could not imagine how such love and affection could accommodate their Law and its piety. The fear and the cowardice of men in all ages with the best of intentions are rendered equally powerless in the presence of God’s desire. Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Human affection for God is fickle, unreliable, inconstant, and finally treacherous. Man is fallen.
And yet God responds in the heart of Jesus with a greater love that seeks to draw the hearts of all, even His worst enemies. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) In this, Christ says, Come follow me. Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) Again he is saying, Come follow me. Woman behold thy son…behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 26, 27) Come follow me. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) Come follow me. I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit. (St. Luke xxviii. 46) In Christ’s invitation to follow him, our love grows and expands as sin is swallowed up into Divine Life. Christ dies, and Man dies. Christ is coming alive, and so is Man. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22)
In the beginning God created the heavens and earth…and it was very good. (Genesis i…) And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. (Genesis ii. 2) Holy Saturday is the seventh day. On it Christ rested from the labor of bringing the old creation to an end. In pure affection God made all things, and in pure affection God will remake all things. Christ brings primal Man into death. In the pure affection of self-willed exile, man had desired God’s death. God had given man his desire. As you wish, or As you like it. And so God in Christ endures and suffers this choice. God is dead. Christ is interred, and with Him, it would seem, man’s affection for the things that are above is buried.
Holy Saturday must seem to be an end for those whose hearts fail, for those whose affection and desire for God seem to have died in the Crucified One. There is darkness. There is the death of a love that the world had never known. The affection for things above and beyond which He was, is gone. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. (Genesis i. 2) Darkness and death seem to have swallowed up the Love and extinguished the Light. Death holds hope hostage in its determined grip.
But as we move from the seventh to the first day, something strange begins to happen. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis i. 3,4) In the beginning God lovingly made the light to inform, define, and enliven all of creation. In the same light now, incandescent beams of love will open the eyes of believers’ hearts to a new creation being illuminated by that true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into world. (St. John i. 9) Darkness flees, sin flees, death flees, and ignorance flees as the loving Light emerges from the Resurrected One. The pure affection and eternal desire of the Father of lights has transformed the Son as flesh from death into new life. The old Man is dead and the new Man has come alive.
At first only angels and nature sense the truth of the Light. The elements stir, the air is parted, the fire blazes, the earth shakes and removes all barriers to the ever-beaming Light that is new life. The Father’s immortal, immutable, and immovable course of affection for man’s redemption and salvation will not be impeded. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans vi. 9, 10) The question and answer of the prophet Ezekiel is fulfilled.
Son of man, can these bones live? …And there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, Son of Man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them…(Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-10)
Christ rises from the dead. In Him the Light of God shines through the redeemed and transfigured flesh of Man. The pure affection of the one for the other brings light out of darkness and life out of death. God’s Word speaks from the same Body now transfigured. Christ’s uninterrupted affection for God and Man is one Light that banishes darkness and makes death into new life. Christ is Risen from the dead…Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 20, 22; 1 Cor. v. 7)
But there is more. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) The Apostles and the women are as dead and lifeless, as those without light. But something of the old affection and desire begins to stir within them. On this first day of the week Mary Magdalene travels from the nearly lifeless, lightless tomb of her soul to the place of Jesus’ burial. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live. (Ezekiel. xxxvii. 12-14) She is moved by with what remains of her affection and love for Jesus. She finds the stone rolled away. Her affection and passion for the Light hastens towards an as yet unknown hope. They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. (St. John xx. 2) In the darkness she thinks that Christ’s enemies have stolen the body. John and Peter affectionately and passionately run after this new truth. As Eriugena says, John outruns Peter because contemplation completely cleansed penetrates the inner secrets of the divine workings more rapidly than action still to be purified. John represents contemplation and hope. Peter represents action and faith. But faith must enter the tomb of darkness first, and understanding follows and comes after. (Hom. Gospel of St. John, 283, 285)
God’s uninterrupted affection and desire for all men’s salvation is at work in time and space. Stirring within the hearts of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John is the faith and understanding in the Light that said, I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (St. John xiv. 18, 19) Christ is risen. Soon the Apostles will see Him and begin to live in Him. Christ is risen. In the Resurrected Light that shines through His transfigured flesh, we must remember that we are dead and our life is hid with God in Christ. (Colossians iii. 2,3) In the Resurrected Light, let us reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) In the Resurrected Light let us match Christ’s affection with our own –that affection and desire for becoming very members incorporate in His Risen spiritual and mystical Body, transparent, obedient to His Holy Spirit…apt and natural instruments of His will and way, (The Meaning of Man, Mouroux, p.89) reflecting His Light and Love into the hearts of all others. And with the poet let us rejoice and sing:
Then comes He!
Whose mighty Light
Made His clothes be
Like Heav’n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stained man more white than snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone,
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick than light
(Ascension Hymn: H. Vaughn)
Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar,
and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had
received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head,
and gave up the ghost.
(St. John xix. 29,30)
Jesus the crucified, Jesus the suffering Servant and dying Lord of Good Friday, is betrayed by one, and then denied and abandoned by the others, including all of us. Sin betrays and forsakes God, denies His power, rule, and governance in human life, and abandons Him for the impermanent, temporary, and fleeting pleasures and goods of this world, as important as they might seem. So as we look back on this Good Friday, as Christians, it is our duty to identify with any sin that reveals no acquaintance or familiarity with Jesus Christ. We do this because we desire to repent. And we desire to repent because we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s forgiveness of sins made flesh. And we believe that this forgiveness of sins is fully, perfectly, and truly embodied and communicated through the death of God’s Son on the Tree of Calvary. We believe also that this forgiveness of sins calls us into death, the death of Jesus Christ, and then our deaths. For if we will not die to sin through the forgiveness of sins, beginning here and now, we can never begin to come alive to God the Father through the Risen Christ on Easter Day.
But before we repent we must look into the nature of what Jesus Christ is doing for us when He dies on the Cross of Calvary. St. Paul tells us that by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Romans v. 12) By one man’s disobedience to God, sin and death came to define man’s relation to Him. And so from the time of Adam to Christ all men were oppressed, enslaved, overcome, and even overwhelmed by that power which prevents them from obeying God purely and perfectly. But because Jesus Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins, He takes on and into Himself sin and death and brings their reign and rule over human life to an end. Jesus [humbles] himself and is obedient [to God the Father] unto death, even death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) Thus, through His sacred humanity He brings man’s addiction to the world, the flesh, the devil, and himself to death. Through His Passion and Desire for God, He will overcome Original Sin. Through His enduring Love, He will suffer and withstand the worst and the best that man’s sin can do in order to bring it all to death, and out of it make something much better and new. Sin and death then may try to kill God’s Love in the humanity of Jesus, and they will indeed kill Him in the flesh. They will taunt, tempt, mock, deride, torture and kill God’s Word made flesh. And they will bring His flesh or His manhood to death. But what sin and death cannot kill is the Word of God’s Love in the heart of Jesus that persists and endures through suffering, into death, and then up into new life. For even while dying, Jesus’ forgiveness will begin to make and mold a new humanity, a new manhood, a new Adam whose nature will be shared as the Body of new life for all who believe and follow.
So we come to the vision of Christ crucified. We come to see what sin tries to do to God in the flesh. And to our surprise and amazement we find the forgiveness of sins not as an obscure theological concept but as the life of God Himself in Jesus. For this forgiveness of sins is God’s uninterrupted desire for our salvation. And it is still at work in the heart of the suffering and dying Christ. What do we hear emerging from the lips of the dying Jesus? Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) Father, today they kill me through ignorance, confusion, weakness, and pain; forgive them, for tomorrow they may repent and believe and become our friends. And then we hear: Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) Look Father, this convicted thief dying alongside me has confessed his sin and desires to come and follow me. We have just now won the first new member of the Kingdom we are building. It’s death-bed conversion! And then what? Father, my Mother and dear John are here watching and waiting, dying to become a part my death and new life. Woman, behold thy son!...Disciple, Behold thy mother! (St. John xix. 26, 27) Father, already we have our first two missionaries, members of the new humanity that I am making. My Mother is ready to become the mother of your new spiritual children. My friend, my spiritual brother is ready to become a new spiritual son to the Mother of redemption and salvation. But Jesus continues. Father I am suffering and dying, but they are suffering and dying with me. Strengthen them spiritually now, as I grow weaker and weaker, and my pain and agony grow stronger and stronger. For, Father, the devil is once again on my back. My wounded and lacerated head, hands, and feet are overwhelming and crushing my sense and perception of the outside world that looks and gazes upon me. I am becoming blind, deaf, dumb, withered, and palsied like those I came to heal. I feel the pain of Job, and I hear the words of his wife: Curse God and die. (Job ii. 9) I feel the darkness, the silence, the stillness, even the nothingness enveloping me. Lord I am spent; is there any more for me to do? Father, you, even you, seem to be moving away from me. The deep and mysterious power of sin is attacking me. I sense and feel the nothingness not as that pure potential “about to be” that you and I once made real. I endure man’s rejection of thee my God. I sense the distance between thee and me. ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) I know that you are here, but, ‘why…art thou so far from my health, and from the voice of my complaint? I cry in the day time but thou hearest not: and in [this] night season also I take no rest.’ (Ps. xxii. 1,2) I know that ‘thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness: that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.’ (Ps. li. 8) And so, I gasp for that spiritual drink that will satisfy my soul. ‘I thirst.’ (St. John xix. 28) Yes Lord, there is one more thing for me to do before ‘It is finished’ (Ibid, 30), before ‘I commend my spirit into thy hands.’ (St. Luke xxiii. 46) There is Roman soldier over there, I cannot see him clearly, but he has not moved throughout this my suffering death. He has not taken his eyes off of me. But he is not vengeful or wrathful. He has been looking into my eyes from the beginning. By his own judgment and understanding, he knows that something is terribly wrong. And yet he also sees that something is coming to pass that will be wonderfully right. The seed of faith is growing in his heart. ‘Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.’(Idem, 29, 30) This Roman soldier, perhaps with another, gave Jesus his last sip of wine. Father, I thank you for giving me this drink through him. I thank you for moving him to provide me with the drink that is becoming his own offering of himself through you. Keep him near, my Mother and disciple will need his help in taking me down from this tree and burying me. And through them, let us welcome him into the Body of my Death, which is already becoming the Body of our new Life.
Today we come to the Cross to repent. We come to confess all of the ways in which we have denied, betrayed, and crucified Jesus Christ’s eternal love in our hearts. We come to confess how we have refused to embrace his ever-dying desire to heal, cure, redeem, sanctify, and save us. We come to confess how we have refused to embrace that same desire for all others, when we have criticized, judged, condemned, and failed to forgive those whom Jesus always loves and desires to bring into the Body of His Death and the substance of New Life. In the confession of our sins, we come to die to ourselves, the world, the flesh, and the devil. We come then to Christ’s crucifixion to remember our Baptismal vows and covenant. With St. Paul we remember this:…That so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Romans vi. 4-6)
Today we renew our commitment to die to sin, and this death is the first step towards the New Life we anticipate on Easter Sunday. As we die to sin today, let us now see that our sin is also buried with Christ. And with John Donne, let us ask for loving correction and discipline that only the Master can give, that we might turn from death and burial up and into the new life that Easter Sunday will bring.
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.
(Good Friday: John Donne)
Today we come to the Cross of Good Friday in order to discover the true meaning of Lent in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. I pray that as we quietly and silently look and listen we shall discover what Jesus Christ alone can do for the world. What we must try to penetrate and explore is the love expressed in the crucifixion of our Lord. We shouldn’t be looking for ourselves in the event. That must come later. Suffice it to say that sin, our sin, has brought Jesus to His Cross. So at the outset, we ought to pray for the courage to confess our guilt and to subject ourselves to the punishment that Jesus metes out to us today. Our sin wants God, His Word, and His Spirit far removed from human life. So today we shall be blessed and honored with a bird’s eye view of its success. The Word of God in the flesh is tortured brutally and eliminated swiftly. Sin kills God in the human flesh. But more significantly God allows sin to attempt to kill His being in His Word made flesh, His Son as flesh, in order that on the battlefield of human life, He might respond to it.
What most men doesn’t understand yet is that Christ it taking our sin, its creator Satan, and their desired end in death, into Himself in order to re-commission them into the service of salvation. If mortal men ever could have found a way to face evil and use it for the good, he would never have fallen. Christ alone can foment this sabotage and subversiveness. St. Paul reminds us that, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3. 5), and, by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2. 8-9). Or as Article XI insists: We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by faith, and not for our own works or deservings. Jesus Christ alone can entice sin, death, and Satan into His web of love in order to overturn and overcome than control of all men.
So we must come to the Cross today, first as those whose sin kills God. Christ Jesus is our enemy. He is God’s Word made flesh. He has said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (St. Luke ix. 23) His threat to the customary possession of a safe and predictable worldly happiness is proof that He intends to kill not only the big sins, which we pride ourselves in having forsaken, but the little ones too. Jesus questions our respectable conformity and acquiescence to the unclean, unholy, and unrighteous world that surrounds us. His light and love will demand spiritual death to all but His Father’s will in our souls. Jesus opens up those chilly horizons beyond death, when we shall be stripped of achievements, hobbies, comforts, and possessions, and left with nothing to live upon but love of God and man. (Farrer: Lord I Believe; Cowley, p. 52) We are so conscientious about keeping what we have and securing more of it. And yet Christ says that, Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? (St. Luke ix. 24,25) Jesus asks us to see that our determination to put the happiness of our temporal lives before the demands of His love is crucifixion.
All sin tries to eliminate God from the world. It has its reward. (St. Matthew vi. 2) What we must see is that God’s Word will not be frustrated from running its course through suffering, into death, and beyond, to offer fallen man a chance to be saved. We may make Jesus Christ our enemy, but He forever remains true to Himself. He is always God’s love for all mankind. In fact, He is always God’s love in mankind, in the flesh of His Son. He is that love of God that understands, comprehends, and experiences fully all of man’s temptation to make an enemy out of God. Thus in the loving heart of Jesus Christ, Man’s alienation from God is endured perfectly in every conceivable spiritual state. His identification with our humanity demands that the effects of sin be felt purely in the whole of His being. We love God, because he first loved us (1 John 4. 19), and in this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) and not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son [to be] the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) Within His heart then, fallen man’s experience of God will be embraced through suffering and yet that alienation will be overcome and brought to death. For in the end, anything and everything separating man from God- sadness, loneliness, frustration, confusion, uncertainty, fear, and even despair, will be brought into death. Out of their powerlessness Christ will lovingly sew the seeds of salvation and deliverance.
Let us listen to Cardinal Von Balthasar’s summary of the Crucifixion.
Jesus, the Crucified, endures our inner darkness and estrangement from God, and he does so in our place. It is all the more painful for Him, the less He has merited it. As we have already said, there is nothing familiar about it to Him: it is utterly alien and full of horror. Indeed, He suffers more deeply than an ordinary man is capable of suffering, even were he condemned and rejected by God, because only the incarnate Son knows who the Father really is and what it means to be deprived of Him, to have lost Him (to all appearances) forever. It is meaningless to call this suffering “hell”, for there is no hatred of God in Jesus, only a pain that is deeper and more timeless than the ordinary man could endure either in his lifetime or after His death. (Sermon for Good Friday)
Love takes on our darkness and estrangement from God. Love that is the Light and Life feels the pain more acutely than any man can because He has not earned or merited this condition. Because Love that is the Light and Life knows God perfectly, it will be utterly broken for all men who do not. He will lovingly endure the pain of a broken heart until He can overcome sin and open up to man the gates of everlasting life once again. For we must never forget that this is the light that has shined in darkness, and the darkness overcame it not. (St. John i. 5) Amen.
Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani: My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? (St Matt. xxvii. 46)
We come on this Good Friday to the fourth series of words uttered by Christ from the Cross. They are to be sure the most difficult words that Jesus- or perhaps anyone, has ever uttered. They strike us as wrong, precisely because they seem so dangerously close to despair. And yet they are not the cry of despair, but of alienation, dereliction, and abandonment. These words reveal the deepest spiritual pain that Christ as Man can feel. You will notice that Christ is not speaking into the void of nothingness. Rather He turns to the one and only source of reality, God the Father, in a cry of painful helplessness. This is the summary of the long, dark night of the soul. The soul can turn to nothing for comfort other than God himself. And though God is perceived as distant and unmoving, Christ does cry My God, My God.
God’s distance and silence are indeed part of the process of salvation. Here is the sense of utter dependence upon God when He does not respond. O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou [wilt].(St. Matthew 26. 39), He prayed in his agony in the garden. But God must accomplish His will in Jesus. And so Jesus endures what for all other men is unendurable. The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness overcame it not. (St. John 1. 5) The light flickers, trembles, quivers and quakes and yet does not yield to despair. The light flickers and trembles because the loving Christ has taken into his heart the experience of every man, woman, and child who has ever felt forsaken, abandoned, and rendered powerless. In the heart of Jesus, mankind’s last and final temptation to surrender to the void, to choose the meaninglessness of nothingness is taken on. Jesus experiences humanity’s predicament to the full. He endures a final temptation to sin against the Holy Ghost. And yet he does not yield. He is tempest tossed, nearly overwhelmed, and yet He sings the song of the Psalmist:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death…They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones…
Jesus confesses the pain and agony of being forsaken as He resists the evil one and cleaves to His Father. Romano Guardini sums up what is at work here beautifully. He writes:
God followed man…into the no man’s land which sin had ripped open. God not only glanced down at him and summoned him lovingly to return; He personally entered into that vacuous dark to fetch him, as St. John powerfully expresses it in his opening Gospel. Thus in the midst of human history stood one was both human and God. Pure as God, but bowed with responsibility as man. He drank the dregs of that responsibility- down to the bottom of the chalice. Mere man cannot do this. Man is so much smaller than his sin against God, that he can neither contain it nor cope with it. He can commit it, but he is incapable of fully realizing what he has done. He cannot measure his act; cannot receive it into his life and suffer it through to the end… It confuses him, leaves him desperate but helpless. God alone can ‘handle’ sin. Only he sees through it, weighs it, judges it with a judgment that condemns the sin but loves the sinner… Through the Incarnation a being came into existence who though human in form, realized God’s own attitude toward sin. In the heart and spirit and body of a man, God straightened his accounts with sin. The process was contained in the life and death of Jesus Christ.
Christ is alone now. He has forgiven His enemies. He has welcomed a new friend into the journey of death, which includes His mother and her new son. Now he is alone.The more perfect the Life, the more severe is the sense of its loss. But Jesus wills to be cut down in order that he may grow up. His desire has been to be nothing less than the will of God made flesh. This demands death not only to sin, suffering, and pain but also to any being other than God. He cannot help man fully unless he endures man’s death to himself completely. So Jesus must surrender the good flesh that He has used to express God’s will to all other men. The climax of separation from His old self, as perfect as it was, compels the cry, My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me? (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) The sheer pain and agony of any division between His soul and His flesh is almost unbearable. He has loved his neighbor, as himself. He has loved the self that was nothing but a pure gift from God. But His flesh was nothing if it did not endure the collision between bearing God’s love and man’s sin at once. In holding to the one, He would now completely conquer the other. Had he clung to his flesh, he would have gone down in history as the world’s greatest fool. Man and his sin, which Jesus holds in His forgiving heart, must die.
Jesus Christ stands at the door of Hell. Hell is the punishment for those who despair of God’s goodness. Those who despair do not cry out, My God, My God. With Matthew Arnold, they lament the loss of retreating faith, the disappearance, they say, of God.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
But those who learn to be exiled, banished, emptied, alone, and dead to all else can and will sing out My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me because Jesus has faced the horror and endured the pain. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. (St. Matthew v. 3)
The earth and all of creation can offer Him nothing now. Out of the nothingness, that He has in a way become, He must turn again to the light that makes new life. The created universe is dark and at a standstill because as yet it awaits God’s response to the omnipresent agony, the total and complete experience of darkness by primal Man himself. Man is nothing but what God will make Him again.
For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
neither hath He hid his face from Him;
but when He cried unto Him, He heard.
THE FIRST WORD:
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34)
Here we are at Golgotha, on Calvary, on Good Friday, as the Son of God, Jesus Christ, dies, hanging on a tree. Jesus Christ, the God-Man, has never left His Father’s side, and will not begin to do so now. We are in his presence, but because we are confused, bewildered, uncertain over why He must die, He seems more distant than ever. He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts x. 38) He is unjustly accused, and yet we remember that He said that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders….(St. Luke ix. 22) His body writhes and flails in response to the unmerited torture and pain, Nevertheless He cleaves to His Father, who has a few more words for Jesus to utter before He dies and gives His life a ransom for many. (St. Matthew xx. 28)
He never spoke without the Father’s inspiration while living, and He will not begin to do so even while dying. Through the unimaginable pain and suffering, especially that of His soul and spirit, veiled and hidden from man’s experience, He continues to hear the Father. He listens in the midst of the darkness and from His heart emerges true light. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (St. John i. 4) His Father bids Him pray for others. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) Praying for others means hoping for their salvation and deliverance. Praying for those who are torturing and killing you reveals incandescent light and perfect love. He taught us all how to pray: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. (St. Matthew vi. 12) He insisted also that if we do not forgive others their trespasses against us, neither will our Heavenly Father forgive us our trespasses against Him. (St. Matthew vi. 15) Love ye your enemies, and do good…Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you… .(St. Luke vi. 35-38) And so even now, Jesus asks for the forgiveness of His enemies. Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34)
But the death of Jesus seems not only wrong and unnecessary but also absolutely unforgiveable. How can this sin be forgivable? We remember His words, Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come, (St. Matthew xii. 32) O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? (St. Luke xxiv. 26) Those who kill the Son of God ignorantly can be forgiven; those who fail to hope in the Holy Ghost cannot.
So Jesus asks forgiveness for those who know not what they do. (Ibid) He begs pardon and mercy for those who have secured His death because they did it out of ignorance. He is petitioning forgiveness for the Romans, the Jewish Sanhedrin, and those who will facilitate His suffering and death. There is a sense in which this forgiveness extends to all who don’t realize that fallen man sins and that sin is a determination to kill God’s Word and will in human life. When most men sin they don’t realize what they are doing or that they are even sinning. They think that are pursuing and perfecting the good, as they know it. And so they spend their lives unwittingly judging God’s Word to be guilty and then proceeding to kill it. In general then, most men –and especially the contemporary variety, are so possessed of an adolescent mindset that the thought of what Jesus said and did is positively disruptive, distracting, and destructive to the pursuit of the selfish self’s happiness and comfort. In fact fallen man judges what Jesus has done to be evil and worthy of death. Why? He confronts and challenges the very roots and causes of earthly man’s quest for happiness and perfection. He tells us that truth is not relative absolutely nor is it relative in relation to our particular narcissistic pursuits. He tells us that truth what God the Father reveals through His Word and to the world through His Holy Spirit. So because men think that any challenge to the comfortable mantra Truth is Relative is evil, they kill it ignorantly. And He forgives them.
Jesus teaches us that we must forgive our enemies because only then shall we not be sinning against hope that the Holy Ghost will save all men. Evil has no power. He is about to reveal this to the world in His immanent death, burial, and resurrection. And if it can secure no lasting claim from the Son of God, it shouldn’t have any power over us either. Even if evil wills and secures man’s torture, suffering, and death, it has only as much power as man gives to it. But, you protest, what if they enslave, torture, maim, brutalize, and kill innocent people –usually our relatives and friends…for we don’t care so much for the others? Jesus says a man’s foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. (St. Matthew x. 36-38) So we should agree with our adversary quickly while we are in the way with him! (St. Matthew v. 25) And what He wants to teach us is that Satan and his vices must never, ever sever us from the victory of good over evil that He is accomplishing for us. If we love anyone or anything more than God’s Wisdom and Love made flesh in Jesus Christ, then we are His enemies. If we do not forgive our enemies, we are His enemies. He that is not with me is against me. (St. Matthew xii. 30)
Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (Ibid) We have been the enemies of Jesus Christ who is the forgiveness of sins. We have not embraced this principle in our lives. We know this. We cannot claim ignorance. If we know Him, we had better repent of acting as if we didn’t. Pilate, Herod, Caiphas, and Annas stand a better chance of reaching the Kingdom than those who sin knowingly. Today let us wake up to the truth of our unfaithfulness. Let us forgive all our enemies. As we gaze on the Cross, in the words of Father Neuhaus, Let us fix our eyes on the dying derelict who is the Lord of Life. Let us look at the One who is everything that we are and everything that we are not, the One who is true man and true God. Let us love God more than love of our friends or the hatred of our enemies. Let us look upon Jesus Christ and pray that we shall cease to be His enemies because we do know better. Amen.
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 Christ. With the Apostles 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. The Apostles have been following Jesus for some three years, and they have experienced the hand of God extended to them and others through the life of their Master. 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 impending doom –of suffering, and death. Perhaps if the Apostles were anything like you and me they might have been too afraid to confront what was not yet known. On this night they live in darkness, darkness proceeds against Jesus, and only hints and intimations of Light brush their collective conscience.
But what we observe tonight can never be severed from the seamless robe of Jesus Christ’s life and mission. His signs and the wonders had been performed in order to lead to a deeper truth that is about to unfold before our very eyes. The power of God is with and in Jesus. It has generated all manner of goodness that will continue to overcome all evil. Its fullest manifestation will be revealed from the the Cross of tomorrow. Jesus has been tempted to reject His Father’s will and way, He has refused it resolutely and will do so to the end. God’s Grace defines every moment of His mission. God’s desire will unfold in every act of His choosing. The Father desires the Son, and the Son the Father. Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee. (St. John xvii. 1) The two move as One for man’s redemption. Through Jesus, God has declared His Word of promise. Through Jesus He has expressed His work of salvation. Through Jesus God will faithfully fulfill His will. His power in Jesus has opened blind eyes to see, unloosed tied tongues to talk, and freed the lame legs to walk. His wisdom has lain in parables awaiting elicitation from the minds of earnest seekers. Jesus has never denied the today of God’s light and love, and tonight He carries it into the darkness.
So tonight we remember the Last Supper that Jesus shares with His friends before He marches on into suffering and death. Christ has eaten a Passover supper with His friends. He has broken bread and poured out wine, offered it to his friends, and promised that they would become His Body and his Blood. For now what it means remains hidden and obscure to His disciples. The Word is heard; understanding of it must wait. What Jesus did and said, He offered as a friend. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. (St. John xv. 14, 15) Bread is broken and wine is outpoured. Tomorrow a Body will be broken and Blood will flow. The two acts will not be divided in the end. The one shall become the other as God’s love in Jesus Christ expands and enlarges.
Tonight the Body –soon to be broken into and pierced, stoops down to wash and to cleanse the dirty feet of His disciples. In the today of God’s nearness Christ Jesus reveals to us that a true friend elevates His soul mate, waits upon him, ensures His wellbeing. Jesus always serves His friends. He is the One who leaps down from the high Heaven of His Father’s eternal today in order to wash, purify, and cleanse those whom He loves. Tonight Jesus waits upon his friends. Tomorrow He will do the same in another way. 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 Christ, is but one revelation coming from the loving heart of the Father and shown forth in the compassion and kindness of His Son. Tonight is tender and tame. Tomorrow will callous and cruel.
But there is more to the today of God’s nearness that we should see and grasp before we move from the Last Supper to Good Friday. What Jesus does is who He is, as the desire of God’s today. Who Jesus is, is what He intends we should become. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet…These things I command you, that ye love one another. (St. John xiii. 14, xv. 17) 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 does both, that first the body and then the soul are washed in the purifying power of His Word. Then we must do the same to all others.
On this night we share either in the Apostles’ ignorance, confusion, and wonder, or in one man’s betrayal. Jesus does what he does and we have no part of him if He does it not. Jesus comes to wash our feet, and, with Peter, we might react with horrified astonishment that yields to proud resistance. Lord, thou shalt never wash my feet. (St. John xiii. 8) Our instinct is to refuse to see what God must so that we might be saved. We prefer a distant and unapproachable God; such a God is easier to endure. We prefer a God who does not muddy His garments with the filth and corruption of earthly existence. Our sense is that the Holy Word of God should never stoop down to the level of our sinfulness. God is high, we are low; the Master should never condescend to become a 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)
If we do not allow Him to wash us, we are certainly not going to let Him die for us. This is how St. Peter is thinking, and will pay the price for both tomorrow. But we do need Jesus to do these things for us. The outward and visible sign of God’s service today will move into Christ’s dying heart tomorrow. The question is whether we will open ourselves up to this washing and cleansing, which we, as fallen men, so desperately need. Will we realize that God’s stooping down in Jesus Christ is nothing short of bearing our burden, taking on our condition, and working within it to make us well and right with God? Will we begin to understand that God in Jesus Christ alone can endure and withstand our sinful pride, envy, wrath, murder, sloth, indifference, greed, and lust and change forever their power and meaning in our lives? Will our eyes be opened to the fact that our sin has willed His death? For sin is nothing other than the will to silence and kill God in time and space, to deny His presence, to resist His power, to banish His love, and to ignore His wisdom. Sin, in other words, refuses to accept the truth. The truth is that we need Jesus. Pretending that we or our loved ones don’t, gives way to the lie that we are already perfect or at least good enough. With Judas, we shall sell Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and betray Him. He is not what we expected Him to be, which is as much as saying that He does not wait upon us to fulfill our desires and promote our earthly happiness. For Judas, Jesus is not invited to wash and cleanse but only to fulfill human expectations. For the others, Jesus as suffering servant is the Lord and Ruler of the universe whose service to man alone brings about salvation.
Will we start to realize that God in Christ must die to our sin, die at the hands of our sin, die for our sin, and that then, and only then, can He begin to shape and mold us into the new human beings that He has always meant for us to become? Will we begin to see that His death is offered at our service because He wants to love us into that life that leads back to the Father’s everlasting embrace? Will we start to realize with Jean Mouroux that, out of a means of destruction He made the very means of life; of a punishment the means of healing; of an annihilation the means to a resurrection? (The Meaning of Man, p. 88) Will we see at last that Christ chose His destiny as suffering and dying servant for you and for me, and that at the source of this choice, there lay a measureless love, a love that never hesitated, never drew back, never murmured; a love on the contrary that accepted, desired, and bore with everything? (Ibid, 89)
Tonight I pray that we begin to realize that it is God in Jesus who hungers and thirsts, longs and desires for our salvation. Over and against those who refuse Him is the Lord who loves, who stoops down, who tends to and cares for, who forgives and hopes for every man’s deliverance and salvation. 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. Let me die for you, and you too shall die. Let me rise for you, and you too shall rise. My Body will be your body. My Spirit will be your spirit. My flesh and blood will forever expand and enlarge to desire and delight you have never imagined. I am God’s light and love for you; come and live in me. 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. Come follow me, and through you, others will follow too, as they discover how ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (Rev. xxi. 5) Amen.
God's Will is His Word. His Word rules and governs, informs and defines, and moves all things to their appointed ends. Man too is being moved to His appointed end. And yet what shall that end be? In one way it is the same for all. First there is the death of the physical body. But are we just bodies with ungovernable and pre-determined appetites? No. God respects us more that that. He respects and even honors our intellect and free will so perfectly that He wishes to reward us with what we want. If we have not wanted Him, we shall not be forced to have Him. Life without God, removed from His presence, is called Hell. You can't complain once you are there, since this is what you have spent your life accumulating -an existence without God! God respects your freedom of choice! If we want Him, and have tried our best to repent and embrace His truth, beauty, and goodness throughout our lives, He shall welcome us into His embrace.
Of course, God isn't stupid and so He knows that we are not either. Embracing His way means that we not only believe in Him, but are so completely overawed by His truth, beauty, and goodness, that we come to know that they alone can ensure our return to Him. Knowing God comes through His Son Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ we find His truth made flesh. But there is more. God's truth is His love for us. He loves us to the point of giving Himself completely to us in the suffering and death of Jesus. Why must the Son suffer and die for us? Because it is the only way back to God. Men have tried doing it on their own for centuries, only to fall flat on their faces. To be reconciled to God, we must admit that we are powerless. We are powerless to help, heal, and save ourselves. It takes God's Son to do what we cannot do. In God's Son alone, our sin, our suffering, our death are transformed. No longer do they reveal the final judgment on man’s condition and destiny. Now they can become the triggers and catalysts for new life. Sin, impotence, and death can be faced courageously and defied and destroyed by the righteousness, strength, and new life of Jesus Christ. Death can be swallowed up into life's new hope and future. Satan can be banished to the Hell he has desired and deserves. With some insightful cleverness and wisdom, he might even be seen as what we have sometimes wanted but now reject because we want God and we want Him forever.
Let us, in this Holy Week, choose God in Jesus Christ. Let us learn, however, that if we hope to be with Him forever, we must lose all rights to ourselves in order to find ourselves in Him and in all other men. Let us, in other words, suffer and die in the loving outstretched arms of our Savior, because we have lost ourselves and want to find them in the illuminating wisdom of His uninterrupted forgiveness. Let us remain held tight in His passionate embrace as He brings our old selfish selves to death. Let us move through our death into the new and promising land of Resurrection. So let us remember always that the road back to God is paved with the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the forgiveness of sins. If we do not forgive, we shall not be forgiven, and don't want God. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Romans v. 10)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons