This is thankworthy, that if a man for conscience endure grief,
(1 St. Peter ii. 19)
Our Epistle reading for The Second Sunday after Easter, taken from St. Peter’s First Letter, continues our Easter tide theme of suffering. Last week we meditated upon how suffering and death are necessary components of Resurrection and new life. So today we continue to see how the ancient Church Fathers, who chose the readings for our liturgical season, had some deeper truth in mind when they chose our readings for Easter-tide. I believe that they wanted to be honest with us about what Resurrection entails. They wanted us to remember that human life, as joyously focused on Christ’s Resurrection as it should be, is more honestly experienced as a life in tension between dying on the one hand and rising on the other. What I mean is that the Church Fathers knew only too well that for the prudent and cautious pilgrim life involves spiritual warfare – a real battle between dying to sin and rising into righteousness.
So, this Sunday the Church Fathers ask us to understand again that suffering is a good and virtuous part of a greater whole. Last week we spoke of how Christ’s Peace comes to us in order to convey and express the forgiveness of sins, and an invitation into new life. Today we learn that the process of its possession involves something which we are inclined to ignore, neglect, or fall away from when left to our own natural desires. St. Peter tells us this morning, For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. (1 St. Peter ii. 19,20) St. Peter knows that Christ has offered to us that Peace that conquers and overcomes our spiritual resistance and obduracy to it. He knows, too, that the Lord extends to us what amounts to the forgiveness of sins, whose reception must be so gratefully received and then offered to others. Christ’s Peace and Forgiveness overwhelmed and overcame the Apostles. What they neither anticipated, imagined, nor deserved began to grow in their hearts and their souls. Christ has risen from the dead; Resurrection means not only God’s forgiveness of man but man’s forgiveness of man. For I have given you an example, that ye should do [to one another] as I have done to you. (St. John xiii. 15)
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. (Ibid, 15) The message is clear, by well doing, by forgiving, by praying, by blessing, by hoping -by suffering these virtues to come alive in his soul, the Christian is to stand out in the pagan world as one whose life reveals how good overcomes evil, mercy vanquishes cruelty, benevolence banishes malevolence, hope crushes despair, and light dispells darkness. Yet, St. Peter acknowledges that this will be difficult. He writes his Epistle to a community which is struggling to overcome evil with good, or, more specifically, to suffer Christ’s Resurrected goodness to overcome all and every form of evil that stubbornly and resentfully resists the Gospel. St. Peter does not pretend that Christians are not engaged in spiritual warfare; but he does seem intent upon directing their attention to the spiritual battle against evil in their own souls, and away from the evil that others might visit upon them. The failure to love and forgive on the outside is always a deflective measure designed to protect the self from the needful confrontation of one’s own demons!
St. Peter reminds his flock and us today that Christ Jesus was the one Person in history who understood and underwent this struggle completely and perfectly, and unlike any other. St. Peter tells us that Jesus himself, our God and our Brother, took upon and into Himself the effect of sin in suffering and death, despite the fact that he did not sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously. (1 St. Peter ii. 22,23) In a radical and real way the wrongful presence and seeming power of evil in our world tortured and killed Jesus Christ. And yet He suffers its effects with the love that penetrates the heart of darkness. He did not render evil for evil, because He died to sin –both to its meaninglessness and to its malice. For in suffering and enduring sin’s assault, He carried it into its proper end, i.e. death. Within Himself, the goodness, the love, the compassion, the pity, and the forgiveness of sins remained and prevailed: who in 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 you were healed; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. (Ibid, 24,25)
What the Apostles realized long ago was that Jesus Christ, the Crucified One, rose up on Easter Day as the Wounded Healer. What they began to realize slowly but surely was that this same Jesus who had forgiven men from the Cross, was now standing before them as the Good Shepherd, whose Peace and Forgiveness would shepherd them and others into the Father’s everlasting care and embrace. In the parable that He uses in this morning’s Gospel lesson, Jesus likens himself to both the door and the Good Shepherd who longs to carry us through it to the Father’s eternal presence. We can become His sheep if we begin to know His love and submit to his care. Austin Farrer explains Jesus’ words in this way:
What does he say? A man cares naturally for his own things. He does not have to make himself care. The shepherd who has bought the ground and fenced the fold and tended the lambs, whose own the sheep are to keep or to sell, cares for them. He would run some risk, rather than see them mauled; if he had only a heavy stick in his hand, he would beat off the wolf…He says that he cares for us as no one else can, because we are his. We do not belong to any other man; we belong to him. His dying for us in this world is the natural effect of his unique care. It is the act of our Creator. (Weekly Paragraphs for the Holy Sacrament: Easter II)
We do not belong to any other man, Dr. Farrer insists. He might have added that we do not belong, truly, to this world, to the flesh, and certainly not to the devil. He is saying that we belong to God. And to belong to God we must come to know him through His Son and Word. We cannot come to know our Heavenly Father again without the Peace and Forgiveness enfleshed in the saving life of Jesus. If we begin to open our hearts to His gifts of Peace and Forgiveness, we shall begin to know that we belong to Christ. But we protest: All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every man to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah liii. 6) True enough. And if we leave it at that, we will be worshipping Jesus a dead and tragic hero. But He responds to our sin. He rises up and calls us forward. I am the Good Shepherd, and I give my life for my sheep…I am the Good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known by them. (St. John x. 11, 14) Jesus tells us that He knows us. He knows who we are and what we need. He gives His life for us, not only in His dying but also in His rising. He has killed sin, death, and Satan so that in and through His loving care we might rise up out of it all. His desire for us is constant and promises salvation if we come to know and embrace Him. Death did not destroy His desire, nay rather it is a necessary component of new life that Christ the New Man offers to us. The Father desired that death should be made good in the demise of His Son. Jesus the Good Shepherd was carrying us on His shoulders into our death. Jesus the Good Shepherd now carries all men on His shoulders up and into a life as suffering becomes something new. To love is to suffer. Jesus’ suffering for us is that virtous Personal loving energy that enables us to die and to rise. We can begin to know Him, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, and that though [we] walk through the valley and shadow of death, [we] shall fear no evil, for [he] is with us, [his] rod and staff comfort [us]…, and that [He even] prepares a table before us in the presence of [our] enemies; [He] anoints [our] head with oil; [our] cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. xiii. 4-end)
Today, my friends, as we continue to wend our way through Easter tide, let us always remember that, indeed, we have erred and strayed from [Christ’s ways]like lost sheep. And yet He knows this, for we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. (Ps. c. 3) We belong to Him and He suffers now to find and rescue us that He might restore us to our Heavenly Father. So, as Cardinal Newman says:
Let us not be content with ourselves; let us not make our own hearts our home, or this world our home, or our friends our home; let us look out for a better country, that is, a heavenly. Let us look out for Him who alone can guide us to that better country; let us call heaven our home, and this life a pilgrimage; let us view ourselves, as sheep in the trackless desert, who, unless they follow the Shepherd, will be sure to lose themselves, sure to fall in with the wolf. We are safe while we keep close to Him, and under His eye; but if we suffer Satan to gain an advantage over us, woe to us!... Blessed are we who resolve—come good, come evil, come sunshine, come tempest, come honour, come dishonour—that He shall be our Lord and Master, their King and God!... and with David, that in "the valley of the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil, for He is with us, and that His rod and His staff comfort us…(The Shepherd of Our Souls) Amen.
As my Father has sent me, so send I you. (St. John xx. 21)
You and I have just come off of an intense Holy Week and Easter when we tried to walk with Jesus Christ from His suffering, Passion, and Death into the first intimations of His Resurrection. You will remember that last week we left Saints Mary Magdalene, John, and Peter having found the Empty tomb. Christ Jesus had not yet appeared to them, and so with them, our faith wondered and pondered what all of this might mean. What they did not know, and what we often forget, is that Christ was already working on their souls and preparing their hearts for His bodily manifestation to them. Christ is always working on our souls and preparing us for deeper union and communion with Himself. And as we slowly begin to move through the Forty Days of Easter, we shall, I pray begin to sense and perceive the meaning of His Resurrection for us. I say for us, because Jesus Christ is God the Father’s desire for us made flesh. And in Eastertide, that desire will radically alter and forever change our understanding of what it means to be risen with Christ.
But, to be sure, as this was no easy task for the Apostles, so it will not be for us. Just imagine what the Apostles must have been thinking when they endured the time of Jesus’ departure from them after Good Friday. Why, if only He were here, we might be able to express our sorrow, shame, and guilt over having abandoned, denied, and betrayed Him, they must have thought. Then He might forgive and heal us, as He had done so many times before. Then their minds might have jumped to the Empty Tomb wondering if God had taken Jesus back to Heaven like Elijah and Moses, as they were assembled behind the doors for fear of the Jews.(St. John xx. 19) And to be sure there was Mary Magdalene’s account of how she had seen Him, after having thought He was the gardener. (Ibid, 15) Perhaps she was mistaken, and it was the gardener! She claimed that she approached Him, but He told her not to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to the Father. (Ibid, 17) She must have imagined it and seen a ghost. Her love for Him was, after all, rather exaggerated, and the mind can do strange things through wishful thinking. So, though she returns to them, and tells her tale, the Apostles remain tremulous, timorous, and apprehensive. And then, lo and behold, 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) How did He enter this upper room, they wondered with utter astonishment? The door was bolted shut. Yet, no sooner had He entered than He shewed them His hands and His side. (Ibid) To be sure this was the Lord, for His presence was palpable and tangible. They saw clearly that He was with them, though they didn’t know how. He proclaimed Peace to them all, and then slowly but surely the scales fall from their eyes, and they began to see clearly that the Lord had risen from the dead. Needless to say, the Apostles must have been flummoxed and bewildered with near incredulity. Yet, they were overcome and overtaken by some union and cohesion of the Divine and human, the supernatural and the natural, God and man in the Lord Jesus. For here surely is a Divine Being who can walk through shut doors yet in the body bearing the marks and scars of the Crucified Man.
Yet, this Risen Christ wastes no time with calling His friends into the new life that they witness and endure. The life which bears the marks of His suffering and death, continues the work that He was born to commence and complete. He says, 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. 21-22) It is as if He picks up and continues His mission to them, from that time when he had left off to go to His suffering and death. And yet their emerging faith, their knowledge and love seem to be growing in the face of this Resurrected Jesus’ wounds and His scars. Thus, slowly but surely, what begins to be believed, embraced, and understood by the Apostles is the fact that Christ’s death on the Cross is somehow taken into this His Resurrection appearance to them. The fact is echoed this morning in St. John’s First Epistle. There we read that 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? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 St. John v. 4-6) The temptation has always and ever will be to worship a Divine Jesus only, or the one who was baptized with water by John Baptist in Jordan said, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. (St. John i.33) But St. John the Evangelist tells us that He came not by water only, but by water and blood. (Idem) The Resurrected Jesus whom the Apostles begin to believe and follow is one who comes to cleanse all men from sin and guilt in that fountain opened for sin and all uncleanness, the precious blood of the Lamb of God, slain to take away the sins of the world. ( Prayers…, B. Jenks, p.225) What the Apostles begin to believe and grasp is that this Resurrected Jesus Christ is not merely God, but God as Man who has suffered and borne the punishment for the sins of the whole world. The impression that strikes them most is that Christ’s suffering and death are taken up and incorporated into His Resurrection and new life. And Christ imparts this truth to them not merely by manifesting and revealing the wounds in His Resurrected Body. From the external and visible He draws them into the inward and spiritual. As the Father had sent Him, so He will send the Apostles. (St. John xx. 21) And so, He breathes on them that they might receive…the [first wave] of the Holy Ghost’s (Ibid, xx. 22) transformation of their lives.
Notice that this first wave reveals the forgiveness of sins. Christ will indeed impart the Holy Ghost to them in phases and stages. What comes first is sending the Apostles out equipped with the forgiveness of sins through the Spirit of the Crucified One. Christ sends His friends out into the world by sharing and imparting His Holy Spirit to them. The Holy Spirit incorporates them into that suffering and death which have established the forgiveness of sins. Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. (St. Luke xxiv. 29) The Spirit has infused the marks of His victory over sin into His new Body. Through the Spirit that He imparts to them, they can participate in His defeat of sin, death, and Satan. In His gift, they must receive the forgiveness of sins if the victory is to be effective. He has forgiven them and will forgive others. What the Apostles must remember, as St. Paul writes later, is that when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly…and that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us…and that 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.(Romans v. 6,8,10) The point is that Christ becomes the forgiveness of sins for all who will embrace this reality as the wellspring and catalyst for the journey into salvation. Of course, some will receive it and some will not. Jesus says to the Apostles, whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. (Ibid, 23) Sins are only retained for those who do sense the need for the forgiveness of sins through the death of God’s only-begotten Son upon the Cross.
But before we conclude, let me come back to a point which we touched upon earlier. We said that Christ is sending the Apostles as the Father has sent him…through the Holy Ghost [whom] he breathes [upon them.](Idem) Here Christ begins to include them in His mission which is the new life of His Resurrection. Again, this mission and new life emerge and proceed from His Resurrected Body that bears the marks of his suffering and death. The Apostles and all of us who would become members of Jesus Christ’s Resurrected Body must bear the marks of suffering and death. We must thus become those who will suffer and die daily to all that stands between us and God’s will made flesh in Jesus Christ. We must suffer to embrace the Grace that overcomes our sins, bringing to death whatever stands between us and God. Only in so doing do we become members of the Resurrected Body of Jesus Christ. Also, we must suffer and endure the world’s rejection of this truth. The world won’t like it one bit. For then, only in suffering to die to ourselves can we help others to bring their suffering in sin to Jesus Christ for death and burial. Only then can we share the good news of the forgiveness of sins with the world. Then we shall know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to His purpose. (Romans viii. 28) And that in the end, though we be tempted by [earthly] excesses or any lusts of the flesh, we shall not feast on the meat that perishes, nor sink the vessel [of our Resurrected body] that is carrying us over to the blessed Land of Promise. (Ibid, Jenks, p. 371) Amen.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above,
Where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on
Things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life
Is hid with Christ in God.
(Col. 3. 1-3)
There is something rather strange about our Easter Epistle, which was addressed by St. Paul to the Church at Colossae, a small Phrygian city in Asian Minor. For no sooner has Christ appeared to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, James and all the Apostles, to some five hundred, to Stephen before his martyrdom, and lastly to Paul as one born out of due season (1 Cor. 15. 8) than He disappears and returns to His hidden state, with the Father in Heaven. And St. Paul seems to suggest that man is back to having a relationship with the hidden God. Your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) He did say that, didn’t he? But what does he mean by it? Surely, he is not advocating what passes for most as real religion and Christian experience these days? Plainly, he is not urging us onwards towards some kind of private affair, a hidden relationship, between you and a god who keeps your life hid within himself never to be challenged, questioned, or called to account by Mother Church or your fellow Christians. Nor can he be calling us to the kind of a la carte religion that picks and chooses what it wants, when it wants, and how it wants in order to ward off unwelcome advances by an intrusive and overly interested God?
No, this is not what St. Paul is suggesting at all. Rather, what he has in mind is a kind of hiddenness that points to an unbreakable intimacy and communion with God. The word is not pejorative but positive. For St. Paul, being hid with Christ in God (Idem) points to a relationship whose nature and value are known fully by Christ and shall be discovered by us progressively if we see to find the secret of it. He makes the conclusion because of the radical belief that Christ indeed has already taken our lives within Himself back to the Father. And this is not to say merely that He has Risen and Ascended to God as a kind of occult medium between man and God in general. This is no paranormal mystical movement, no cosmic sentimental syrup for New Age superstitious slothful slugs. No, indeed, St. Paul means that Christ has returned human life to the God the Father for the beginning of a relationship whose bond cannot be broken by any created principality, power, or dominion. To put it more exactly, because He has lovingly taken our old fallen nature into death, now He raises it up and returns it to God forever. Because He has taken it up again, enlivened it, and returned it to a place where no harm can happen unto it, St. Paul says rightly that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Idem) But more importantly for St. Paul, Christ has taken us into Himself, and in the scars and wounds which He exposes in the hands and feet of His Resurrected Body, He reveals that the men of all ages can be reconciled to God the Father. Suffering and death have always been seen as an obstacle to man’s relationship with God. But for Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ are the fundamental building blocks that lay the foundation of a faith relationship whose life is now hid with Christ in God. (Idem)
But how do we find this relationship through the Risen Lord with whom our life is hid in God? The Apostles had a hard enough time seeing how man’s life could be hid with Christ in God in His death on Good Friday. What were they to make of His Resurrection on Easter Sunday? The struggle between life and death and sin and righteousness must have nearly conquered their already teetering faith. Perhaps George Herbert’s poem about the life that is hid with Christ in God (Idem) will be of use:
MY words & thoughts do both expresse this notion,
That Life hath with the sun a double motion.
The first Is straight, and our diurnall friend,
The other Hid and doth obliquely bend.
One life is wrapt In flesh, and tends to earth:
The other winds towards Him, whose happie birth
Taught me to live here so, That still one eye
Should aim and shoot at that which Is on high:
Quitting with daily labour all My pleasure,
To gain at harvest an eternall Treasure.
The poet tells us that life has a double motion or meaning. First, its external, visible, and physical life is illuminated by the sun in the sky. This is straightforward; we are enlivened and illuminated by the sun who is our diurnal or daily friend. This life is earthly and mundane. The second life is inward and spiritual. Here another sun enlivens and illuminates us. This is God’s Son who is transcendent and heavenly. Here the spiritual sun longs to enlighten and enliven our hearts and souls. The first life is wrapped up in earthly flesh and tends towards death. The second life is heavenward bent and leaps up to heaven inspired by Christ’s birth. Christ’s birth has taught us that with one eye on earthly life we tend towards His death. Yet, always with our other eye -the spiritual eye, we can focus on that light which leads back to Heaven’s life. And so with the poet we must toil and labor to be enlivened and illuminated by the greater sun, God’s own Son, so that at the Harvest of Souls we might be rewarded with God’s eternal treasure.
We must, therefore, keep our mind’s eye on that double motion of death and new life that we find in Jesus Christ. Our mind’s eye must beware of living in the light that leads only to the first death that will become the second eternal and unending death. Our mind’s eye must then see the sun and its other light so that we might follow Christ into the everlasting joy of eternal life. 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. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. vi. 9) Christ Jesus our Saviour is Risen from the dead. He invites us to become a part of that double motion that has destroyed death and generated new life. So we must seek those things which are above. (Col. iii. 1) Not above and beyond our reach, but above and beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings, above and beyond what we desire or deserve, above and beyond the threats of the world, the flesh, or the devil. And yet not above and beyond what God’s love can and will do for us. God’s love overcomes sin with righteousness and death with life. The double motion of earthly and heavenly life is bound up in the light of God’s sun, Jesus Christ. Seeming contraries are now swallowed up into Christ’s victorious love. What we seek is not above and beyond God’s ever-healing touch, His ever-quickening Spirit, or His ever-present desire to save His people. But yes, above and within the heart of Jesus, whose Glorified Body and Life are with the Father and also with us. Yes, above and within Jesus Christ Himself, in whom every aspect of our lives can become a new occasion for our rising up and out of ourselves, mortifying [our] members which are upon earth; [up and out of] our uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness….(Col. iii. 5) In our bodies, because hid within His Risen and Glorified Body. In our souls, because hid within His Risen and Glorified human Soul. In our manhood, because hid within His Manhood that invites us to discover the hidden depths of the Father’s hidden love. Christ is risen from the dead. Sin is finished, death is finished, Satan is finished, if only we shall believe that our life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3)
CHRIST is risen from the dead: and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death: by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20. To be hid with Christ in God, we must be made alive. To be made alive we must become assimilated to Christ’s work, here and now, as we become part of His Glorified Body in time and space. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. (St. John vi. 51) What is our life? To be hid with Christ in God. How can it be perfected? We must sit down and taste His meat (Herbert, “Love bade me welcome…”). Christ’s meat is His Body and Blood which we shall receive in the Holy Communion. This is the perpetual offering of Himself to us. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do show the Lord’s death, until He comes again. (1 Cor. xi. 26) What do we show? His death. What does that mean? We take His death into us. What does it bring? New life in Him. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we do begin to reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11)
Thanks be to God that giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. xv. 57) On this Resurrection morn, let us remember that the motion of our destiny must be a double motion. If we intend with pleasure/ To gain at harvest and eternal treasure, we must be dying daily to earthly sin. There can be no eternal joy unless we have been broken over and over again through His death. New life demands death. False happiness, superficial earthliness, shortcuts to the kingdom, and all refusals to face the facts of our sin must die. We must die in the light of one sun to come live through another. [Our] life hath with the sun a double motion.... Monsignor Knox tells us that death, burial, resurrection comprise the secret of all sanctity. Our secret may be hid with Christ in God, but its joy must be experienced in our intimacy with Christ so that we cannot help but give it to all others. My…Life…is…Hid…in…Him…that…is…my…Treasure. (Idem) Happy Easter. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons