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 infant Church at Colossae in small Phrygian city in Asia Minor, or modern day Turkey. Easter Sunday is the first of 40 days. Before He ascended back to the Father, during the period of 40 days, Christ appeared to Peter, to Mary Magdalene, to the women, to James and all the Apostles, to some five hundred, to Stephen prior to his masdsrtyrdom, and later to St. Paul as one born out of due time. (1 Cor. xv. 8) So why does Mother Church have us reading an Epistle that seems to be all about the spiritual relationship that we have with Christ after Pentecost? In it, St. Paul speaks about our relationship with the hidden God. Your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) We haven’t even begun our 40 days of getting used to the Resurrected Christ than the Church turns our minds upward and into the Heavenly realm!
So why are we reading about having our lives hid with Christ in God? For St. Paul, something has happened on the Day of Resurrection that forever changes our lives in relation to God the Father. Jesus Christ is not a mere soul or Spirit. Jesus Christ, the God/Man, has risen from the dead. Article IV of the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion states this: Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man's nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day. St. Paul believes that Christ indeed died in a natural body and rose a spiritual body. What he means is that Christ raised up the body through which He lived and died and has transfigured it. His soul took back his body, and penetrated it through and through making it spiritual…this spiritual body is transparent, obedient to the Spirit, unconstrained and lightsome…the instrument of the Divine Saviour’s soul. (Mouroux, p. 89) The Risen Christ is, then, a glorified unity of body, soul, and spirit. He is the same Lord who died once for all our sins. His Risen Body bears the wounds of His Crucifixion, reminding us that He has borne our sufferings, grief, and sin and brought them to death. But the same wounds remind us of His ongoing love for us, as this spiritual Body that He bears will expand deepen to include us in His new Resurrected life, as His Body, the Church. But even during the 40 days of His Resurrection, He begins to call believers into the new Body that He will share with all who will follow Him. This Body has been raised up with the Father’s Blessing and the Spirit’s power. This spiritual Body is in more than one place at one time. Peter sees Him and then James does also. Magdalene has seen Him and so too have the men walking on the Road to Emmaus. Jesus’ Body is already spiritually greater than what our earthly senses can ever comprehend. It is of such a nature that will ensure that our lives [can be] hid with Christ in God.
Of course, it takes time for the Apostles to realize what is going on. The 40 days are necessary. For Man to come to understand timeless Truth, it all takes time. But in that time what they come to realize is that Christ is calling them to become one with Him in a new way. Christ is now ready to share Himself with them in the way that has enabled Him to conquer sin, death, and Satan and to open to them the Gates of Everlasting Life.
So how can our lives be hid with Christ in God? St. Paul reminds us in another place that Christ our passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor v. 7,8) Christ Jesus our Saviour is Risen from the dead. He invites us into that life that has gained the victory over all sin in all ages. Just as Christ’s victory is complete, so too does He conquer all sins in all times. Jesus died at the hands of sinful men and their sin. But He died, being dead unto sin. Sin had no claim or power over Him. Christ conquered sin through His obedience to God the Father and because He has always been alive unto God. (Idem) In the Resurrection, Jesus Christ invites us to begin to participate in His obedience to the Father. Christ, even in death, was alive unto God. We are seldom alive unto God, since with the Jews and Romans and all sinners in all ages, we have killed God’s Word in the flesh -the flesh of Jesus Christ in our own flesh and the flesh of all others. We have been dead but now Christ invites us into the New Life that He reconstitutes for us following His crucifixion. So now, we must seek those things which are above. (Col. iii. 1) Not above and beyond our reach, but above and beyond our wildest expectations, above and beyond what we desire or deserve, above and beyond what Man can do for himself in any age. And yet not above and beyond what God’s love can and will do for us as Heaven reaches down to earth to lift us up back into His loving embrace. Not above and beyond God’s healing touch, His quickening spirit, His ever-present and all-powerful presence, even here and now. But yes, above and within the heart of Jesus, whose Glorified Body and Being are with the Father pleading our case in all ages. 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, which is idolatry…(Col. iii. 5) In our bodies, because in His Risen and Glorified Body because Christ is always in God. In our souls, because in His Risen and Glorified Soul, He (is) in us, and we (are) in Him. Christ is risen from the dead. Sin is finished, death is finished, Satan is finished, if only we shall discover our need for Him even now. Our lives are hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3)
And how does He allow us to continue to be hid with Christ in God? Jesus says 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) As He reveals and manifests the truth of His Glorified Flesh on this Easter Sunday, we remember that Christ gives Himself to us as the Bread of Life. Christ’s life is to do the will of the Father. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we believe that we shall begin to partake of that Bread of Life that gives us the power to overcome sin, death, and Satan. Through this Sacrament we come into Communion with Jesus. The Real Presence that He shared with the Apostles on this Day of Resurrection, He shares with us also. When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we begin to possess eternal life. (1 Cor. xi. 26) Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (St. John vi. 54-57)
When we eat His Body and drink His Blood, we can reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) Being alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord means that our affections, our desires, and our passions our set on receiving that food and drink that can save us, who deserve none of it. Being fed, we can ask the Father to give us His Heavenly Love that forever moves Jesus Christ the Son to free us from all sin and death through the Holy Spirit. Being fed, we can know that Jesus indwells our hearts and souls and is ready at hand to help us in every time of need. The love of God in the Heart of Jesus Christ leads captivity captive (Ephesians iv. 8). We are no longer to live in bondage to sin, death, and Satan. And mark my words, sin has always and ever been present in this world Our lives are hid with Christ in God because He has overcome them, has set us free, and holds us in His heart in Heaven, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us! (Hebrews vii. 25) forever praying for our deliverance from our sins. He does so from the core of our hearts and souls, who knows our needs before we ask. (St. Matthew vi. 8)
On this Day of our New Life, as creatures Resurrected from the Dead, let us begin to live freely and thankfully. On this day may true joy fill our hearts. Let us, therefore, thank and praise our Saviour Jesus Christ this morning for dying for us and for rising for us, and for assuring us that our lives are Hid in Him with God. Let us close by ending with the song of the poet:
MOST glorious Lord of Lyfe! that, on this day,
Didst make Thy triumph over death and sin;
And, having harrow’d hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive us to win:
This joyous day, deare Lord, with joy begin;
And grant that we, for whom thou diddest dye
Being with Thy deare blood clene washt from sin,
May live forever in felicity!
And that Thy love we weighing worthily,
May likewise love Thee for the same againe;
And for Thy sake, that all lyke deare didst buy,
With love may one another entertayne!
So let us love, deare Love, lyke as we ought,
–Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
Edmund Spenser “Easter Sonnet”.
Christ is alone now. He has forgiven His enemies, He has welcomed a new friend into the journey of death, which His new family begins to experience as new life. Now He is alone, at the primordial point of experiencing the meaning of sin, offering himself to the Father. Jesus is the true life of man. When He dies, He feels the suffering and pain, as only the whole and complete, perfect and unblemished Word of God and forgiveness of sins can. The greater the Life, the greater the feeling of its loss. We cannot know what Christ felt, in the loss of His new human life. The Sinless One is punished as a sinner. Can we be begin to imagine the pain? Jesus is pure human life rejected by so many and now near death.
But He wills to be cut down in order that He may jump up high. His desire has been to do nothing less than the will of God made flesh. The will of God in human flesh involves death, death not only to sin but to any creature other than God.
The Son sees his Father approaching. The spiritual reality of God’s nearness is now known and experienced. Jesus says I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) He thirsts not for earthly drink. 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. (St. John xix. 28) They gave me gall to eat, and when I was thirsty they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm lxix. 22) But Jesus insists that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) He thirsts for the righteousness of God. Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after thee O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea even for the living God; when shall I come to appear before the presence of God? (Psalm 42. 1,2) Christ Jesus desires nothing less than that spiritual water mingled with the blood and the Spirit that will yield new life. The things of the earth have passed away. The forgiven sons and daughters of the earth, the reconciled criminal and the new family that He has taken with Him and into the depths of sin’s meaning will now find new birth, but only through the forgiveness of sins that He is. Man was created in God’s image and likeness. The discarded image must be made new.
Paul Claudel puts it nicely: A drop of water: the only thing in the world that costs nothing, a thing that one would not refuse to a wounded animal, a sick dog, humanity refuses to its maker and Savior. (I believe in God) But neither God nor Christ refuses it to us. We can have it through Christ, who today knows that we need it if we are to be saved. We will learn to receive it ourselves, and then give a cup of this cold water to others in His Name. He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me…And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.(St. Matthew x. 42)
Our journey on this Good Friday involves coming to the knowledge of Christ and to the knowledge of ourselves. Our eyes are beginning to be opened to the light that creates new life. In Christ we find God’s deepest desire for us. I thirst. Christ says. We thirst and begin to drink in death. In Christ we find not only the thirst of One Man for His Maker, but the thirst of God’s Son for the salvation of us all. Our eyes are opened to Christ’s love for us even as He is suffering and dying. He never forgets us. We are an ongoing concern in the heart of Christ Jesus. Jesus is the light that loves and makes new life. Love has many dimensions. It is passion; He is the Passion of God made flesh, God’s Passion for our salvation. He will become our Passion for God rediscovered and our Passion for others’ salvation. He is the Forgiveness of Sins made flesh, God’s forgiveness of our sins, and will become that liberating power that moves us to forgive all others. He is Yearning made flesh, God’s yearning for our friendship and company. He will become our yearning for Him and then for others discovery of His friendship. He is about to die and He remembers us. His thirst for God is His thirst for Man.
Jesus is the Love of God and the Love of Man in a simultaneous unity of unselfed in-othering. Think about it. He is Love as in-othering; He lives in and for the other, first God and then every other man. He is Love as unselfed. He has emptied Himself of Himself that He might escort new sons and daughters into the Father’s presence, in His name, as members of His new Body that He is forming. He is the Love of God and the Love of Man coming together. As for Himself, He doesn’t much care. The point, His point, the labor and work of His life, is to reconcile Man to God and Man to Man. His role is to arrange the meeting, to enable the encounter. Is He essential? Absolutely. But the minute He is self-consciously significant, the work and labor collapses. The selfless Saviour is the spiritual Person who alone conveys God to man and returns man to God.
It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Today we come to know that the mission of Christ is finished and accomplished. We realize also that we ourselves are finished. The truth is naked before our very eyes. What is finished? Our pride is finished. Our sin is finished. The end of sin is death. Our sin has brought about the death of Christ. But even in this death, the death of Christ, man’s self-willed alienation from God is revealed as what has no power and no future. It is finished. Life in isolation and alienation from God is illusorily satisfying, temporarily pleasing, and wholly incomplete. Life in isolation from God is death. This life is finished. In the death of Christ what is finished is the illusion that we have any power, that we have any meaning apart from the wisdom and love of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Not even death. Not even our Crucifixion of Christ, the Word of God in Man. Nothing can separate us from God at all. For God is near to us. We have been carried into Christ’s death and are about to enter into His New Life. Our sin is finished. Death is about to be conquered and finished.
It is finished. What this means is that Christ Jesus has gone where we could not go. Christ Jesus has endured what we could never endure. He has taken on and felt the curse of His own judgment, the punishment of His own law, the justice of His measuring. He is, in a word, consistent with Himself. He does not subject his own creatures to anything that He Himself cannot endure. Do not do unto others anything that you would not have them do unto you. (St. Luke vi. 31) He meant and He lived it. This does not make it any the less painful, horrifying, and sad. But at the end of the day, it shows us that He is the center of all reality- the life, light, and love that beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.(1 Cor xiii.7), in order to make new life.
Life is an ongoing effort and labor to place our spirits into the hands of the living God. Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. Nothing need escape the Love of God. And God’s Love for man, which is Jesus Christ Himself, is reconciled to it. To love is to suffer, old Bishop Morse used to say. In Christ’s crucifixion we find the pathway to love. Father into thy hands I commend my spirit. So, we believe that Jesus’ final Ascent to the Father is an ascent of the whole Person, body and soul, suffering and pain, with joy and gladness. He intends what we should become members of His Body, here on earth, with Him as our Head. He promises us that we should experience as much struggle, pain, toil, and suffering as He did. Within the Body there will be an extension of His Crucifixion, with the crucifixion of many members on the way to Resurrection. Christ establishes the Pattern for Redemption. Let us close with some words taken from Hans Urs Von Balthasar:
At the very periphery of this thanksgiving to God, it is legitimate to ask that, if God permits it, we may help the Lord to bear a tiny particle of the suffering of the Cross, of his inner anxiety and darkness, if it will contribute to reconciling the world with God. Jesus himself says that it is possible to help him bear it when he challenges us to take up our cross daily. Paul says the same in affirming that he suffers that portion of the Cross that Christ has reserved for him and for other Christians. When life is hard and apparently hopeless, we can be confident that this darkness of ours can be taken up into the great darkness of redemption through which the light of Easter dawns. And when what is required of us seems too burdensome, when the pains become unbearable and the fate we are asked to accept seems simply meaningless—then we have come very close to the man nailed on the Cross at the Place of the Skull, for he has already undergone this on our behalf and, moreover, in unimaginable intensity. When surrounded by apparent meaninglessness, therefore, we cannot ask to be given a calming sense of meaning; all we can do is wait and endure, quite still, like the Crucified, not seeing anything, facing the dark abyss of death. Beyond this abyss there waits for us something that, at present, we cannot see (nor can we even manage to regard it as true), namely, a further abyss of light in which all the world’s pain is treasured and cherished in the ever-open heart of God. Then we shall be allowed, like the Apostle Thomas, to put our hand into this gaping wound; feeling it, we shall realize in a very bodily way that God’s love transcends all human senses, and with the disciple we shall pray: “My Lord and my God.”
Christ the Word of God, the forgiveness of sins made flesh is making new life from His Cross. The love of his Being is bringing life out of death. St. Luke tells us that Jesus is crucified with two malefactors. Saints Mark and Matthew tell us that they were thieves. One of the thieves, hanging to His right side, knowing that he deserves to be punished for his crimes, begs Jesus to remember Him when He comes into His Kingdom. Jesus and the good thief are approaching earthly death. The thief comes to believe that he is in the presence of God. Jesus consecrates his conversion. Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43)
One thing more must be made for those who still live. Jesus utters His Third Word. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! (St. John xix. 25,26) We remember the words spoken to the Blessed Virgin by the old prophet Simeon some thirty years prior: Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (St. Luke ii. 35) She did not understand the meaning of those words then but perhaps is beginning to feel their power now. Like any good mother, she feels the pain of her dying child as one who is pierced through with a sword. And how much more must the torture be for her now, as she sees the Son of her womb, God the Father’s Holy Innocent Word made flesh, the child [in whom would be] set the fall and rising again of many in Israel, (Ibid, 34) dying a wholly undeserved, unmerited, unearned, and unjust death. We can only imagine the pain and confusion that she experienced, the bewilderment and amazement at what was transpiring before her very eyes. To her, this was the true blasphemy, execration, and sacrilege of fallen man against her Son whom she conceived by the Holy Ghost of God the Father.
The time was not yet for Jesus to disclose the full truth and meaning that His death would bring to her and others. But in the time between now and what would come later, He takes the first steps to channel her faith and belief towards the new world that He was always making and now redeeming. The Blessed Virgin, we must remember, was nothing if not a creature of pure faith, obedience, and trust. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me, according to thy Word. (St. Luke i. 38) The commencement of man’s salvation began with her Yes to God. Her Son was first conceived in her soul by faith and only thereafter in her womb. And we do well to remember that St. Luke reminds us that on two occasions at least, because she did not grasp the nature and meaning of this Son she had brought into the world, she pondered these things in her heart –immediately following his birth, and when, twelve years later, she thought she had lost Him in Jerusalem, where, when she found him, He rebuked her and said, Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? (St. Luke ii. 49) Later, when He chastised her for pestering him about the depletion of wine at the Wedding of Cana in Galilee, rightly rebuked, she was obedient and trusting, faithful as ever, and said to the servants, whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. (St. John ii. 5) Jesus knows the faith of His Mother. She too knows that her life has been a constant vocation to let Him go. At one point she and His kin were standing outside of the temple waiting for him. One man said, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But Jesus answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? (St. Matthew xii. 47, 48) At another time, Jesus having healed a dumb man, a woman cries out, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But Jesus said, yea rather, blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (St. Luke 27, 28.) To some, Jesus seemed always to be pushing His mother away from Himself, separating Himself from her, and so undervaluing her unique role.
And it here that we find revealed His real intention and desire. Jesus is a human son, the Son of Man, for sure. He is fully human. But Jesus is first and foremost the everlastingly-begotten Son of God. He has already begun to open His dying life to others; one man, the good thief, has become a part of this good and living death. His Sonship is enlarged; it will broaden and enlarge so as to include all who repent and follow Him. His Sonship is not limited by His blood-tie to his earthly mother. His Sonship will expand to include all who choose to become the Sons and Daughters of God through Him. Mary is His human mother, but she too is the mother of much more than one earthly son, as unique as He may be. Nay, she is called the Mother of God. And if she is the Mother of God, she must be prepared to bear and care for many more children than Jesus alone. She must die to earthly motherhood so that she might become a spiritual mother. Woman, behold thy Son, Jesus says to her as she stands trembling in the arms of John the beloved disciple. Jesus looks at John and says, Behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 27) In neither case does He address them by their proper names. Mary is to become the Mother of the New Creation that Jesus is making, beginning here and now from His Cross. She will become the Mother of redeemed and reborn humanity, beginning here and now, through the pangs of spiritual rebirth and new life. Her love for Jesus as a natural son dies with Him on His Cross; her method of birthing will move from the physical and particular, to the spiritual and universal. John is to be adopted as her first new child, the child of the Grace that is making all things new through Jesus’ death. He will be the caregiver and son who will ensure that her spiritual mission continues through his earthly protection. She will be John’s mother. In the nearness of God’s Today, she will become the spiritual mother of a new humanity.
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. (Isaiah liv. 1)
Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani: My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? (St Matt. xxvii. 46)
Mary hears what must have seemed the most difficult words that Jesus- or perhaps anyone, could ever utter. They strike us as wrong, precisely because they seem so dangerously close to despair. And yet they are not. Jesus feels the potential despair of every man who feels abandoned by the Father. These are the words of psychic and spiritual pain, but they are the very opposite of despair. These are the words of hope actually, for Jesus has joined all who will be poor in spirit. Christ does not curse God and die. Rather He turns to the one and only source of new life, God the Father, in a cry of agonizing helplessness and loneliness. This is the summary of the long, dark night of the soul. The soul can turn to nothing for comfort other than God Himself. The Father is distant and silent, but present. Jesus cries 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, even from that separation in silence. 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 had prayed in His agony in the garden. But God’s will must be accomplished. And so Jesus endures what for all other men is seemingly unendurable. Here is the point where the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness overcame it not. (St. John 1. 5) The light flickers, and trembles, and might even be tempted to despair and yet Jesus does not yield. The light flickers and trembles because Christ has taken into His heart the experience of every man, woman and child who has ever felt the loneliness of abandonment. In the heart of Jesus, mankind’s last and final temptation to surrender to the void of nothingness, a lifeless place emptied of light and love, is overcome. Jesus experiences humanity’s predicament to the full. In the final point of encounter with man’s pain, he feels acutely and sees clearly the possibility of the sin against the Holy Ghost. And yet he does not surrender. He is tempest-tossed, is nearly overwhelmed, and yet He cries with the words 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?…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.…They pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
Jesus turns to the 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. A mere man attempting the same would break.
In silence we come to the Cross of the Son of God on this Good Friday. We do so by way of remembering. We cannot be there in the flesh, since it is all history. So in memory we come to the Crucifixion of Christ. Some people say that they don’t know how anyone could desire and carry out such a horrific act of torture. Such people have no real comprehension of who and what they have been and still are. They have not thought about what sin does. Sin, they forget, kills the Word of God in our hearts and those of others. By extension, sin kills God’s Wisdom, Power, and Love in our hearts and others. Today, before us, we behold the external and visible manifestation of what sin does. Sin in its various forms is nothing other than what abandons, betrays, denies, tortures, and kills God’s Word in human life. Pride, envy, wrath, resentment, bitterness, sloth, lust, gluttony are all those sins which kill God’s Word in Man’s nature. We don’t see that what they do is endured and suffered by the dying Son of God on the Cross of Calvary. Our sins have killed God’s Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Our sins kill that Word made flesh for no reason other than that we cannot get over ourselves for long enough to remember that we are sinners in need of a Saviour. In His Passion, Jesus endures the effects of our sins. What is the worst that our sins can do? Kill God’s Son, God’s Word made Flesh.
It is said that sin is the absence of God, and that is true enough on one level. But it is more than that. It is really the will or desire to make God absent or to eliminate His presence. It is the obstinate refusal recognize that God, His Word, His Spirit are always necessary to mere existence, to man’s conquering of nature, to man’s discovery of liberty and freedom. It is the hard-hearted refusal to hear, obey, cultivate, and grow God’s Word in human life, and most especially in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Sometimes it is committed quietly in the ivory tower of arrogant stoical indifference. Sometimes it is committed in fear, as when a man can only envy the presence and success of goodness in the world. Sometimes it is committed rashly, impetuously, feverishly, out of impatience, outrage, and fear as violent anger, resentment, and revenge. Sometimes it is committed slothfully to ensure earthly comfort, peace, and normalcy, simply because zeal requires sacrifice, effort, and patience. Or it might be committed by making false gods out of greed’s ideal, gluttony’s comfort, and lust’s fleeting passion. In whatever way it is expressed, it all adds up to one thing: despair. And despair is the failure to hope. The failure of hope is the refusal to believe that a person, situation, predicament, or condition can be changed. Despair is the refusal to admit that the Good might conquer evil, Love might banish hate, Beauty might vanquish ugliness, and Truth might overcome error. Despair then leads men to eliminate God’s Word from human life. Thus we find Jesus hanging upon the Tree of Calvary on this Good Friday. Jesus is the only perfect expression of God’s Word of Wisdom, Power, and Love made flesh that the world has ever known. And He reveals to us what we think of Him and His most Holy Incarnation.
But is this all that we find? No sooner had they arrested, mocked, derided, stripped, whipped, crowned with thorns, and nailed Jesus of Nazareth to the Cross than He was back to doing what He had always done, what He had come to do. Archbishop Fulton Sheen reminds us that, Seneca, [the great Roman Stoic Philosopher], wrote that those who were crucified cursed the day of their birth, the executioners, their mothers [for having brought them into this miserable world], and even spat on them that gazed upon them. Cicero recorded that at times it was necessary to cut out the tongues of those who were crucified to stop their terrible blasphemies. (Life of Christ, p. 372) Seneca ended up committing suicide, and Cicero was murdered, both because of alleged crimes against Caesar. Neither could have imagined that out of the death of a good man or from noble death something could emerge the likes of which we witness in Jesus. For here we find no resentment for ever having been born, no vengeful hatred of those who were crucifying Him, and no spitting upon those who wagged their heads at Him and those who said:
Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (St. Matthew xxvii. 40-43)
Rather, what we find is the One who looks beyond, behind, and even beneath the sin that has killed Him, to find the heart of man that is capable still of being forgiven and saved. In the hearts of those men and women who have willed His death, Jesus prays only for their forgiveness and eventual conversion. Jesus hopes. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii, 34)
Jesus is the Word of God that always creates and always redeems. He is the Universal Response response to all despair. That response is kind, compassionate, and merciful. He judges their despair as the birth-child of ignorance. For, had they known what where doing, they might not have done it. The Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ, has perfect Hope for those who do not understand today, but may come to the knowledge and love of God tomorrow. For as long as a man lives, there is time for the discovery of true self-knowledge. With that, there can come a repentance for sin. Out of repentance can spring hope in the power of forgiveness. And the forgiveness of sins is not only what God’s Word is but more so what God’s Word made flesh came down to reveal and freely choose to embrace, even in the hour His own Crucifixion. Jesus Christ is God’s forgiveness embodied. Before He suffered this Passion, Jesus had told his friends, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father save through me. (St. John xiv. 6) The way to the Father is the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the forgiveness of sins made flesh. It informs every fiber of His being, as the communication of God’s hope and love for His people. God never stops hungering and thirsting for the salvation of His people. Jesus, God’s Word made Man, is the embodiment of that love and that hope. Sin cannot silence the utterance of God’s desire in Jesus. Suffering and death can do nothing to stop God’s loving all men in and through Jesus. Satan cannot kill the Spirit of this Love. For within the heart of the dying Crucified One is the ability to pray for man’s turning to repentance, turning from his evil ways, and longing to be saved. The Word of God still speaks from the lips of the dying Son of Man. The offer still stands, the hope is alive, and God’s love is as determined as ever in the heart of Jesus.
God’s offer is only and always an offer. It is never compelled, cannot be imposed, and so can never be revealed as an Omnipotent Power that overturns man’s created potential to turn to God’s Love for deliverance.
Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove:/O no! it is an ever-fixed mark/ That looks on tempests and is never shaken;/It is the star to every wandering bark,/Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken…Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,/But bears it out even to the edge of doom…(Shakespeare: Sonnet 116)
Love honors His potential lovers. That He forgives in the face of treachery and murder only stands to reinforce the transcendent nature of Love that longs to conquer all. The acceptance of Love as forgiveness of sins made flesh are in the power of the beloved.
So in Christ’s forgiveness we see the light that still loves. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (St. John i. 4) He prays for others and thus emits the light that hopes for their salvation and deliverance. This is why He came into the world. He taught us all how to pray, and told us 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, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest…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; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. (St. Luke vi. 35-38) And so even now, Jesus asks for the forgiveness of His enemies.
Today, Christ the Word as the forgiveness of sins made flesh in Man is petitioning forgiveness for the Pharisees, the Romans, and for Peter our friend who has denied Him three times. Christ the Word as Love, Hope, and Faith in God is made flesh for us that we might be forgiven.
But woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
We begin our Holy Week with an act of betrayal. Judas Iscariot has betrayed Jesus
Christ out of resentment and bitterness for Jesus’ refusal to be the earthly liberator that Israel has longed for. At least, this is the view of the Church’s Tradition. Judas had thought that the Christ was set to liberate Israel finally from all foreign occupation. Judas was an earthly minded man for whom the affairs of this world mattered much more than the affairs of God and His plan for Man’s salvation. Tonight we contemplate betrayal.
In fairness to the Jews, who had spent well-nigh 600 years awaiting the fulfillment of promises to them, one might be more than a little sympathetic. Foreign domination had characterized the history of the Jews. But Judas, along with no small number of his race then and now, had not understood the true nature of the promises made to Israel. The Jews had become intoxicated with their own thralldom and slavery. It is a temptation to those in every age. Human bondage and the absence of liberty are bound to make any people forever conscious of their own suffering. Yet, Judas and his friends ignored the finer points of what God had promised to His people. In tonight’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah is full of rage.
And I looked, and there was none, to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury it upheld me. I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground. (Isaiah lxiii. 5,6)
The wrath of God fills the heart of the prophet. He hears God intending to make atonement for the bondage that Israel endured. Isaiah hears the Word of the Lord who prophesies that blood must be poured out to rectify Israel with God. But he imagines a spiritual state that far exceeds Israel’s need for any earthly Redeemer. His mind is on God and what God alone can do for His people. Doubtless thou art our father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not: thou, O Lord, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting. (Idem, 16) The prophet does not know what kind of Redemption the Lord will bring, but his focus in on God, His power and love and that Wisdom that alone can bring Israel to spiritual peace. Far be it for the prophet to focus on earthly things. He in consumed with the spiritual intention and plan of God for His people.
Judas and his kind are always overly consumed with earthly responses to earthly problems. To prefer the earthly to the spiritual is to engage in utter idolatry. God’s first mission to His people will always be spiritual. The nature of the promises themselves is hidden to the prophets. Sufficient it is for Isaiah to be focused on His Lord and the Lord’s nature. To be thus consumed will be the intention of God the Father for His people in His Son. Judas has missed the meaning of the Father’s message as articulated in the life of His Son, Jesus Christ.
We too are far too immersed in the affairs of this life on earth. Christ has better things in store for us. Judas, and so many of us, betray the Word of God with that anger and bitterness that reveal what kind of false gods truly move us mostly. Material happiness and worldly comfort seem all the rage and passion. Jesus responds to Judas and us this night with another kind of promise. Far removed from any kind of earthly hope, Jesus intends to fill His followers with what matters most. Tonight, Jesus redirects our attention to those things above and not the things of the earth.
Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God. (Idem, 22-25)
In response to Judas’ betrayal, Christ bids His Apostles and us to wonder about something as simple as a meal. The promises of God are revealed then and now as something strikingly simple and seemingly earthly. But He speaks of some fragments of bread and a sip of wine as somehow linked spiritually to His Body and His Blood. In some mysterious way He prophesies both His leaving us and His coming to us again. The earthly is not abandoned but will become something remarkably new. Through the elements of necessity -bread, and the cause of mirth and all joy -wine, Christ promises to come to His people and to be with them forever. His Body will be offered to them. His blood will be outpoured for them. And more than this, both will be present to them whensoever they repeat the words of this simple ceremony. And He seals this manual act with the promise that He will not eat and drink with them until He drinks it new in the Kingdom of God. (Idem) This earthly action will be an instrument and means of His ongoing presence with them until they reach His Kingdom. Spiritually, Man will commune with God over a meal that will become a Heavenly feast.
To the ancient Jews, what He said must have sounded like gibberish. But to those who believed then and have faith now, this is the seal of God’s promise to His people. There will be no need for any earthly deliverance from tyrannical rulers. In what follows, He will promise His people that they must trust that this is the way that matters most. What matter most is to repent and believe. What matters most is the Forgiveness of Sins that Jesus Is.
The day following, He will offer His Body on the Tree of Calvary and will pour out His blood for the sins to the whole world. The key to grasping the promises is in trusting God’s promise to be our God and we His people as earth is swallowed up in Heaven’s feast. In partaking of His Body, He will indwell His people with His suffering and death. His suffering and death will remain with them as they blend theirs with His in absolute obedience to the Father. In drinking His Blood, they all shall be quickened and resurrected into new life and virtue. What more can man need for the fulfillment of all his hopes in God’s promises? To eat His Body and to drink His blood fulfill God’s promises to His people. In eating His Body and drinking His Blood, men are invited to participate in the meaning of the Forgiveness of Sins and the Resurrection into the New Life. All is well with Jesus. Nothing more is needed. Jesus’ presence with us depends upon nothing less than His promise. This is. Our task this night is to trust and obey. Our calling this night is to follow Jesus to His Cross so that the bread and wine might be ever so simply linked to His broken Body and poured out Blood on Good Friday.
When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat, his wife sent
Unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man:
For I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it will interrupt and confound the usual course of human reason and its expectations, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual expectations. Then, if we sustain the stillness, and with a quiet mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, the blanket of Divine Otherness might begin to make sense of what seems to be wholly wrong, unjust, and even unthinkable.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem He had told his Apostles: All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) This Word that was made flesh would be rejected on a number of different levels. Men always find excuses for refusing to allow the Word to be made flesh in human life. In the interests of political expedience, Pilate will convince himself, perhaps, that he has rid the world of a temporary religious nuisance. The Jews’ self-righteous indignation will be justified…or so they think. Jesus’ Disciples will abandon Him out of confused fear and cowardice. Peter will deny Him and repent, and Judas Iscariot will betray Him and hang himself.
In the lections for today, we already begin to see and hear the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, is confronted with that earthly chaos and confusion that the Pax Romana must never abide, especially on what should be just another peaceful Friday afternoon in an insignificant outpost of the Roman Empire. He seems a reasonable and just enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the strange religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has interrupted his afternoon rest. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian Augustus, that has brought unimaginable law and order in the now civilized the world. So he will do his best to treat the problem of this Jesus of Nazareth expeditiously with a kind of Stoical calm that the Romans had mastered with fine precision. In the interest of Roman Law, he will rebuke the Jews for their envy, commanding them to judge Christ themselves, or send him to Herod….but to no avail. (St. Matthew xxvii. 14) Then another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this strange man, Jesus Christ, whom he must interrogate. Pilate marvel[s] greatly. (Ibid, 14) His wife has the spiritual sense to warn him to have nothing do with that just man (St. Matthew xxvii. 19), not realizing that she will be the prophetess of a new world order. And, in a sense he will try to do just that. But the crowd will demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate’s conscience is nevertheless stirred, for he finds no evil or crime in the defendant. Why, what evil hath he done? (Ibid, 23) Let Him be crucified, the crowd demands. In response to the passionate envy that threatens further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25) And they too will prophesy a judgment of themselves that has never since been eradicated.
Many people, including Christians down through the ages, have never had enough time for Jesus of Nazareth, the Word of God’s love in the flesh. As T. S. Eliot reminds us, Christ speaks to them and us:
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the daytime and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(Ash Wednesday: Eliot, v.)
But for those who can become contemplatively still and quiet by God’s Grace, the sound and sight of God’s Word of Love will emerge through the suffering and death of Christ, His own Son. From the still and silent center –the heart of the Son of God, who will be suffering and dying not only to the world, the flesh, and the devil enfleshed in others, but also to Himself, the Word will be seen and heard. It will be perceived and received, slowly, even hesitatingly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. Even now, as the world and its words assault and kill the Word of God in human flesh, the Word of God endures, to be spoken from the center and through the stillness of His unchanged and unmoved heart. This is the heart whose mind made all things and now intends to redeem them. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ– always sees and hears the Father, and then reveals, communicates, and articulates the Father’s will to the world. He will not cease to do so, and especially through His suffering and death when He will be most challenged not to love the Father’s will and bring it to life in the world. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers Himself to God and man by laying down all claims and rights to Himself.
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ empties Himself of His humanity, in order that pure powerlessness might be placed back in the hands of God, the maker and molder of all new human life. He will not desperately grab for, grasp, or clutch on to His Divinity in the hour of His human impotence. Rather He prefers to obey, fear, and follow God with all the humanity that remains in Him. He will become the Man who once again is the servant of God because God’s will and Word alone suffice to secure Man’s unbreakable union with Him. He will be one with the Word of the Father that He sees and hears. This is the Word that has spoken and continues to speak to Him, and through Him to us. And the Word that speaks is the eternal Desire of God for His people. This is the Word of Love that conquers hate, the Word of Good that conquers evil, and the Word of Truth that conquers ignorance.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel with Jesus up to His Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening, to the Word made flesh, though we might be very confused and bewildered. This Word of God in Christ will be mostly silent. Pilate marveled, and so will we. In this Word who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23), we will begin to see the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to it. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now from the Cross persists in revealing itself to others in succinct statements of forgiveness and hope as He brings our old man, Adam, to death in Himself on the Cross. Ultimately and perfectly, this will be the Love that dies in order that all men might live. Christ takes on the burden of our sin and death, which we cannot bear. He bears it gladly and courageously, and even in the midst of unimaginable pain -not just the pain of the body, but the pain of the soul and the spirit also which nevertheless are true to God as the forgiveness of our sins and the seedbed of new and Resurrected Life.
On this Palm Sunday we sing Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. And yet it seems that as soon as the jubilant song of praise and celebration fades, new malevolent cries for Christ’s execution grow and swell. Crucify Him. Crucify Him. Let him be crucified. Where will we be this week? Will we follow the Word of God’s Love in the heart of Jesus into suffering and death? Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53. 4,5)
This week, let us listen to the silent Word of God’s Love alive in the heart of the dying Saviour. Let us listen as the Word of Love makes innocent suffering and death the occasion for His persistent pursuit of our salvation. Let us listen to the Word of Love that calls us into death. Let us be determined to die in the embrace of Love which offers Himself to God and to us in that simultaneous knot of fire that purges away all cruelty, malice, malevolence, ill will, envy, and pride. Let us be determined to leave our old selves and the familiar haunts behind that the new Man in all of us may be made alive. And let us remember, in stillness and silence, as contemplating the suffering and dying Beloved the words of Archbishop Trench:
Twelve legions girded with angelic sword
Were at his beck, the scorned and buffeted:
He healed another's scratch; his own side bled,
Side, feet, and hands, with cruel piercings gored.
Oh wonderful the wonders left undone!
And scarce less wonderful than those he wrought;
Oh self-restraint, passing human thought,
To have all power, and be as having none;
Oh self-denying love, which felt alone
For needs of others, never for its own.
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
(Gal. iv. 26)
At the very beginning of Lent Jesus said to his disciples, Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (St. Luke xviii. 31) We began our journey at Christ's command. Long journeys are hard work, and this Lenten journey is no exception. For nearly seven weeks Christians are invited to walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem. Walking to Jerusalem is what our lives are all about. We walk with Jesus to see how He conquers the temptations of Satan and triumphs over sin for us. We walk with Jesus to discover that, like the woman of Canaan, we are more like dogs than men, aliens and exiles to God’s promises, and yet still wholly craving the crumbs that fall from His table. So, we learn to long humbly for that mercy that persists in obtaining Jesus' mercy and healing. As dogs, we learn also that we are, more often than not, dumb and mute, incapable of comprehending and articulating God’s Word and will in our lives until His inward Grace opens our spiritual senses to His desire.
Our Lenten pilgrimage with Jesus up to Jerusalem, (St. Matthew xx. 18) will not be easy. We learn much about ourselves on this journey, and so we become spiritually exhausted. We grow haggard, hungry, and perhaps even dejected and discouraged. Lenten fasting and abstinence do that to a person. At times, we become distracted and even lose our way. The pull and tug of certain temptations may well have been overcome, but seven other demons worse than ourselves threaten to consume us. (St. Matthew xii. 45) Satan realizes that he is losing our spirits, and so he attacks our bodies with renewed vigor through the elements of this world. (Galatians iv. 3) We have the best of intentions and yet feel ourselves the children of the proverbial Hagar, the bond woman –giving birth to the earthly bastard offspring of vice. We do want to become free men, children of promise, and followers of Jesus, who go up to Jerusalem which is above… and is free. (Galatians iv. 26) And yet it seems the more we try the further back we fall.
Today Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church, provide us with what we need. Today is Dominica Refectionis –Refreshment Sunday or Mothering Sunday: the day on which Mother Church asks us to sit down and rest awhile, to find some spiritual refreshment so that our pursuit of Jesus Christ will not be in vain. Today, we are asked to stop, to breathe, and to contemplate the transcendent and spiritual Jerusalem of Heaven which awaits our arrival. So, we read that Jesus went up into a mountain, and there He sat with His disciples. (St. John vi. 3) Jesus bids us come with Him to the mountain of His holiness so that He might give us a foretaste of our heavenly future. He knows that we are in danger of spiritual languor and listlessness. He intends to provide us with that spiritual food which will give us dogged and dauntless determination to press on.…Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) St. John Chrysostom tells us:
That Jesus calls us up to rest at intervals from the tumults and confusion of common life. For solitude is good for the study of wisdom. And often doth He go up alone into a mountain, and spend the night there, and pray, to teach us that the man who will come most near to God must be free from all disturbance and must seek times and places clear of confusion. (St.J.C.: Sermon…)
So, we must sit down, listen, and trust. And yet in Lent, worn out as we are, we wonder, Whence shall we buy bread that [we all] may eat? (St. John vi. 5). Our minds are bent on earthly things. Jesus asks this question this morning to prove Philip, for he Himself knew what he would do. (St. John vi. 6) He intends to enlarge and deepen Philip's faith so that he might find hope in heavenly and not earthly nourishment. Philip has seen the finger of God at work in the miracles that Jesus has performed. Will he believe that Jesus can provide food that no man can afford and that can satisfy far more than the physical hunger of a paltry five thousand? What measure of faith does Philip have? Is he a child of Hagar born after the flesh or a child of promise? (Gal. iv. 23) Philip answers as one in bondage to the elements of this world. He responds that even two-hundred penny worth is not enough for this crowd. (St. John vi. 7) Philip is thinking in earthly terms and thus calculates the monetary cost of feeding the hungry thousands. Too many people, too little money, he conjectures. Thus, Jesus intends to reveal the smallness and poverty of Philip’s faith. His faith should be in Christ’s power to fulfill all of his needs. He should have remembered that the same Jesus who made water into wine at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee would surely be able to feed the hungry multitude. His faith should have seen too that if Christ has asked whence shall we buy bread that He intended to remind Philip that God alone provides our every need and want.
Philip’s faith is small and weak because of what he does not have. Andrew’s faith is small and weak because of what they do have. There is a young lad who hath five barley loaves and two fishes, but what are they among so many? (St. John vi. 9) As Philip’s faith was overcome by too much, Andrew’s was constrained by too little. To offer so little to so many could only stand to mock and offend them, Andrew thought. Philip said we have too many to feed. Andrew said we have too little with which to feed.
True faith can often be destroyed because we conclude that we never have enough or we complain about having too little. Jesus tells us to sit down, listen, and trust. He asks us to remember that we are going up to Jerusalem, that we are dogs eating from the crumbs that fall from His table (St. Matt. xv. 27), and that we must not only hear the Word of God but keep it. (St. Luke xi. 28) Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. (St. John vi. 10) The disciples obey the Master, though as yet they have nothing to set before the guests. Nature serves her Master and so affords Him and His guests a plush, green carpet of comfortable grass. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would. (Ibid, 11) Before we make use of God’s gifts to us, we must give thanks. What He gives to us is more than sufficient to satisfy our hunger. Jesus asks us to join in His thanksgiving to the Father as we are fed on our journey up to Jerusalem. Five loaves and two fishes will feed five thousand. For us, tiny morsels and crumbs of bread along with a small sip of wine will become supernaturally potent with Christ’s loving presence. Andrew’s poverty becomes Philip’s plenty. Something small becomes something great.
The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field. (St. Matthew xiii. 31) Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. (St. Matthew xiii. 31,32) Jesus says, gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) Faith is spread through small fragments remaining from Christ’s feast –twelve baskets full to continue to refresh twelve Apostles and the multitudes whom they will convert. Those who think that Jesus Christ comes to satisfy only earthly hunger are in bondage to the elements of this world. (Gal. iv. 3) They are the children of Hagar. They are like Christians who are worried about what might happen to their bodies while ignoring the state of their souls. Their faith rests in earthly things and does not enlarge to embrace Christ’s true desire for man. To them nothing remains of Christ’s desire to feed the faith of their souls.
But faith’s sustenance is food for men wayfaring. As St. Hilary suggests, The substance [of the five barley loaves and two fishes] progressively increases. (The Passing of the Law: St. Hilary of Poitiers) And as Archbishop Trench says, So we have here a visible symbol of that love which exhausts not itself by loving, but after all its outgoings upon others, multiplies in an ongoing multiplying which is always found in true giving.... (Par’s. p. 213) Christ’s real intention is not feeding hungry bodies. He will feed hungry bodies to be sure. But He will do more. The seed of faith and hope open to the indwelling of Christ’s all-powerful spiritual love. His love intends always to fortify and strengthen that faith that must follow Him up to Jerusalem which is above, and is free. (Gal. iv. 26)
Therefore, the Apostles gathered the fragments together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. (St. John vi. 13) St. Augustine tells us that the fragments that remained were the parts that the people could not yet eat. (Tr. xxiv. 6) What remains over and above is the spiritual substance of a faith that is growing. Jesus says, if you follow me, you will desire to eat of these fragments that remain. In the fragments that remain are hidden gifts of mystic meaning. In the fragments are the Divine potential for those who will hunger and thirst after righteousness. (St. Matthew v. 6) Jesus always provides more and better food to those who follow Him in faith. Faith sees that the more than the multitude can eat is Spirit and is Truth. Within fragments and crumbs of earthly food, lie hidden the spiritual nourishment of God’s Grace that will be food for men wayfaring. There is more to be seen, grasped, and ingested of this Giver and His gifts, but not until the eyes of faith are opened and the believer’s heart is softened. Let us then gather up the fragments that nothing be lost. (St. John vi. 12) We will need them. Behold we go up to Jerusalem; mere earthly fare will never sustain a faith that seeks to behold and plumb the depths of that love that never stops giving…even in Death.
Before Abraham was, I AM.
(St. John viii. 58)
The threat of God’s nearness and proximity are quite enough to unnerve, unhinge, and unsettle men in all ages. There is something in human nature that fears God’s presence and His Word. Most men treat the existence of God carelessly, incautiously, indifferently, or casually. The majority of men in our own time are very earthly minded. Even post-modern “Christians” don’t seem the least bit interested in the intellectual and spiritual pursuit of God and appear rather smugly and self-righteously self-contented. Evidently, they’ve got enough or had enough and don’t need more. Or, they arrogantly assert half a shilling’s bit of knowledge to shield them against their own inner fear of what and who God really might be. If such men go on to describe the philosophy or theology that moves them, what emerges usually amounts to little more than a spiritualization of religious feeling that convinces them that neither they or this life is really all that bad after all. Of course, such a philosophy of life collapses into the self and refuses to pursue what might be God’s excellence and the sacrifice that it will, no doubt, entail. The comforts of this life are too much to abandon in the journey after God.
Of course, as we learn in Passion Tide, Jesus Christ confronts all manner of resistance to His mission to us precisely because of this human hardness of heart that cannot abide God’s Word and Will. Which of you convicts me of sin? He says to us today. And if I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? He who is of God, hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God. (St. John viii. 46) To be fair to contemporary man, who has stopped caring about Jesus Christ because he is drowned and drenched in the pagan culture which envelops him, it is no small wonder that Jesus Christ and His message are not only alien but antagonistic. Contemporary man seems so free and yet fears freedom. Test out your local I’m spiritual but not religious neighbors, and you shall find that what they fear most is the existence of God! They are enslaved to what is familiar and controllable. They fear all challenges and confrontations to their pretended freedoms. They fear Christ because of what He might demand or what it might cost to follow Him. They don’t like the idea that there might be a right opposed to their wrong, a good opposed to their evil, and an Absolute Good that to their relative comfort. Who and what they fear above all is Jesus Christ, the One who alone comes to earth to reconcile us with what God has intended for us from the beginning of time.
They are like the Pharisees in this morning’s Gospel who find that Jesus Christ questions their religion and the Law that they worship. Because they are so unacquainted with the Divine Goodness, they can only react to what they consider to be evil. Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil? (St. John viii. 48) What is alien, strange, and contradicts our ways fills us with fear. We become convinced that there must be something wrong with One who challenges and calls all of our lives into question. And when He does, wouldn’t we rather think that the problem is more with Him than us? This is why we convince ourselves that we need not heed with too much seriousness who Jesus says He is and what He asks of us. If He merely irritates or annoys us, we excuse ourselves from following Him on the grounds that who He says He is and what He asks are just too much. If He succeeds in enraging us, we proceed to silence and kill Him. Our negligence, fear, and ignorance kill the Word of God as Man.
Of course, technically speaking, we are right. Who He says He is and what He asks seem just too much! If who He says He is was within the scope of human creativity, we would have invented it long ago and saved ourselves. So, the real question is this. Do we believe that He is who He says He is, and will we give Him what He asks of us? Jesus claims that God is His Father…[He] has come from God…that [he came] not of [Himself], [but was] sent. (St. John viii. 42)The Pharisees are enraged because they can’t imagine that Jesus could ever be who He says He is, and so condemn Him as demon-possessed. Their rage jumps at Him out of envy and resentment. Jesus is trespassing upon their sacred ground. Jesus answers, I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me. And I seek not mine own glory: there is one that seeketh and judgeth. (St. John 8. 49-50) Jesus comes to honor all men with God the Father’s desire for their salvation. The Pharisees honor themselves and seek glory from men. Those who are sinking and going to decay boast most of how other men hold them in the highest esteem. Christ knows that their arrogance stands only to make them and all others only worse. The clergy in every age are mostly corrupt. What He offers, He has received from the Father, and honors it as what alone can touch human hearts and transform them with eternal glory. He is sent by the Father on a Divine Mission: My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work. (St. John iv. 34) The glory that Christ will offer is something that will come near and touch the world in a radically new way.
Jesus claims that if a man keeps [His] saying, he shall never see death. (Ibid) What He promises to faith exceeds our wildest imagination. We are righteously indignant because we know that we must die. Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, if a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? (St. John viii. 52-53) The Pharisees mean: You are a man, Jesus of Nazareth, and when you die, your words will die with you. Abraham and the prophets are all dead. And their words have died with them. Indeed their words are as dead as they. So, we cannot believe that your words are any different.
This is the response of all men who conclude that earthly death is the end of it all. Christ speaks once again. If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that He is your God: yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you; but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. (St. John 8. 54-58) Christ the Word teaches us that human life is made by God to become an opportunity to hope for joy beyond misery and life beyond death. What He tells us is that God spoke His Word to Abraham to give him the hope of salvation. Jesus is the fulfillment of Abraham’s hope. He speaks to the Pharisees to reveal to them that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life that will overcome our death with new and joyful life. The Father’s saying is the promise of salvation to His people. Jesus keeps this saying. This means that He cleaves to the power of love that will save all men. Jesus is the same unchanging Word of God, the saying that moved Abraham to hope in salvation. This is the same unchanging Word of God that inspires Jesus to save all of us. Jesus says, Before Abraham was, I AM. I am the Word, that was heard of old, is with you now, and will be with you forever if you believe and follow me. I am my Father’s ‘saying’ of love for you. Will you follow me? If our faith is dead like that of the ancient Pharisees, our irritation will become the rage that kills Jesus and longs to drag Him into our spiritual death. Then took they up stones to cast at him…. (St. John viii. 59)
Jesus, God’s Word as flesh is sent to do His Father’s will. God’s Word is His will, His will is His Love, and His Love is the utterance and expression of God’s deepest desire and delight for all men’s salvation. His Love is that passion that longs to come near to us on this Passion Sunday. This passion is that Love that does not count the cost. His Love is as broad as the universe and as deep as the human heart. His Love incessantly, persistently, and relentlessly desires to make us His own. His Love is His Passion that longs to touch and transform us. This is the Passion that came near to Abraham, touched him, and transformed all his fears into one unchanging hope. This is the Passion that resonated, reverberated, and resounded in the spirits of those ancient souls who heard God’s Word and were athirst for God, yea, even for the living God…. (Ps. xlii. 2) This is the Passion of God in Jesus, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, to purge our conscience from dead works so that we might begin to serve the living God. (Hebrews ix. 11)
On this Passion Sunday, Jesus Christ persists and perseveres in Passion to keep the Father’s saying. Our English word passion comes from the Latin word patior and it means to suffer, endure, or even to be hurt or wounded. Today, we learn that Christ’s Passion will suffer and endure to win our salvation. He calls us forward to suffer and endure the love that is alive in His heart. If we are humble enough, He will come near to us. If we open our hearts, His approach will overturn all our fears. If we remain with Him, His Passion will wound us. If we follow Him up to His Cross, we shall be bruised by His loving death. In that death, we shall believe that we shall not die but live with Him forever. So, with Henry Vaughn, let us gaze with awe upon the Love that dies to smite and wound us into a Death that cannot help but lead to new and glorious life.
Ah, my dear Lord! What couldst thou spy
In this impure, rebellious clay,
That made thee thus resolve to die
For those that kill thee every day?
O what strange wonders could thee move
To slight thy precious blood and breath!
Sure it was Love, my Lord: for Love
Is only stronger far than death.
(Henry Vaughn, ‘Incarnation and Passion’
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons