He dwelleth with you and shall be in you.
(St. John xiv. 17)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Pentecost. In the Church of England, it is called Whitsunday - White Sunday, because of the white garments worn by those who are traditionally baptized on this day. Pentecost derives from both the Latin and Greek word pentecoste that means the fiftieth day. For the ancient Jews, it marked the day on which God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, fifty days after Exodus from Egypt. It was also a day of thanksgiving for harvest, falling often in May when, given the temperate climate, the Israelites ingathered wheat, oats, peas, vetch, lentils, and barley. The early Jewish-Christians translated this thanksgiving feast into the Holy Ghost’s harvesting of souls for Christ’s Kingdom. On the first Pentecost, the Holy Ghost descended with the fiery Love of the Ascended Christ into the hearts of the Apostles, vesting and mantling them with the spiritual gifts that would generate new communion with God the Father.
So, today we are bidden to contemplate this new movement of the Holy Ghost at the time of the Church’s first Pentecost. Yet, we should not think that the Holy Ghost had been dormant prior to the coming of Christ. The Old Testament is full of references to the Holy Ghost’s mission to fill the Ancient Jews with the fire of the Father’s Love and hope for salvation. In the Creed, we say I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son…. We believe that Love shared between the Father and the Son is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Lord and Giver of [all] life. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Gen. i. 2) We must remember that the Holy Ghost gives life to all creation. And mortal man must remember that He inspired into him an active soul, and breathed in a living spirit. (Wisdom xv. 11) In the Old Testament, the Holy Ghost is the Spirit who comes upon priests, prophets, and kings to fortify them with Ghostly Strength to defeat God’s enemies. King David says that The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. (2 Sam. Xxiii. 2) He spake by the prophets. (idem) We know also that the Spirit brought punishment and correction to the Ancient Jews through men like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, and others. Monsignor Knox tells us that by the Holy Spirit
men were moved to say various things, much of which it is difficult to understand, and some of which they probably didn’t understand themselves. They were carried away by the impetus of the Holy Spirit, and the great point is that many of the things which they said, or rather which He said through them, were prophecies about the coming of Jesus Christ. (The Creed in Slow Motion: p. 143)
The Holy Ghost was always descending from above to prepare the Jewish people for the complete revelation of Father’s promised salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. He prepared them for the day when the Word would be made flesh and then for the day when the Word would incorporate them into Christ’s dying life and a living death. Jesus Christ had established the pattern of Heaven’s fiery Love made flesh. The Holy Spirit would invite eager hearts to welcome the same Word into their flesh.
What is of uttermost importance to the Spirit, or the Holy Ghost, is that the Father’s Word might once again live in all of us. The Holy Ghost brings us into relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ. Christ has ascended to the Father, and from there He desires to indwell all men with the fire of their Love, redeeming the raw materials of human life to forsake all and follow Him. For Christians, Pentecost is the moment where earthly life begins to blend with Heaven’s Desire. For Christians, Pentecost is that moment when the fire of God’s Love begins to burn away our sins and infuse us with all righteousness. It is the fulfillment of the promise offered by Jesus to those who would become His friends and the Sons of the Father forever.
If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (St. John xiv. 15-17)
But the Holy Ghost comes with neither force nor compulsion. If ye love me, is conditional. Christ honors man’s free will. If…then.... The Holy Ghost comes only to those who desire Christ’s fiery Love. The ongoing work of salvation depends upon man’s assent to Christ’s offer.
The first instance of it is found in today’s Epistle, taken from Acts.
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts ii. 1-4)
The first witnesses of the Pentecost were in doubt, or, mocking said, these men are full of new wine. (Ibid, 12, 13) We tend then to think that what happened to the Apostles long ago was wholly paranormal and even irrational. But we forget that the recipients of Heaven’s Love were neither irrational nor out of their minds. They were common fishermen and observant Jews. They were pious, hard working men who believed genuinely in Jesus Christ and awaited His next move. Their last days with Him were spent in sadness, fear, and shame. Later they were surprised by Joy and filled with justifiable wonder and astonishment. But they were open and obedient to the Spirit’s stirring, and in some deep way it all began to make sense and fell into place.
Their transformation in relation to Jesus all happened, mostly, in one place –the upper room or cenacle. This is where we first find them today. In it, they had learned of an impending betrayal that Christ foretold. To its safety, they had fled in fear and cowardice when He was dying on the Cross. Into it again came the Risen Christ to invite them into the fellowship of new life. In the same cenacle today, we find that He has sent to them the Holy Ghost. And while these men and women are not any different from you or me, one thing is significant: as before, in the same place, they were watching and waiting for what would come next. They were gathered together in unity of purpose. (Ibid, AV, Knox, ii. 1) Jesus had said, Tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. (St. Luke xxiv. 49) Because they believed Him and trusted His promise, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they began to spread the Good News of the salvation He had won for all men from the Cross, the Empty Tomb, the Ascension, and beyond. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Ibid, 3)
This was all long ago. What does it mean for us today? The cloven tongues like as of fire will be given to us also if only, we believe. We may not be given the gift of speaking and spreading the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ with other tongues or in foreign languages. But the Holy Ghost intends to come to us so that we share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the salvation He has won for us. So, we must ask ourselves Do we love Jesus enough to keep His commandments? If not, or, if we hesitate [to obey Jesus], it is because we love something else in competition with Him, i.e. ourselves. (My Utmost…, p. 307) If Pentecost will have any meaning for us, we cannot speak or reveal this Love to the world unless the Holy Ghost, the Holy Trinity’s Spirit of Love, brings us to Christ’s Cross, into His death to sin, and to His Resurrection, His life of righteousness. The Holy Ghost’s Love both destructive and constructive (Claudel, I believe, 177) Christ says I will not leave you comfortless. (St. John xiv. 18) The Holy Ghost comfort us by bringing our sin to destruction and by constructing us into new Sons and Daughters of God the Father in Jesus Christ. Our Collect prays that by the same Spirit [we might] have a right judgment in all things…evermore to rejoice in His holy comfort. (Collect, Whitsunday)
Thus, we pray that
The infinite and eternal Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who workest all in all…will pardon all our resistance to His motions…and will fan the flames which He ever enkindles in our breasts. We pray that He may…enlighten our minds and purify our hearts that we may be fit to receive and entertain Him, as the Guide and Comforter of our souls, working mightily upon our hearts, fitting and suiting our souls to that glory which is unspeakable and everlasting. (B. Jenks, 354)
At the first Pentecost, the irresistible force [of the Holy Spirit]…was compressed into a single narrow compass; and the result was a kind of flood, a kind of explosion. (Sermons, Knox, Ign. Press, p. 477) That flood or that explosion is the rushing mighty wind of Christ’s Spirit of fiery Love that longs forever to carry us into His Kingdom. With the poet let us pray that the work of His fiery Love will ravish us.
With all thy Heart, with all thy Soul and Mind,
Thou must him love, and his Beheasts embrace:
All other Loves, with which the World doth blind
Weak Fancies, and stir up Affections base,
Thou must renownce, and utterly displace;
And give thyself unto him full and free,
That full and freely gave himself for thee.
Then shalt thou feel thy Spirit so possest,
And ravisht with devouring great Desire
Of his dear self, that shall thy feeble Breast
Inflame with Love and set thee all on fire
With burning Zeal, through every part entire;
That in no earthly things thou shalt delight,
But in his sweet and amiable Sight.
Ascension Tide is one of the briefest liturgical seasons that the Church follows. In fact, it lasts only ten days. We believe that on the fortieth day after Easter, Christ ascended to the Father. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit is sent into the womb of the nascent Church on the feast of Pentecost or Whitsunday. So we have but a few days to examine the significance and meaning of the Ascension for us.
The Ascension of Jesus Christ restores human nature back to the center of all reality and meaning, so that the Holy Spirit might come forth and begin to incorporate us into the life of the Holy Trinity. In the simplest of terms, Christ, the Son of God fully Glorified, as the Son of Man, returns to the Father to establish a permanent place or home for the Saved and God’s Elect. Every aspect of Human Nature in need of repair and restoration has been Redeemed in Christ and now sits at the Father’s Right Hand, interceding for us and pleading that we may join Him there forever. Jesus prays the Father that we might participate in His royal redemption, salvation, and glorification forever.
Christ Jesus had been preparing men of faith with hope for His coming love long before His Incarnation. In this morning’s Old Testament reading, we find that faith in Isaiah, who yearned and longed after a fuller manifestation of God’s real presence and power in a world that did not know Him. For, there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities. (Is. lxiv. 7) But the prophet’s faith was solid and certain. He abandoned himself to God’s Ghostly Strength. But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity forever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people. (Ibid, 8,9) So having acknowledged his sin and the wickedness of God’s people, the prophet faithfully cried to God for deliverance and salvation.
We see this same faith and hope in the Psalmist this morning. He has no faith that his friends will aid him when confronting the assaults of his worst enemies. He confesses in all meekness and humility, O help us against the enemy, for vain is the help of man. (Ps. lxiv. 12) And so the fire of his heart is stirred passionately within, as he reaches out to sing the song of faith. O GOD, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have. Awake, thou lute and harp; I myself will awake right early. I will give thanks unto thee, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. (Ps. cviii. 1-3) From the ground of his soul, the fire of faith envelops, informs, and consumes his heart. He is swept up out of himself by the music of heavenly delight. He thanks God antecedently for what he believes, and hopes shall shortly come to pass. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens, and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Set up thyself, O God, above the heavens, and thy glory above all the earth; That thy beloved may be delivered: let thy right hand save them, and hear thou me. (Ibid, 4-6)
And if this faith and hope were alive in Isaiah and the Psalmist, think about the power of their presence in the souls of the Apostles on the Day of Christ’s Ascension. Very few human beings have ever come as close to God’s Word as those who experienced the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Apostles, and His first followers. Few have experienced their sinful poverty of spirit more self-consciously in the presence of God with us and for us. Few have suffered and embraced the gift of the forgiveness of sins from the hands of the Giver more poignantly and acutely than the Apostolic band. Few have then been stirred with the same fiery faith and love to embrace the hope of Resurrection and new life that the Ascended Christ longs to impart to all men in all ages.
But this fiery trial and victory of faith and hope were never meant to be special gifts reserved only for holy men and Saints of long ago. This is the fiery faith that we too must recover and regain if we hope to be saved. Jesus Christ’s Ascension is the crowning moment in an ongoing history of the faith of men who fervently desired Him long before He came, and joyfully embraced His presence long after He had gone. You see, the Ascension is that moment when the burning bush and fire of man’s deepest desire for God are perfected and consummated, and then expanded and enlarged as Christ calls and summons all men into the wake and trail of His love’s upward blaze. As Paul Claudel writes,
Jesus Christ, the Man-God, highest expression of creation, rises from the depths of matter where the Word was born by uniting with woman’s obedience, toward that throne which was predestined for Him at the right hand of the Father. From this place, He continues to exercise his magnetic power on all creatures; all feel deep within them that summons, that injunction, to ascend. (I Believe…159)
What the Son of God made flesh offered to the Father in the fiery passion of pure Sacrifice, Death, Resurrection, magnetically draws our hearts up and away from the earth. Christ has conquered sin and death and lifts us up into the presence of the Father. Jesus says, And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (St. John xiv. 3)
Jesus will come again to us next week at Pentecost, through the Descent of our Lord the Holy Ghost. But before Christ’s descending fiery love begins to penetrate our hearts for our ongoing earthly pilgrimage, we must contemplate His Ascent to the Father. We must diligently pursue the Divine flame of fiery love that lifts Christ’s living death and dying life back to God. In His Ascension, with Bishop Westcott, we are encouraged to work beneath the surface of things to that which makes all things, all of us, capable of consecration. Then it is, that the last element in our confession as to Christ’s work speaks to our hearts. He is not only present with us as Ascended: He is active for us. (Sermons…) Beneath the surface of His flesh, within His Sacred Heart, He holds us. This Love has always moved Christ, as He stooped down from Heaven to wash, heal, teach, and forgive us. This is the Love that suffered our rejection, torture, and crucifixion of Him. This is the Love that rose from death, and now in the Ascension cries Come follow me into Resurrection and beyond. Austin Farrer says this:
WE are told in [the] Old Testament how an angel of God having appeared to man disappeared again by going up in the flame from the altar…In the same way Elijah, when he could no more be found, was believed to have gone up on the crests of flaming horses. The flame which carried Christ to heaven was the flame of his own sacrifice. Flame tends always upwards. All his life long, Christ's love burnt towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire, until he was wholly consumed in it, and went up in that fire to God. The fire is kindled on our altars, here Christ ascends in fire; the fire is kindled in the Christian heart, and we ascend. He says to us, Lift up your hearts; and we reply, We lift them up unto the Lord.
Like the flame, our desire must tend upwards and burn towards the heart of heaven in a bright fire. We pray that this flame will kindle the fire of Christ’s Love for the Father in us. We lift our hearts up unto the Lord and begin to sense the fire of His Love. We come into the presence of our heavenly Father through Christ and realize that the end of all things is at hand. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) In Heaven’s bright light, we see Christ, who has by himself purged our sins [and] sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. ( Hebrews i. 3) Christ has redeemed us and welcomes us to sit with Him in Heavenly Places. Our old sinful lives have died in Christ on His Cross of Love. His fiery Love has instructed us in forty days of Resurrection. The same intensity of Love pleads our cause at God’s Right Hand.
St. Peter tells us this morning that to ascend through Jesus back to God the Father we must live wisely, and keep our senses awake to greet the hours of prayer. (Knox: 1. St. Peter iv. 7) Too long in this low place we have been the slaves of gravity and the law of matter. Too long have we been at the mercy of chance and vanity. The time has come for us to take our flight, body and soul, toward our Higher Cause. (I Believe, 160.) Our spiritual senses must rise into the fire of Love’s journey to our end. Christ now reigns gloriously in the greatness of His power and majesty and desires us to have our conversation with Him in Heaven, to love His appearing, and to be dissolved into His love. (Jenks, 352) We must ask Him to begin to reign and rule as King Supreme from the thrones of our hearts, enflaming us with constant charity among ourselves that covers a multitude of sins (1 St. Peter iv.8) Let us pray today that we may feel the powerful attraction of Christ’s Grace and Holy Spirit, to draw up our minds and desires from the poor perishing enjoyments here below, to those most glorious and everlasting attainments above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. (Idem, Jenks) And may our deepest faith and love find words most fit, in this:
Lord, when the sense of thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek thy face.
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in love's delicious Fire.
O love, I am thy Sacrifice.
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes.
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.
Though still I die, I live again;
Still longing so to be still slain,
So gainfull is such losse of breath.
I die even in desire of death.
Still live in me this loving strife
Of living Death and dying Life.
For while thou sweetly slayest me
Dead to my selfe, I live in Thee.
(A Song: Richard Crashaw)
These things have I spoken unto you, that in my ye might
have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation but be of good cheer;
I have overcome the world.
(St. John xvi. 33)
Today, we find ourselves on the Fifth and final Sunday of the Easter Season. Today is called Rogation Sunday because our English word is derived from the Latin word rogare, which means to petition, ask, or supplicate. The tradition of Rogation Sunday hails from the 4th century and was standardized in the Latin Church by Pope Gregory in the 6th century. It was originally a Roman festival called Robigalia, which comes from robigo – meaning wheat rust, a grain disease, against which pious pagans petitioned the gods by sacrificing a dog to protect their fields. In England, on Rogation Sunday clergymen and their flocks process around the parish boundaries to bless the crops and pray for a fruitful harvest.
But the original purpose of Rogation Sunday goes back to Jesus’ opening words in today’s Gospel: Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, He will give it you. (St. John xvi.) Jesus’ words follow the prophecy of His eventual Ascension back to the Father, where He says, In that day, ye shall ask me nothing. (Ibid, 23) Jesus was preparing His Disciples for His risen and ascended life that He would share with them. Its blessing and benefit, as we learned last week, would depend upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. Jesus teaches us today that we must ask the Father in or through His Name for the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Word made flesh through whom we pray and supplicate the Father. This is why we end every prayer with through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Again, Jesus says, Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. (Ibid, 24) Notice that we are encouraged to ask so that our joy may be full. (Idem) Eastertide is all about learning to ask for what shall fulfill our heart’s deepest desire – the fullness of joy. God forever longs to share this joy with us, and it comes in Eastertide as we embrace resurrection from sin, death, and Satan. To begin to obtain that joy, we must set our sights on those things which are above and not things of the earth. (Col. iii. 2) In heart and mind, we must follow Jesus home to Heaven to find eternal joy.
But what is this joy? Christian joy is found in Jesus’ eternal nature as God’s only-begotten Son or Word, who always desires to do the Father’s will. True joy is found by entering that eternal delectation and delight. It is not found first and foremost in bodily health, through earthly ambition and success, by securing temporal riches and treasures, or even in gaining converts and seeing God’s work succeed! True joy is found by returning to the Father, through Jesus Christ’s Spirit so that we might delight to do God’s will. True joy is found in becoming sons of the Father who are made to do His will. Christ, of course, is the eternally-begotten Word, the Son and Offspring of the Father’s will. By His Redemption of our fallen human nature, Jesus invites us once again to become God’s sons through Him.
To do so, we must leave behind the cares of this world, which choke God’s Word. We must follow Christ in spirit and in truth as He returns to the Father. To get into right relation with the Father, we must ascend with Him that where He is, there we might be also. (St. John xiv. 3) If we shall ascend, we must ask the Father to help us live through Jesus Christ under the rule and governance of the Spirit they share. Herein alone, we shall find true joy. For this to happen, we must make time and space for contemplation. Bishop K.E. Kirk has this to say about it:
Contemplation, or the Prayer of Simplicity or Quiet, is the highest interior activity of the spiritual life - indeed, it aims not at being an activity at all, but at reducing the soul to a purely passive condition in which it may listen, unimpeded by thoughts of self or the cares of the world, to the voice God alone.'As rest is the end of motion so contemplation is
the end of all other…internal and external exercises; for to this end, by long discourse and much practice of affection, the soul inquires and tends to a worthy object that she may quietly contemplate it and...repose with contentment in it.'
(Some Principles of Moral Theology, p. 163)
Stillness and quiet are necessary to first situate us in the right spiritual space with God. In stillness and quiet, our souls must be reduced to a purely passive condition, open to the Father’s presence -to His Wisdom, Power, and Love. Jesus says today, The time is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in parables, but I will tell you plainly of the Father. (Ibid, 25) In stillness and quiet, in the simplest way, Christ will reveal to us His true nature. His true nature is that He came forth from the Father. (Ibid, 28) St. Thomas tells us that he says this for three reasons: (1) That He might manifest the Father in the world: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; the Only Begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.’ (St. John i. 18) The Word and Son of God came into the world to reveal the Father’s presence to us. (2) To declare His Father's will to us: ‘All things that I have heard of My Father I have made known unto you.’ (St. John xv. 15) The Word of God came into the world to reveal what He has heard of the Father concerning our salvation. (3) That He might show the Father's love towards us: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him….’ (St. John iii. 16) [Easter Homilies: XII] The Word of God came into the world to reveal the Father’s love for us in the death of His Son. This is the Father’s joy. In stillness and quiet, if we contemplate the life of the Word made flesh, we shall find the omnipotent power of God with us in Jesus Christ. This is His joy.
But because everything that Christ said and did for us in time and place came from the Father, Christ must leave us because by His leaving He gives us an example. ‘Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.’ (1 St. John ii. 15) ‘Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.’ (St. John xv. 19) Jesus ascends to the Father for Aquinas that: (1) That he might intercede with Him for us: ‘I will pray the Father.’ (St. John xiv. 16) (2) That He might give to us the Holy Spirit: ‘If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you.’ (St. John xvi. 7) (3) That He might prepare for us a place with the Father: ‘I go to prepare a place for you.’ (St. John xiv. 2) To which place may He lead us. (Idem) Jesus is our Lord and pleads our cause with the Father. Jesus leaves us to send the Spirit to incorporate us into His Death and Resurrection inwardly and spiritually. Jesus leaves us to prepare our future home in Heaven with the Father. In this, our hearts should be filled with all gratitude and joy.
God’s Word has been spoken through Jesus Christ in order that we might be redeemed. To be redeemed and saved, we must not only hear it, but desire to obey it (St. James i. 22), as St. James says this morning. St. James insists that we must be willing to obey God’s Word, Jesus Christ, above ourselves, so that in still and silent contemplation we might live in Him. We shall obey Him because this alone leads us to unending joy. Monsignor Knox tells us that being a hearer of God’s Word and not a doer – the man who looks in the mirror and forgets what manner of man he is, is like someone who listens carefully to a reading of Thomas a Kempis’ ‘Imitation of Christ’. He understands it and thinks that the book is really about Christians like himself – he finds a reflection of himself in it. [But] it is only if he will give a good long look at our Lord’s teaching that this self-satisfied person will see the real picture which it conveys, very different indeed from the ‘self-portrait’ that he first found in it! (Epistles and Gospels: Know, p. 138) Contemplating Christ the Word made flesh reveals our own self-portraitsstanding in sharp contrast to whom and what God would have us become in deed and in truth forever. (1 John iii. 18)
The Word made flesh now glorified, pleads our cause and sends His Comforter to recast us in His image and likeness as He prepares a place for us. (Idem) In Christ, our end, we see the perfect law of liberty that moves in and out of the Father’s presence with renewed ease. Christ has perfect liberty and joy. Now, we can ask the Father to reap the harvest of His victory over sin, death, and Satan in us. If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. (St. James i. 26) Spiritual silence enables us to think those things that be good, and by God’s merciful guiding may perform the same. (Collect: Rogation Sunday)
Mother Teresa writes this:
n the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself (–with His Holy Spirit.) Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.
(Mother Teresa, In the Heart of the World…)
As we contemplate the glorified Christ, we confess that we are empty and nothing, asking the Father to harvest in us the salvation that Christ has won. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-6) By believing in Christ through the Holy Spirit, we can become overcomers. In Him, let us ask for true religion…in silence, visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and keepingourselves unspotted from the world. (Ibid, 27) Then, in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, we shall be of good cheer because He has overcome the world. (St. John xvi. 33)
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way,
that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way,
which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
St. Matthew vii. 13, 14
Our opening quotation, taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel, gives us a useful segue into our study of the meaning of Resurrection in this Eastertide. In it, Jesus Christ tells us that most people go to Hell and few go to Heaven. Pardon me for cutting to the quick, but these are Jesus’ words, and this is Jesus’ analysis of the fallen human condition. I am quite sure that He always wants it to be otherwise, but Truth is truth. Far from being a condemnation or sentencing of His own people to Hell, these words should be taken as a warning for us all when we think irresponsibly that we are already saved and bank on Cheap Grace or think that our religion and good works are going to save us. None of this is good theology and it certainly isn’t Biblical. Most men go to Hell because they choose the broad way over and against the strait gate, the narrow way that alone leads to salvation.
Of course, none of this is pleasant news and too many Christians threaten their salvation by believing untruths like my God wouldn’t damn anyone. Many Christians don’t think. Of course, God damns people. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t give them the respect they deserve as being free willing creatures that can choose irrationally to reject Him. God creates man with reason and free will and to discover their respective perfections. So, our Good God loves us so much that he allows us not to want, find, love, or put Him above all things so that we can go to Heaven. Our God is Good and so never compels anyone to love Him enough to be saved. God gives to every man his due or will render to every man according to his deeds. (Romans ii. 6) So, we might want to wake up to the fact that man’s deeds come from man’s choices. Man’s choices are the result of his free will. What moves and defines us mostly means that we have used reason to will freely and to determine the character, state, and condition of our souls, forever. This is God’s loving justice. He respects us enough to allow us to fall in love with Him, or not.
So, if we hope to be saved, we must want it. To want it, we must find it. To find it, we need look no further than God’s revelation of it in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (St. John xiv. 6) Christians believe that salvation comes to fallen man through Jesus Christ by participating in the Redemption He has worked out for us, fulfilling Divine Reason and freely willing it. Jesus died and rose for us. Now, it is up to us to want, find, and love it more than all other things. Of course, we cannot really want, find, and love it more than all other things, unless we need it. Coming to discover that we need it is the hard part. To need it comes only when we have taken a long, hard look at ourselves and found ourselves to be, on the best of days, destitute of that joy and happiness that God’s Reason and Will alone generate for us in Jesus Christ.
I have said that needing what Jesus brings is the hard part. Most of us, wouldn’t you say, think that we are alright, are good enough, and shall, more than likely, just scrape by to enter the Kingdom? Such wishful thinking on our part. Jesus says that we must find the strait gate and enter the narrow way if we hope to be saved. And the strait gate and narrow way reveal no easy business. The old adages no pain, no gain, no suffering, no salvation, and no Cross, no Crown take in Jesus Christ’s pattern of suffering and death. What we need is the strait gate and narrow way of Jesus’ Passion for us. We can only come to need it if we realize what Christ has done for us.
We can only realize what Christ has done for us when we come to know ourselves as sinners. In these dark, dark days, where the idolaters of our world convince us that God loves us just the way we are, this is challenging. But surely, we don’t really believe that we are pure and righteous. St. James, long ago, knew that Man never is, and so exhorts us to Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. (St. James iv. 7,8) Jesus Christ came into the world to help us to need God when He promised to send the Comforter unto us, [who] will reprove the world of sin. (St. John xvi. 8) The Comforter, Christ’s Holy Spirit, longs to awaken us to our sins,born of self-reliance and self-righteousness, which kill the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in our souls. God’s Word is the expression of His Reason and Will for us in Jesus Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas says
he will convince, rebuke, the world, as the one who will invisibly enter into their hearts and pour his charity into them so that their fear is conquered and they have the strength to rebuke. (Aquinas: John’s Gospel)
What we come to need is the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with the charity of God, which has conquered all our fear with the strength to rebuke all sin on Jesus’ Cross. Next, Jesus say that the Comforter will reprove…the world of righteousness. (Ibid, 10) Aquinas, with St. Paul, the greatest of convicted Christians, proclaims that we are sold under sin… There is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans iii. 10, Ibid) and that the world must be convicted always by the righteousness that [we] have ignored or neglected. (Idem) Through the Spirit, the Father lovingly shows us that we have rejected and neglected God’s Crucified Son. The Father made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. v. 21). Finally, the Comforter will rebuke…the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. (Idem) Aquinas insists that the devil has received his due. Thus, the world is reproved by this judgment because being unwilling to resist, it is overcome by the devil, who although expelled is brought back by their consent to sin: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies" (Rom 6:12, Idem) In Christ’s death, we discover that we need and can find, want, and love the strength to know that Satan has been judged. (Idem)
When we come to need Jesus, we begin to find and want and love God’s Reason and Will for us. In Christ, our faith must be tried and tested by His Crucifixion. This is where the rubber meets the road.
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you….The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (St. John xv. 18-21)
If we are made one with the Cross of Jesus, we shall be hated by the world. Christ’s Victory over sin, death, and Satan in the Crucifixion enables us to order [our] unruly wills and affections [as] sinful men. (Collect Easter IV) The Holy Spirit strengthens us to become servants of Christ’s righteousness as we endure this world’s hatred. The Holy Spirit will enable us to love the thing that the Father commandeth and love the thing He doth promise. (Collect…) Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (St. John xvi. 7)
Christ longs for more in us. He persuades us to need, want, find, and love Him inwardly and spiritually. This is why He must depart from us in the flesh. St. James writes Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (St. James i. 19.20) Christ desires to dwell in our hearts by faith. With Christ living in us, through the Holy Spirit, if we are swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, (Idem) we must resist all vengeance. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19) To journey from Christ’s Crucifixion into Resurrection is difficult but filled with the belief that God is the judge and will give every man his due, what he wants, with neither force nor compulsion. So, St. James concludes:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience… Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
(St. James i. 2-4)
Christ is with us truly in spirit and in truth. Our temptations now can become good and useful ways to help us to need, want, find, and love the way that overcomes all our sins. Jesus, the Word of Truth, will soften our old hardened, sinful hearts, convict us through the Holy Spirt and give us new hearts of love, leading us through the straight gate and narrow way that lead to salvation.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the Word of
Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (St. James i. 17, 18)
The gift of the Father is Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Word, who cometh down from the Father of Lights, whose Reason and Free Will with neither shadow of turning always long to beget us anew, whose Good News is the strait gate and narrow way that enable us to need, want, find, and love Him and the salvation He has won for us forever.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: