Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God.
St. Luke xiv. 15
The liturgical season of Trinity tide is all about virtuous and godly living. In this season, we are called to translate and convert our vision of Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life into habits of holiness and righteousness. We are called to apply what we know to our hearts. With our Collect, we must remember that God…never failest to help and govern those whom [He] dost bring up in [His] steadfast fear and love, through the protection of His good providence, if we ask Him to make us have a perpeptual steadfast fear and love of [His] Holy Name. The good that we are focusing on in this beginning of Trinity Tide is charity or the love of God. On both last Sunday and this we have been called to contemplate God’s charity towards us, the perfecting of it in our hearts, and then its natural outpouring for all others. Last Sunday’s parable warned us of what happens in the hereafter when we do not share God’s charity here. Dives desired charity too late in Hell. This Sunday’s parable warns us of what happens when we trifle with the charity of God. If we do not outright reject the love of God like Dives, perhaps we fritter away and squander our love on lesser things. The end result will be the same.
Every claim of God’s charity on our souls requires that with perpetual steadfast fear and love we petition His help and governance. God’s charity is far greater than any other kind of love we find in creation. His love is measureless, mammoth, monumental, and majestic. Jesus likens it to something unique, in and for Himself. God’s charity is unselfish and creative. Jesus compares it to the Bread of Life that we shall eat in His Kingdom. Such bread nourishes us inwardly and spiritually and is nothing other than the Love of God.
So, we read that A certain man made a great supper, and bade many…. (St. Luke, xiv. 16) The certain man is God. His supper is the chief meal of the day for the Ancient Greeks, and thus the essential supper of the Lord in spiritual terms. The supper is comprised of that spiritual satisfaction that will be the reward of those who sit down to eat with God in His Kingdom. God’s Love is forever expansive and so He invites many. Many is the word indicating that God’s Love includes all men. The parable is given to us in the past tense since God’s Love in Christ will be made for all future generations. God’s Love in Christ was established and intended from the Dawn of Creation. Come; for all things are now ready. (Ibid, 17) It begins in Christ’s Church, where the fact that Christ has died for the sins of the whole world, risen with healing in His wings, ascended to plead our cause and returned again in the Holy Ghost to establish His ongoing ministry to us, have all been established through His Love. Beginning here and now, we can begin to be nourished and grown up into those who have accepted the invitation and intend to be accepted forever as guests at God’s Great Supper. If we accept the invitation, we begin to enjoy the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him. (1 Cor. ii. 9)
So, men in all ages have been invited by God, through Jesus Christ, to embrace the Spirit that invites them to the great supper of Heaven. Yet, let us see how men in all ages refuse this gracious invitation. Many men throughout history have made excuses as to why they cannot come to God’s Love Feast. The first cannot come because of what he has. (Trench: The Great Supper) Archbishop Trench remarks: Perhaps the first, who pleaded, ‘I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it,’ represents those who are elate of heart through already acquired possessions. (Idem) There are those who are satisfied and jealous of the property they possess, and so love what they have much more than what they stand to gain from God’s Love in Jesus Christ. The second cannot come because ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them.’(Idem) These cannot come because of the care and anxiety of [what they stand to gain] from earthly love of what they seek. (Trench, Idem) The first have and cannot love anything more than what they possess with pride. The second lust and envy for more. Both pray, have me excused. (Ibid, 18, 19) The third is adamant and insistent. I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. (Ibid, 20) According to the Levitical law, this would have been reason sufficient why he should not go to battle, (Deut. 24. 5;) but it is none why he should not come to the feast, (I Cor. 7:29) He, however, counts it more than sufficient. (Trench, Idem) Archbishop Trench remarks that this man’s cannot is sealed under the I will not, and believes that the marital bond is sufficient to overcome the offer of God’s Love. For all, There is room at the feast but no room in their hearts for the loving intention of the host and his provision. (The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, M. Scott, 154) And so they forfeit those greater and lasting riches that reveal God’s Divine charity and how it promises to keep us under the protection of God’s good providence. (Collect: Trinity II)
Notice, however, that God’s Love persists unabated. We read that the master or God is angry. When rejected, Abused mercy turns into the greatest wrath. (M. Henry, Comm.) Yet, God is pictured here as turning swiftly to share His Love with those who will humbly and gladly receive it. Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. (Ibid, 21) The great supper of the Lord is intended first for those who need God’s Love more than any other. Literally, the parable is first about the Jews, God’s chosen people, and the apple of His eye. Then, the parable is directed against Christians who neglect God’s Love in the Holy Communion. In either case, those first called prefer other loves to God’s Love in Jesus Christ. It is as simple as all that. They will go to Hell if they reject the invitation.
The master in the parable -God, turns His attention to others. The parable takes a turn and twist to picture those who will be brought to the supper. Now, the servant brings to the feast the poor, maimed, halt, and blind. (Idem) Those who should have believed and known the servant, Jesus Christ, the Father’s Ambassador and Emissary, and as their own Saviour and Redeemer, refused Him. They felt no need for Jesus Christ. Now those are brought who know their own frailty, fallenness, and need of God’s Love. With all humility, they allow others to bring them to the supper. They may be poor, maimed, halt, and blind literally or spiritually. It matters not. The parable is for all ages and the temptation comes to all to think themselves too rich, too busy, or too happy to be made better. We cannot taste the supper until we have a taste for it. The penalty of refusal is rejection and our heaviest punishment will be what we shall miss. They, too, who have accepted the invitation, and have taken their seats at God’s board, must have a care that they really partake. (Scott, p. 155)
To appreciate God’s loving us, in deed and in truth, we must realize that God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things. (Idem) We must become spiritually conscious that we are all poor, halt, maimed, and blind in order to discover our real need for God’s healing Love. Yet, there is more. What do we read next?
And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. (Ibid, 22) There is room for a deeper felt need for what God promises to give us through His charity. And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled. (Ibid, 23) Those bidden to come did not. Others who have been brought gladly accepted the invitation through persuasion. Now the servant compels even more still. God’s charity calls His own, persuades others, and now compels another lot! This word compel must reveal God’s passionate and urgent desire to ceaselessly pursue all men to come to the salvation supper. Of course, this compelling must mean that strong and earnest exhortation, which…Christ will address to [His] fellows. (Trench, Parables, Ch. xxi) This is that Love of God that longs, by nature, to save all men by forgiving even those who first rejected or neglected the invitation but see how God’s Love pursues all other men. The invitation must appear more and more compelling through its unstoppable quest to find others for the Great Supper of Heaven. Although we have rejected it, we must see how God in Jesus Christ never changes. Then, we shall understand that loving Him means keeping His Commandments. And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. (1 John iii. 23)
Jesus says to us today:
All things are now ready, now is the accepted time; it is now, and has not been long; it is now, and will not be long; it is a season of grace that will be soon over, and therefore come now; do not delay; accept the invitation; believe yourselves welcome; eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved. (M. Henry)
We have left Christ, but He never leaves us. In fact, Christ who invited us a first, second, or third time might find us still. The Feast has begun, and we should now be compelled to come. (Idem) We must not delay. Christ’s original invitation might be directed at others, but we too can follow as we find ourselves with the last and the least. God’s Love in Jesus Christ is discovered better late than never. Perhaps we have preferred other loves to God’s Love. Now we see the nature and power of God’s Unabated Love in Jesus Christ and we must not delay to accept the invitation to the Great Supper of God. We might have neglected it or not appreciated God’s Love. Now, with the poet, let us discover it anew.
How many unknown WORLDS there are
Of comforts, which Thou hast in keeping!
How many Thousand Mercies there
In Pity’s soft lap lay a sleeping!
Happy He who has the art
To awake them
And to take them
Home, and to lodge them in his heart. (R. Crashaw)
We love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in the vision of God. Today, I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year, you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of moral activity. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, but knowledge for the Christian is also the Truth that bears fruit in the good life.
The knowledge of God in Jesus Christ is what we have been working through from Lent to Ascension Tide. We have come to the knowledge of what God thinks, speaks, and does in the Sacred Humanity of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What we see in Jesus Christ is the Wisdom, Power, and Love of God the Father perfectly at work in the human life of Jesus. St. Paul tells us, For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich. (2 Cor. viii. 9) St. Paul hopes that we might find the knowledge or vision of God in His Son that [our] hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians ii. 2-4) St. Paul teaches us that Jesus Christ sets aside the plentiful treasure of His Divine nature to become poor for our sakes. The Wisdom, Power, and Love of God comprise the only treasure that ought to interest every earthly man. Jesus possesses this treasure forever as the only begotten Son of the Father. He is the Logos or Articulation of what the Father intends for us. Adam was made to be moved and defined by this treasure of inestimable worth but rejected it. Jesus takes upon Him the seed of Abraham and becomes the New Adam who will be poor on earth so that He might make many rich in Heaven. How does Jesus become poor? Jesus takes on our frail, weak, suffering human nature. He takes on our sin and subjects Himself to it. He reveals how the Omnipotent Word of God made Flesh responds to sinful man’s attempt to kill it in Man. He reveals how, as God’s Word in the Flesh, in His Death he will conquer all earthly concupiscence and love of earthly riches.
In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12). But he tells us also that God is love. (Ibid, 8) God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) So, we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love is revealed and seen in His Word made flesh. His Word is His Son. His Son not only creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of creation, but He also humbles Himself to become Man to redeem and reconcile all men to God the Father. To know this is to begin to see how the Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ became poor for our sakes. St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have in God’s own Son is nothing short of seeing God and coming to believe and know how we must become poor in this world to be made rich spiritually in the next. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ should begin to form a new moral character in us, as He comes to us through the Holy Spirit.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know is actualized by following Jesus from poverty into the riches and treasures of His Kingdom. In other words, we must make an act of will that becomes poor in this world and surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This Love who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians ii. 7,8) We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose was rich in earthly things, lorded it over others, and cared little for that deeper Mercy and Love that stoop down and become poor, to be one with the poor, in order to lift them up and into the riches of God’s spiritual bounty. Or if we are rich like those who are full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we already count ourselves rich spiritually. We keep the Law, we tithe, we attend Church regularly, and we are sufficiently religious, outwardly visible for all to see. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed, hoping all the while that this might earn us our salvation!
Being like Dives or the rich man may mean that we are either material or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) Dives’ moral character was such that he was unloving and ungenerous with his earthly treasure. Because Dives did not meet his poor brother’s material needs, Lazarus was left hungry of earthly food and, thus, destitute of spiritual potential. Lazarus found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case Dives did not know God, love God, or love His neighbor. Friendship with God seemed too costly a price to pay for a man who was possessed with earthly treasure and religious self-satisfaction. So, in the end, his soul is parched and tormented forever because he rejected the knowledge of God and the love that it necessarily implies. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love of God in his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus, who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the broken cisterns that can hold no water, crying out of sterile narcissism that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship with man. Had he received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have emptied himself of his riches to stoop down and give bread to poor Lazarus. St. John tells us this morning that If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If we do not love those whom God gives us to see with our earthly eyes, how can we love God with supernatural eyes? With Dives, we shall find ourselves in Hell forever where there is a great gulf fixed…an eternal separation, a yawning chasm, too deep to be filled up and too wide to be bridged over. (Trench, Parables…)
Today we come to know about the friendship of God and Man in Jesus the Word of God, who lives out the Summary of the Law: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength, and mind. And thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In the Love of Jesus, we find the Father’s rich spiritual treasure come down from Heaven to all of us. But perhaps Archbishop Trench’s warning about the deeper meaning of the Parable ought to strike us today. He reminds us that we all can become like Dives in a spiritual sense. The sin of Dives in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes. The seat of the disease is within….(Idem) Again, with the good Archbishop, the parable is a warning to the Church, that it do not shut itself up in selfish pride; glorying in the multitude of its own privileges but at the same time with no feeling sense of the spiritual wants and miseries of those who know not God, with no earnest effort to remove these distresses; that on such forgetfulness a terrible judgment must follow. (Idem) The Church’s treasure is to be found in the friendship that might have been between Dives and Lazarus. The poor we have with us always. The Church must be awakened to her own spiritual poverty for as long as she neglects the spiritual treasure that still lurks in the heart of that one lost soul that the Church has not found. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. (1 St. John iv. 16) When the Church ministers the poor, the friendship between God and Man is imitated and perfected. Then she shall be rich indeed.
After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
(Rev. iv. 1-3)
Tradition has it that St. John the Evangelist died a very old man in the city of Ephesus. The same Tradition, dating from the Second Century A.D., tells us that he was the only Apostle not to have suffered martyrdom. Having written his Gospel of love, his Epistles of sanctifying affection, the same man endured the vision that we read of in our properly appointed Epistle for this Trinity Sunday, on the island of Patmos, not long before his death. To the old man a door was opened in heaven. Indeed, a door was opened to one who was in the spirit. But the door had been opening to him from the day that he dropped his fisherman’s net, some eighty five years prior, when as a young man, one Jesus of Nazareth said come follow me (St. Matthew iv. 19) One gets the sense, if one follows John, that he was always in the spirit following and finding Jesus. His Gospel is not merely about Jesus’ love for him and all others, but about his own discovery and knowledge of that love as he grew from young manhood into maturity. His Epistles call others into that same love, into that unbreakable knot of friendship with God the Father that the then Ascended Jesus offered through His Spirit. His Revelation or Apocalypse crowns his life with a vision of the Trinity and the life yet to come. A door was opened in heaven, John says, and I was in the Spirit. Jesus says, come follow me, and John writes, that we too may follow and find our love and affection in friendship with God the Father, through Jesus Christ our Lord and by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.
Following Jesus, being in the Spirit, finding that a door is opened comprise the reality that John offers to all who will accept it. St. John was a uniter or unifier; John was as one who desired not only God for himself, but God for others, that all might journey with him and find friendship with God. But, perhaps more than others, he knew only too well the spiritual cost of discipleship, the demands that accompany the journey into this new kind of friendship. You will remember, no doubt, that St. John calls himself the disciple whom the Lord loved or the beloved disciple. And indeed, St. John is nothing if he is not the Apostle of love. Of course, love is the basis of any friendship. But the kind of love that St. John came to know in Jesus was as something that stirred him on in the persistent, even insistent, pursuit of his Master through the Spirit. Come follow me takes on a nature for John that then grows and develops as Divine love draws him progressively towards that door that was opened in heaven.
John was stirred on to pursue friendship with God because of the love in Jesus that drew him to it. In Jesus, he discovered and came to know one who came to do not His own will but that of the Father who sent him. In other words, in Jesus, he found one who emptied himself that he might convey to others what he had heard from and seen of the Father. Jesus was human; John had no doubt of that. But John saw something else at work in him; he saw the Divine Life reaching out through the human life of Jesus to offer to men the hope of salvation. In other words, he saw and perceived the Divine Desire of the Father, flowing through the Son by the motions of the Spirit which he had hitherto not known. What he learned, progressively, perhaps slowly, was that its reception in his own heart would require a response costing nothing less than everything. He began to realize then that he would have to die to himself, that the Divine offer of salvation and redemption might be received, treasured, and grown in his heart.
What he realized he records in the Gospel lection which we have read today. At the time, he had not entirely grasped its meaning and urgency. But looking back he remembers the words of Jesus the knowledge of which would prove essential to salvation. John remembered a conversation that Jesus had had with Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus had been impressed by the miracles that Jesus had wrought, and under the protective covering of the night, came to Him privately to explore the meaning of His life. Jesus responded to him with these words: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) Nicodemus became confused and asked,
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? (St. John iii. 4) Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 5-8)
Jesus makes clear that the whole of a man must be born again by being born from above. He insists that the body and soul must be baptized into new life; the body being purified by water with John the Baptist’s Baptism of Repentance, and the soul being cleansed by the inbreathing of the Divine Spirit. New birth and new life would be Jesus’ condition for all men who would follow him in pursuit of friendship with God the Father in Heaven. This St. John began to learn when he first heard these words. This St. John came to understand more deeply after the events of his Master’s crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
You will remember that St. John was the only disciple present at the crucifixion. No doubt, unbeknownst to him at the time, the power of the Divine Spirit’s love and desire called him to follow Jesus even to His Cross. He remained throughout the agonizing death of His master’s earthly life- his mind and heart, for certain, being carried by the love of Jesus into a death that would become his own. His pursuit of Jesus had been confirmed, we surmise, long before those horrific hours. Come follow me. John did. I was in the Spirit. John was. Following the death and burial, on the first day of the week, when news had reached him and Peter of the empty tomb, John outran his good friend. Love that pursues and follows in the Spirit always outruns that which is not yet freed of the flesh. Peter was like Nicodemus: If I have told you earthly things and believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) John had been drawn by the heavenly nature of Jesus to death, into death, and now up and out of death into the Master’s new life.
Later in his Epistles, and prior to the Revelation which he endured, St. John added this to Jesus’ conditions for discipleship and salvation. Already he grasped the nature of the Trinity. There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (1 St. John v. 7) Through Jesus Christ- by water, blood and the Spirit, God the Father had overcome the world. The Father spake his Word into the flesh and blood of Jesus, and by the Spirit had opened Heaven once again to the hopes of all men. On earth, St. John insisted, men could begin to participate in the life of the Holy Trinity. There are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. ( 1 St. John v. 8) To the water and the Spirit which Jesus said were necessary for the Baptism into new life, John adds blood. Indeed, the blood of the everlasting covenant made flesh, was poured out, effectively inviting fallen fleshly man into the new birth through death to sin, death, and Satan. John adds blood because without it there would be no death- Jesus’ death for us, and ours in Him. Without that death, there can be no new life, light, and love in the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit. Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven. (St. John iii. 3) Man is born again through the waters of Baptism as the Spirit washes away our sins and in the blood of the Holy Eucharist as the Spirit nourishes and strengthens us with all heavenly virtue.
Trinity Sunday is all about the new life that is opened to all men through the essential process of being born again- through water, blood and the Spirit. But being born-again is a hard and painful process. We might ask ourselves, how can I do it? The best way is through Word and Sacrament. Through both, we shall discover man’s alienation from God and Jesus’ response to it. In Scripture we shall find the Word of Life, Jesus Christ, who intends to return us to the Father through the Spirit. The Spirit establishes the Word of the Father in our hearts efficaciously when we receive the Sacraments faithfully. What we believe and know from Scripture is brought alive by the Spirit as the love of Christ for the Father is established in our hearts by Grace. One thing is clear, it cannot be found unless we accept Jesus’ gracious invitation: Come follow me. When we do, we shall discover that true new life is found with the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. A door shall be opened. When we do, we shall discover that true new life comes from and returns to God the Holy Trinity, whose chief desire is to stir us up with St. John onto the journey of love and whose ultimate joy is the sweet embrace of unbreakable friendship with Himself in Heaven forever.
They marvelled to see such things; they were astonished,
and suddenly cast down. Fear came there upon them;
and sorrow, as upon a woman in her travail.
(Psalm xlviii. 4,5)
One day in the future men will look back at our age and describe it as the time when man had forgotten his past. In general, we shall be judged as those who had little or no respect for the wisdom of our fathers, and in particular, as those who spent their lives running away from the truth. Because of both, we shall be known as those who forfeited any meaningful future. William Wordsworth once said, Life is divided into three terms - that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future. But Wordsworth was a Christian, and authentic Christianity, we must admit, is the most feared and despised of all religions in this dark age of ours. Why? Well, because it demands that every man face his past, cull it into the present, name it, claim it, repent of it, and open himself up to that sanctification that promises better life in the future. Authentic Christianity is something that our world cannot bear; our world hates the past, and never more passionately than when it creeps into the present to judge and measure us, to reveal to the world why we are not as hale and hearty as we pretend to be.
Pentecost or Whitsunday is all about the past, present, and future. Pentecost helps us to see who we have been and what we have done; Pentecost teaches us who we are now; Pentecost calls us forward into a spiritually informed future. Today we read about the first Pentecost in the cenacle –or upper room, in the Acts of the Apostles. Monsignor Knox describes the setting in this way:
A room haunted with memories –through that door did Judas Iscariot slink out into the night…on that table the consecrated chalice reposed; through that window they listened to the shouts of ‘Crucify Him’; that floor had been trodden by impassible feet. It was in this room that the Holy Ghost visited His people on the day of Pentecost. (Pentecost: R. Knox)
It was in this room that both good and evil battled in response to Christ’s impending Passion. It was in this room that one man betrayed our Lord, another sought refuge having denied Him thrice, and the rest remained huddled together for fear of the Jews. It was in this room that the past events of the Last Supper and the Foot Washing were about to become the signs and badges of the Apostles’ common life and Christian future. It was in this room that past sin would be remembered so that future hopes could be realized in the new life that the Holy Spirit would bring. If man is to be redeemed and saved, the past must always mold and shape the future in the present. Each of the Apostles would bear about in his life the forgiveness of his past sins, the sanctification of his present predicament, and the redemption for his future glory.
So perhaps we should turn to our text in order to examine how this process all began at the first Pentecost.
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. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, where in we were born? (Acts ii. 1-8)
What jumps out at most Christians immediately is the rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues like fire, then speaking in [other] tongues. What arrests them wonderfully is the vigorously aggressive, paranormal, transcendent, and otherworldly dynamism of the Holy Ghost. So, they tend to conclude that the Apostles were swept up into a chaotic, disordered, even anarchic Dionysian irruption of emotion and passion that defied all reason. So, their response is akin to the eyewitnesses [who] were all amazed, and were in doubt, saying one to another, What meaneth this? Or with the others mocking, saying, these men are full of new wine. (Acts ii. 12, 13)
But a more cautious reading of the text reveals a providential ordering and sanctification of the past, in the present, and for the future. This is Christian History in the making. This was the day of Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, on which devout Jews from all over the world descended upon Jerusalem to commemorate God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Holy Spirit only ever comes to sanctify those who gather to thank God for past mercies and future Grace. And so we read that [the Apostles] were all with one accord in one place. (Idem) They were of one mind, united in purposive prayer, in one place, watching and waiting, honoring one past, loving one another in the present, and praying about the future. For that blessed Dove comes not where there is noise and clamour, but moves upon the face of still waters, not the rugged ones. (M. Henry) This particular Pentecost fell on the first day of the week. The pouring out of His Spirit that gives birth to the Church occurs on Sunday, the Day of Resurrection. Even when the sudden sound from Heaven, as of rushing mighty wind (Idem) fills the Cenacle, the Spirit grips the Apostles with fear as they remember John Baptist: He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and fire. (St. Matt. iii. 11) And so tongues of cloven fire gently rest upon their heads making time-past, present. Matthew Henry tells us that the Spirit, like fire, melts the heart, burns up the dross, and kindles pious and devout affections in the soul. (Idem) And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. (Acts ii. 4) What could have broken down into confusion and chaos was, as it turned out, ordered, disciplined, and purposive. The Holy Spirit translated one message of the wonderful works of God (Acts ii. 14) in Jesus Christ to devout men out of every nation, and to every man in his own tongue. (Idem)
To the Apostles, the experience of Holy Week and Christ’s Eastertide teaching were just now beginning to be understood. God’s power, wisdom, and love were making sense of the past. For, as Monsignor Knox reminds us, In those six weeks before Pentecost the Apostles had already lived through, as it were, the whole cycle of Church history; there was nothing callow, nothing tentative, nothing inexperienced about their methods from the very first. And because she was born old, the Church remains ever young. (Ibid) What the Apostles experienced was nothing short of the old man being made new as the past was transformed and redeemed in the present for the good of the future. Thus, belief led to repentance, repentance opened to obedience, obedience elicited knowledge, and knowledge reached forth towards its future in God the Father, through Jesus, and in the Spirit.
But they could endure this only because they had patiently allowed the work of God the Holy Spirit to teach them the truth and to change their lives. They remembered the words that Jesus had spoken to them in the Upper Room: 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 for ever; even the Spirit of truth (St. John xiv. 15, 16) Because they loved Jesus, they began to keep His Law. With His departure, He filled them with the deepest desire for the Redemption He had won through the promised illumination of His Holy Spirit. They began to realize that the greatest blessing spiritually is to know that we are destitute; and [that] until we get there, Our Lord is powerless…As long as we are rich, possessed of anything in the way of pride and independence, God cannot do anything for us. It is only when we get hungry spiritually that we receive the Holy Spirit. (The Bounty of the Destitute: O. Chambers) St. Thomas Aquinas, tells us that the Holy Spirit, whom the spiritually destitute desire, conveys to man four operations: Subtleness of substance, perfection of life, impulse of motion, and hidden origin. (Sermon: Emitte Spiritum) So the subtle, perfect, active, invisible, and intangible Spirit passes through physical nature to penetrate their souls. Then, He perfects their lives by infusing all virtue. Next, He moves them to embrace the holiness that He brings from the Father in the Name and Nature of Jesus. Finally, He reveals His hidden origin in the Father’s being and the Son’s wisdom. So the hidden and invisible Divine cause, through the motions of eternal love, perfects the Apostles by refining and rendering them subtle and contemptuous of all temporal and earthly things. (Idem)
Jesus says that the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (St. John xiv.) The Holy Ghost will illuminate the past so that in the present we might repent, believe, and understand. The Holy Ghost will bring the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ to life in our hearts as He speaks death to our sins. As members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church, the Holy Ghost longs to mold and shape us into the instruments of His unselfconscious holiness. The Church is neither new nor old, but eternal….For her Pentecost is continually repeating herself, making all things new, (Pentecost: R. Knox) for those who know that they can be perfected and made new only by God’s Holy Spirit, and so long as they have not forgotten how to be sorry. (Repentance: O. Chambers)
On this day, let us remember, with the Apostles, that if a man speaks in a tongue that is unknown to him, it is sure indication that someone else is speaking through his mouth. (Claudel, ‘I Believe’) If the Holy Ghost begins to speak through us, Christ Jesus Himself will be heard, and Christianity’s past will no longer be dead but alive in a present that is redeeming the time for a future when the wonderful works of God shall be crowned with glory. Amen.
Christ's Ascension is therefore also our own, upon the glory of the Head rests the hope of the body. On this holy day, we have received not only the assurance of entering into possession of eternal glory, but we have already entered into the heights of heaven with Christ Jesus.
(Leo, Sermon 1 De Ascensione Domini c. iv)
This is the first Sunday after the Ascension. We find ourselves situated between our Lord's Ascension back to the Father and the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost or Whitsunday, which we celebrate next Sunday. Today we must meditate upon the Ascension and find in it the devotion that prepares us for the promise of a new coming made to the Apostles in today's Gospel. Ascension is that day on which the church celebrates the return of the Son of God to Our Heavenly Father. On Ascension Day our Lord's earthly sojourn comes to a close. His temporal life and mission began when He was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. He lived, He taught, He healed, He was rejected, He suffered, He died, and He rose again from death. Nonetheless from the time of His Resurrection to His Ascension, His human nature is transfigured. He is in possession of a spiritual body, transparent, obedient to the Spirit, unconstrained and lightsome, an apt and natural instrument for the salvation He now intends to foment in all others. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89)
Romano Guardini tells us that in Christ’s death on the cross, Jesus’ temporal life comes to an end, but not His life itself. He had been incorporated into terrestrial existence, submitting to its conditions, bound by its limitations. When He is in one place, he is not simultaneously elsewhere; what he does at one moment is not done also at another. Event follows event. (The Lord: R.G. p. 427) Easter’s Resurrection changes all of that. The concrete human is now joined to an indestructible essence. (Idem) Jesus is with His friends again but is not subject to terrestrial power, the laws of government, or the laws of nature. He is here and there; He appears and disappears. He is unrecognizable and then recognized in an as earthly [and seemingly insignificant] gesture as the breaking bread. We feel in the lines how He pauses on the sill between eternity and time. (Idem) Christ is transfigured, and now temptation, evil, and corruption cannot touch Him. He is Risen Man. He moves at once in and out of events that are concurrent but isolated, united to all simultaneously in the event that He is.
Christ has been the victim of the best that sin can do, and now He has broken its chains, condemned its curse, and reversed the course of its rule in human life. Therefore, in His Ascension which we contemplate today, human mortality is redeemed. Christ has won the victory over sin, death, and Satan. Man’s end is found in His beginning, in the Father who is the source and origin of all truth, happiness, and joy. St. Peter says today that The end of all [other] things is at hand. (1 St. Peter iv. 7) In Jesus Christ, the power of human sin –the devil's deceit, is overcome, subdued, and brought to an end. The desire to tamper with God's eternal law for all creation is revealed to be futile, impotent, pointless, and ephemeral. In Jesus Christ, God has brought all sin to death. Satan flees and men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven [are] shaken. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Now the relationship between the Apostles and their Lord must change. Now there is no excuse for disobedience to God. Now there is no justification for sin. God Himself has confronted and crucified sin in the human flesh of His own dear Son. Through that resolute and passionate determination to come closer than any man ever had or could to the corruption of sin, He has felt its power acutely, and because He is God in Man, has overcome it perfectly. In Jesus Christ alone, the eternal life, light, and love of God have endured sin and revealed it to be utterly absurd and unsatisfying. In Jesus Christ alone sin is brought into death, death is brought into death, and Satan becomes progressively ineffectual and insignificant in the lives of men who believe.
In His Resurrection, Christ’s soul took back His body, penetrated it through and through, and made it spiritual. Instead of the body of lowliness, Christ now has the body of glory. The body sacrificed is now the body glorified. (The Meaning of Man: Mouroux, p. 89) Now as Christ the God-Man ascends to sit down on His throne in the Heaven of His Father, He will begin to become the Word made flesh in all times and all places, in one heart here and in another heart there, simultaneously. He sits in Heaven and yet will come alive in the souls of those who fear and love Him. He is in eternity yet in time, though differently from before, in an intimacy of becoming. (Guardini, Idem) Christ desires to become the effectual and operative principle –the way, the truth, and the life, that carries all men to their Divinely intended destiny.
And yet whether He is accepted as such or not, the Ascension establishes His role as Judge. His innocent human life alone has earned Him the right to weigh and measure all other men’s lives in relation to the Word made flesh that He is. Jesus says Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words, thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. (St. Matthew xii. 36, 37) Christ is God’s Word made flesh and for all flesh. From the seat of His ascended glory, His Holy Spirit will reprove the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. (St. John xvi. 8,9,10)
Again, with St. Peter:
The end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. Use hospitality one to another without grudging. As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion forever and ever.
If we hope to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, we must believe that our lives are now hidden with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 3) We must be vigilant and sober for [our]adversary the devil walketh about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. (1 St. Peter v. 8) The Ascended Christ sings to us: Lift up your hearts! Our chorus replies: We lift them up unto the Lord! He yearns to embrace us in the arms of His ascended love so that the allure of His benevolence might grow into forgiveness that is neither resentfully nor reluctantly offered to others. He longs that His ascended truth might be articulated through us as the oracles that tell of His future coming and judgment. For if His Holy Spirit is to descend into our hearts and souls, we must be lifted up above all things earthly and mundane, seeking those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. (Col. iii. 3)
Ascension tide is all about worshipping and adoring the Saviour who invites us into intimate communion with Our Heavenly Father. Christ has completed His Father's mission. And now a new relationship emerges between His friends –the Apostles, their successors, you and me, and God our Heavenly Father. As Father George Body, sometime Canon Missioner of Durham, has said:
‘They worshipped Him,’ -His very withdrawal from among them, His very elevation to the throne of God, was the development of new relations between the disciples and their Lord. As long as He was on the earth the worship was not the principal feature of their life; but as soon as He was withdrawn from them and seated at God's Right Hand in the heavenly places, the adoration of the Lamb -the worship of Jesus Incarnate, Crucified, Risen, Ascended, Enthroned, -the distinctive worship of the Christian Church, -began to be…where the Ascended Jesus is ever adored.
Ascension tide is the time of Adoration. In this time we worship and adore God’s own Son who has reconciled in Himself man to God and God to man. Today, Christ tells us: When the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning. (St. John xv. 26, 27) So we must prepare our hearts for bearing witness to the glorious truth of Christ’s Ascension. From His seat on High, He shall move us here below, that others may come to see and understand His triumphant victory over all that hinders us from communion with the Father and in His Person our own redeemed humanity. O God, my heart is ready, my heart is ready; I will sing, and give praise with the best member that I have…I will give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises among the nations. For thy mercy is greater than the heavens; and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. (Ps. xviii. 1-4) Man and God have united once again. Heaven itself is stirred by the irruption of the Ascended God-Man. Angelic worship and adoration are radically refined. The Ascended Christ takes His seat with the Father and a new light illuminates the intellects of angels and men, a new adoration fills their spirits, a new song bursts forth from their lips, a new worship is begun, the worship of Jesus Christ. (Body, Idem) God is gone up with a merry noise: and the Lord with the sound of the trump.O sing praises, sing praises unto our God: O sing praises, sing praises unto our King. (Ps. xlvii. 5,6)
Today we find ourselves in that space between Ascension’s glory and Pentecost’s calling. Let us end with the poet’s desire for both:
But since he
That brightness soil'd,
His garments be
All dark and spoil'd,
And here are left as nothing worth,
Till the Refiners fire breaks forth.
Then comes He!
Whose mighty light
Made his clothes be
Like Heav'n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stain'd man more white then snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick then light.
(Ascension Hymn: Henry Vaughn)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: