Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away.
(St. John xvi. 7)
This evening we celebrate one of the most important Feast Days of the Church Year. And yet, sadly, since the time of liturgical reform in the 1960’s this most important of all days has fallen into disuse. The Feast itself is either transferred to the following Sunday, or it has been forgotten altogether. But how, you might ask, could the Church forget this days of days, this event of events, this fact of all facts without which our Christian religion is in greatest danger and peril of breaking apart, disintegrating, drifting off into the devil’s domain? Perhaps you think I am exaggerating. But if we forget this days of all days, our salvation is in ruin, our deliverance is destroyed, the one all essential link of our piety and religion with God our Heavenly Father has been denied. For on this day Christ’s humanity, and thus our humanity, is reconciled with Heaven, and on this day the great work and labor of the salvation of nations begins.
Let me explain what I mean. For forty days we have been celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in this our Easter Tide. Throughout, we have been reflecting and praying upon Christ’s appearances to his faithful Mother the Blessed Virgin, to the Apostles, and then to upwards of 500 people. Throughout this season we have been learning about who and what Jesus Christ is. The faith, which we have received from the Apostles, teaches us that, as Article IV of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion sums it up: Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things pertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature…. (Article IV) Who and what the Apostles saw was no ghost or phantom, but Christ himself, Jesus of Nazareth, risen up from death, and bearing in his hands and feet the scars of his Crucifixion, the marks of his wounded love for all mankind. Who and what they saw was his risen human nature, now supernaturalized and glorified such that he could be in more than one place at once, and yet simultaneously able to eat and break bread with the friends that were still his. St. Paul tells us that All flesh is not the same flesh.... (1 Cor. xv. 39) There is the natural flesh and there will be supernatural flesh. Christ assumed our natural flesh and he carried it to death in a way that we could not. Natural flesh is sinful flesh; Christ assumed the punishment and penalty for the natural flesh that denies, silences, and kills God, for all practical purposes. In assuming its punishment, however, he, through whom all things are made, would take this natural flesh of the old man and raise it up from death into its true and lasting relation to God. He would respond to sin, death, and Satan, with the desire to make, mold, fashion, and create new life, new knowledge, and new love, which he would reconcile and return to God the Father. So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. (1 Cor. xv. 44,45) And long before Christ died on the Cross, Ezekiel the Prophet foretold of his work and labor.
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, And caused me to pass by them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord God, thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came up upon them, and the skin covered them above: but there was no breath in them. Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army. Then he said unto me, Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost: we are cut off for our parts. Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the LordGod; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves, And I shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. (Ez. xxxvii. 1-14)
Ezekiel prophesied of Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead. He prophesied of no resurrection of a spirit divorced from the body, or a soul without its flesh. He foretold of a Resurrection of the whole man, body, soul, and spirit. He foretold of the Resurrection of the whole Christ, not some part, not some element, not some small piece whose larger whole was to be left behind. The hands which touched the eyes of Blind Bartamaeus and opened them the vision of himself and whole world, rose up. The feet that were bathed with the flood of the Magdalene’s tears, rose up. The eyes, the nose, the mouth, the whole body of the same man recognized now in his spiritual glory was raised from the dead, and not one iota of that beautiful unity of body, soul, and spirit was lost or left behind. The whole Christ was raised up, the whole of our redeemed humanity was raised, the whole of his life which climaxed in his death on the Cross for us was raised up and moving, wounds and all – dead man walking - before the astounded eyes of our fathers and mothers in the Faith who saw it long ago. The whole of a shared life continued to be shared in all of its elements, with all of its parts, created by God and now to be returned to the source of all its truth, beauty, and goodness.
And now tonight this same risen Saviour, this raised up bundle of human redemption, ascends back to the Father. He does not disintegrate into raw particles and elements of air, water, earth, and fire. We are no Epicureans or New Age spiritualists who think that life – Christ’s or ours - ends in annihilation, destruction, and a scattering of all that human beings ever were and are into the stratosphere. We are no fools who think that we were made for naught or that we were made only to meet an end in which each and every one of our particular human personalities has no meaning or significance in the eternal scheme of things. No, because Christ has Risen from the Dead, and has Ascended back to the Father, we know that we can, if we so choose, find our meaning, definition, and ultimate destiny in our beginning. We came from God, and we shall return to God, not in part and parcel, but wholly, completely, really, and truly, as individual creations like none other, whose lives will be weighed and measured according to our willingness to accept God’s desire for us. And I shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land…. (Ez. xxxvii. 14)
Christ Jesus ascends back to the Father, and is still alive and moving as he has always been. Before his departure he tells his friends (and us), 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) Our Saviour ascends back to the Father to continue and perfect the work he has begun in us. He leaves the world, and as Article IV reminds us, He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day. (Article IV) Each and every human being, body, soul, and spirit shall be judged by Christ. But the good news for believers is this. He desires to put [his] Spirit in us, [that we may] live, live in him, dying to the world, the flesh, the devil as he did, and rising through the Holy Spirit to the Father, beginning here and now. Old St. John, at the end of his life, having witnessed the martyrdom of all of his friends for the sake of the living and Ascended Christ, says this: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 St. John i. 1-3) Our fellowship and unbreakable communion is with the Father, through the Ascended Jesus Christ who is our only Mediator and an Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, who is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 St. John ii. 1, 2) The Ascended Christ intercedes for us through his Holy Spirit. His Ascension means that he continues to be who and what he was and always is – God’s passion, desire, yearning, longing, hungering, and thirsting for our redemption. On this Ascension night let us remember and learn Christ’s eternal desire is for our salvation. On this Ascension night let us know that he desires to reconcile every particle of what makes up our individual natures with God the Father. He has made us; he loves us, he wants us with a passion that is unceasing, unhesitating, uninterrupted, and eternal. From our side, with all of our hearts and all of our souls, through all of our bodies and with all of our members, let us let Him, through his Holy Spirit, love us into loving our Heavenly Father to such an extent and with such a passion that on judgment day, he shall welcome us into the kingdom of his Father saying, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (St. Matthew xxv. 34)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: