Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness remain in the fruitful field.
(Isaiah xxxii. 16)
You can say what you will about the old Book of Common Prayer, which we use exclusively in this mission church, but what you cannot say is that it is not honest and forthright about the struggles which any human being finds in his journey towards salvation. Indeed, perhaps its most brilliant contribution to the history of Christianity lies in its full appreciation of the spiritual warfare that accompanies every honest pilgrim’s desire to embrace the Grace of Almighty God and eschew evil. The Church Year is defined and informed by the persistent recognition of the difficulty that lies in the effort to die to oneself and to come alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. And the Advent season is no exception to this rule. It commenced with the spiritual desire to cast away the works of darkness and put upon us the armour of Light now in the time of this mortal life. (Advent I, Collect) And it concludes with: O Lord, raise, up, we pray thee, thy power, and come among us, and with great might succor us; that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us; thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us…. (Advent IV, Collect)
Now, a Prayer Book Advent is by no means a mere repetition of a single theme. I hope that our Advent has been preparing us progressively and logically for the Christ’s coming at Christmas time. As Father Crouse reminds us, on the First Sunday in Advent we prayed that our souls would be awakened and cleansed to prepare for the coming of Christ. On the Second Sunday we were called to forsake the passing and impermanent world that we might prepare for God’s enduring Word. Last Sunday we were called to witness to the Word in hope, as the impending suffering and death of John Baptist were consecrated to the mission and meaning of Christ’s coming. And today we are called to see and perceive this coming Word of God and rejoice in His coming. (Advent I-IV Summary Sermon, RDC)
But to see and perceive the coming Word… and rejoice in it, we must realize that all of our preparation must end in spiritual death: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord… [for] there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; he it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. (St. John i. 23, 27) John’s words are spoken just prior to his literal death at the hands of Herod, just before he was carried out of the wilderness. Getting out of the way, receding, decreasing, and dying are all part of the example John provides for us. In Advent, with John Baptist, our preparation concludes with a call into our own spiritual death, to everyone and everything that stands in the way of the coming Christ’s birth in our souls on Christmas day.
Our spiritual death is something for which ancient Israel had been preparing long before the coming of John Baptist. Along with John, Isaiah the Prophet helps us to see and understand both spiritual death and the new life that God prepares to bring. He proclaims, Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness… . (Is. xxxii. 1) And then he goes on to say that a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. (Ibid, 2) When this king comes to reign, His power and might, His love and compassion, and His wisdom and truth shall rule and govern the human heart. The nature of Christ’s reign will be inward and spiritual. The Christ who is coming shall not be perceived by most men, for they will be too busy basking in the light of their own abilities, accomplishments, and achievements. But for those whose faith yearns, longs, and hungers for Christ’s coming – because they have long since begun to decay, deteriorate, and die in their own eyes - a new world order, a new cosmic governance, is about to be seen and understood, heard and comprehended spiritually. The eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. (Ibid, 3,4) This will mean that what men thought was true, beautiful, and good will be seen now in God’s Light as what could, at best, promote and enhance a kind of life that leads only to death. And for those who cannot see and hear spiritually because they have not yet died to themselves, their own darkness will become darker, more nefarious, treacherous, malignant, and contrary. In the words of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, The fool will no more be called noble, nor the knave said to be honorable. For the fool speaks folly, and his mind plots iniquity to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. (Ibid, 5,6) God’s truth, goodness, and beauty are about to be expressed through the coming of Christ and will forever relegate man’s good intentions and noble works to the dustbin of a fallen and dead creation. Good works, the Prophet insists, can never save a man because they only ever satisfy earthly and worldly needs, and, so, leave the soul empty and destitute of lasting, spiritual life and salvation. Tremble, ye women that are at ease; be troubled, ye careless ones: strip you, and make you bare, and gird sackcloth upon your loins. Beat upon your breasts, for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine. (Ibid, 11, 12) The Prophet refines his message. True new birth and new life will come from God alone, and then only through the Mother who has died to herself, who will be then full of Grace, who will be highly favored because her singular passion and heartfelt desire is for God’s will to be done through her: Be it unto me, according to thy Word. (St. Luke i. 38) Christ the coming Word of God can only and ever been conceived and born in the soul which has died to itself in order to come alive to God’s will and way. The coming Christ came alive to John Baptist in hope; the coming Christ came alive to the Blessed Virgin Mary first in faith and then in deed and in truth.
So today we need to ask ourselves if we have indeed been preparing for the coming of Christ by dying to ourselves. John Baptist in another place says that He must increase and I must decrease. (St. John iii. 30) Of course, we can comply with his sentiments only when we come to the point of realizing that, for the most part, we have been engaged in a living death. And living death is just another way of saying that we have lived in, for, and to ourselves. The man who is immersed in a living death is moved and defined by the world, the flesh, and the devil. And he need not be an un-compromised pagan; he might even be a compromised Christian. Such a man is self-consciously moved and possessed by himself. He would be surprised to learn that he is immersed in a living death. Why? Because he has casually and carelessly justified or dismissed the sins of his past life. In other words, he has never measured his every thought, word, and deed in the pure light of Christ’s coming. Unlike Isaiah the Prophet, John Baptist, or the Blessed Virgin Mary, he has never seen that the future in store for those who indulge a living death is neatly summarized in the words of the Prophet: Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briars; yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: because the palaces shall be forsaken; the multitude of the city shall be deserted; the forts and towers shall be dens forever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high. (Ibid, 14, 15) There is one reality in store for those who live to themselves, and unless God’s Spirit be poured upon them from on high, their living death can never become a dying life.
But a dying life is precisely what is in needful for Christians who will welcome the birth of the coming Christ once again at Christmas time. Our Prayer Book does not underestimate its importance, but, in this morning’s properly appointed Psalm, situates it in the face of God’s response to it. The Psalmist is coming alive always to the coming Christ, to God’s Word which lifts him into the presence of the Father. O be joyful in the LORD, all ye lands: * serve the LORD with gladness, and come before his presence with a song. Be ye sure that the LORD he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; * we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture, (Ps. c. 1,2) he sings today. O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise; * be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name. For the LORD is gracious, his mercy is everlasting; * and his truth endureth from generation to generation. (Ibid, 3,4) Over and against our living death stands a loving God whose everlasting mercy will perfect a dying life. And much later in time, after Christ himself had died, risen, ascended, and was glorified, St. Paul exhorts his friends to the same posture. Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, Rejoice. (Phil. iv. 4) The Lord is at hand, he insists, and so we must be careful for nothing. (Phil. iv. 6) We must not be anxious about life in the temporal world, since it stands only to disrupt and frustrate our dying life. But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [we are to make our] requests be made known unto God… [that] the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. iv. 6,7) God’s peace and good will are about to visit us in the Nativity of our Saviour when our dying life can be redeemed and perfected by his coming Birth.
As our Advent preparation comes to a close, our prayer should be:
O Lord, let me claim and confess that I have been living
A living death.
O Lord, let me hunger and thirst for true dying
A dying life.
O Lord, let this dying life find new believing
A believing soul.
O Lord, let this believing soul seek new living
Thy living Birth.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.
(St. Matthew xxi. 12, 13)
Father Robert Crouse used to remind us that the traditional Anglican Lectionary was the only remaining calendar of liturgical readings that remained mostly unaltered since the times of the early Western, Latin Church. For even the Roman Church, prior to Vatican II, had altered the ancient lectionary. But our own Anglican Reformers decided to opt for the readings selected by the Ancient Fathers, since they thought they were probably safer guides to our salvation journey than any others that came after them. And today’s readings are a case in point. We have read this morning about Jesus’ exultant and euphoric entry into Jerusalem, and your mind jumps to Palm Sunday. You might say to yourself, Oh my, Father Martin’s intestinal pain has got the better of him, and he isn’t thinking straight. He read the wrong Gospel. But happily for me, you are wrong.
So then, you might ask, why did the Ancient Fathers choose this reading for Advent Sunday? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for Christmas, you might ask? And the answer is, Yes, we are. But according to the logic of the Church Fathers, preparing for the coming of Christ means readying our souls for the His birth in us at Christmas time. And this means the hard work of waking up to the awesome mystery that is coming to us. St. Paul tells us this morning that, The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. (Romans xiii. 12) Christmas is all about the coming Light, the Light which was the life of men…the Light [which] shineth in the darkness, and the darkness [overcame] it not…the Light that ligtheth every man that cometh into the world. (St. John i. 4,5,9) So Advent, for the Ancient Latin Fathers, was a time of spiritual preparation for the birth of Christ the Light, and this involves arranging and assembling the inner self for this mystical arrival and birth of Christ in the soul so that there might indeed be room for [Him] at the inn. (St. Luke ii. 7)
And Advent facilitates this spiritual state through repentance. And what is repentance but that casting away the works of darkness, through sorrow, penance, and contrition? What is compunctious and contrite sorrow or penance if not that determination to exorcise, expel, and expurgate all darkness from our souls? And what is this darkness, but an accumulation and accretion, a cluster and conglomeration of vice and sin that stubbornly resist and repel the liberating Light and brightness of Christ’s coming? The darkness, actually, hates the passion and desire of Christ the Light to redeem and save us through His birth in our souls. Thus Advent is all about that spiritual preparation that conscientiously and fastidiously locates the darkness of sin that lingers or even grows in our souls, and then begins to welcome the Light that alone can infiltrate, penetrate, and vanquish it.
Without God’s Grace, we can do nothing, and so we must ask Him for it more fervently and expeditiously in Advent. And so God’s Grace in Christ must come to us one way now in Advent in order to come in a far more glorious way then at Christmas. If we do not allow Him to come in the first manner, we shall fail to appreciate Him the second. And the first manner in which He comes to us is through all meekness, humility, and lowliness. He comes to us as a servant. So we read that God’s Light and Desire made Flesh entered the ancient city of the Jewish kings in fulfillment of the prophecy: Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (St. Matthew xxi 5) Christ comes to us now, as He came to the crowds then. Because He loves men’s innermost being most, He will not confuse and complicate matters with any hint of worldly or earthly power and might. He comes to serve where the work is most needed. And so His servant-hood is directed to the cure of men’s souls. In the end, He will serve all men in all times by laying down His life for his friends. (St. John xv. 13) His mission of service will involve the expression of true kingship, where the ruler so loves His peculiar people that He is willing to surrender His own life for their future well-being and salvation.
So long before Christ suffers and dies for those whom He loves, He rides into the Jerusalem of our souls. With the crowds of old in this Advent season we must respond: Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest. (Ibid, 9) We rejoice at Christ’s Advent coming to us. We sing Hosanna because the God of all glory and holiness has stooped down from His heavenly throne to enter our souls in an unassuming, inconspicuous, and unpretentious way. He allows us to proclaim Hosanna only if it means our praise and glorification of the One who comes as the Great Physician and healer of our souls. The Christ who comes in Advent awakens, alerts, and even alarms us to our sinful condition in relation to salvation. He doesn’t have time for external and outward displays and spreads of His Divine Majesty. He knows [the] time, [and] that now it is high time to awake [us] out of sleep, for now is our salvation closer than when we first learned to believe (Romans xiii 11: AV & Knox) ; the cure of our souls is pressing, urgent, and impelling. His impassioned and industrious determination is revealed after He dismounts His ass and enters the temple. Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. (Ibid, 12, 13) Christ means business. And if we want Him to cast away the works of darkness in our souls, we had better be ready for His courageous and determined assault on our sickness. Christ is like any good doctor or surgeon. By all appearances He is kind, gentle, loving, and compassionate. But once He knocks you out with anesthesia, He goes after the disease and sickness with the zeal, fervor, and alacrity of a whirling dervish. He is determined to rid our bodies and souls of any idea, word, or occupation that frustrate His birth, growth, and maturation in our souls.
So our determination on this Advent Sunday must be to open our souls to the penetrating, invasive, determined, and dynamic Light of Christ’s healing power. But St. Paul tells us this morning that our patient-prep for spiritual surgery must involve love. If Christ is to enter our souls to purge, purify, cleanse, and wash away our sins, we must not be distracted by anger, fury, rage, resentment, bitterness, or revenge. He says, Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. (Romans xiii 8) This means that we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into and determined by distractions that enhance, enlarge, broaden, and deepen any malevolence towards our fellow men. Perhaps an example would be useful. We might start to practice love when we get behind the wheels of our cars. The Ancient Fathers tell us that we are most liable and susceptible to vice when we are moving too fast. Well, when we are in our cars, our rapid pace outruns our hearts and minds. And then we find ourselves too easily subject to passions and emotions that yield so quickly to judgment, condemnation, and derision. We cry out, you idiot, you fool, or you moron. The words jump out of us, one thing leads to another, and before we realize it, we are bothered, distracted, and then even possessed by subjects of passing importance, ephemeral meaning, and unlasting merit.
My friends, in this Advent Season we are called to slow down. No doubt, Advent is all about waking up, be roused, and becoming conscious of our need for Christ’s effective healing. Indeed, we are called to name, identify, and claim our sins that He might help us to conquer them through His Grace. We need to tell the good physician where we hurt, in what way, and to what extent spiritually. We need to admit and confess our weakness, fatigue, and powerlessness over sin and its effects in our lives. As John R. Brokhoff says, If Christ is going to come again into our hearts [at Christmas], there must be repentance [in Advent]. Without repentance, our hearts will be so full of worldly things that there will be ‘no room in the inn’ for Christ to be born again.…We have the joy not of celebration. Which is the joy of Christmas, but the joy of anticipation. (Preaching the Parables) Advent is about anticipating, waiting, and watching for the coming of Christ’s birth at Christmas. But with no repentance, there will be no room in the inn of our souls for Christ’s birth. The Advent fire of Christ’s Light can wash, cleanse, purify, and heal us of all our sins only if we remain still and passive on his spiritual operating table and allow Him to do His work. What needs to be alive, zealous, and passionate in us is the willingness to pray more fervently for the purifying fire of Christ’s Light in our hearts. Then we need enduring vigilance, alacrity, and eagerness to remain obedient, docile, and acquiescent to the healing directives of Christ the Light, Christ the Good Physician. If we persist in the spiritual healing process and begin to be cured, we shall die to our sin and ourselves. Through Him, we shall cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of Light. (Idem) Then we shall be ready to be born again in Christ at Christmas time. At that is only the beginning! All births are! What follow are spiritual growth and maturity in the firey Light of Christ the Word. And then, knowing that our salvation is nearer than when we first began to believe (Idem), at the last day, when [Christ] shall come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Him who liveth and reigneth with [the Father] and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people….
(Collect Sunday Next before Advent)
Today we come to the end of the Christian Year. The Christian Year is not marked by the days, weeks, and months of the secular calendar, but by a series of seasons that situate the earnest soul in a remembrance of past events that condition time-present as it approaches the eternity of God’s future. In other words, the Christian Year molds and defines us, calling us to a spiritual transformation of time. But the time that is to be transformed is our time, or time as we use or do not use, offer or do not offer, consecrate or do not consecrate it all to God. Time is, if you will, the space that is created to be filled with our true and laudable service [unto God]. As the author of the Sunday Sermons in the Church Times wrote back in 1930: The Church’s Year shows how time is dowered with eternal issues, and that life’s significance lies in the moral and spiritual realities revealed in its changing changelessness. It shows how faith measures the worth of men, and would teach us all to yield our reverence neither to rank, wealth, intellectual eminence, nor power, but to the humble men of heart whose names endure only because they shine with the pure radiance of saintliness. (T.C.Y. p. 218) The Church’s Year teaches us to look back through the life of the Church, of salvation history, in order to remember those changeless spiritual realities which have enabled the saints to intend to please God in all their lives. (W.Law) Those changeless spiritual realities are what then will inspire and enkindle greater zeal and passion in our hearts as we prepare to begin the Church Year again in Advent.
And so the last day of the Church’s Year is called Stir-up Sunday after the words that we read in today’s Collect. Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people…. Yet I wonder if these words do not fall, rather, on deaf ears. Deaf ears are dull ears. And dull ears are the instruments of numbed hearing. Numbed hearing reveals closed and hardened hearts. And hearts are closed and hardened when God is forgotten and not remembered. And God is forgotten and not remembered when a man is wholly moved and defined, stirred up and shaken by this world, its hopes and fears, its rewards and punishments, its accolades and censures. And why is a man so stirred up by mammon, earthly treasure, earthly fortune, and earthly expectations? Is he despairing, doubtful, discouraged, and despondent over his relationship with God?
And how is this despairing revealed and manifested in human life? Not with any outright rejection of the theology of God, the salvation it commands through Jesus Christ, by the operation of the Holy Spirit. Not by abandoning the Church, her services and fellowship. Rather, it is revealed through the answer to a question, asked by the inimitable 18th century non-Juring Anglican Divine, the Reverend Mr. William Law: If you will here stop and ask yourselves why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you, that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it. (Serious Call…, 22) The chief reason that Christians are not stirred up to sanctity, holiness, and that righteousness which alone will save them, is that they never thoroughly intended it. And they never thoroughly intended it because they are stirred up by worldly concerns and have never determined to please God in all their lives.
And how do people know that they do not intend to please God in all their lives and through all their actions? Well, again using Mr. Law’s words, they say to themselves foolish and stupid things like this: … all people fall short of the perfection of the Gospel, and therefore… are content with [their] failings. (Ibid, 28) In other words, they make excuses for their failure to be more loving, more giving, more pious, and more pure. They congratulate themselves on what they are giving, doing, or offering to God as if they were already doing some great and laudable service, or as if they were doing the Almighty a great favour. So they say: I have done enough; I can do no more. I have given enough; I can give no more. And what they really mean is not that they cannot do or give more, but that they do not desire to give or do more. And all because they have never been determined to please, serve, and obey God in all their lives. They have only and ever given to God what they think he deserves, what he merits, and of what he is worthy. And what does God receive? Much less than what people spend on themselves in time or resources. And if a Christian thinks that by doing such things he is pleasing God in all his thoughts, words, deeds, and desires, he is sadly mistaken. For from the Divine standpoint, he is mad or insane. And the real failure comes about because supposed Christians sell God short and refuse to be challenged by him into that change that will save their lives. What they end up doing is what young people now call settling. And what they mean is that a person settles for another because he thinks he can do no better. And the Christian who says that I am not so bad, I give all that I can, I do all that I can do is involved in the same mindset. What he has done is to surrender to a level of goodness, generosity, and piety beyond which he will not go. He has settled for a certain and limited amount of goodness only. And he will not go further because he does not intend to please God in all of his life. What he has done is to stop the flow of transformative Grace into his heart. In fact, if the truth be told, he has stopped living unto God and has turned back and into his contented and complacent self!
Mr. Law continues: If my religion is only a formal compliance with those modes of worship that are in fashion where I live; if it cost me no pains or trouble; if it lays me under no rules or restraints; if I have no careful thoughts and sober reflections about it; is it not great [stupidity] to think that I am striving to enter in at the ‘strait gate’? If I am seeking everything that can delight my senses, and regale my appetites; spending my time and fortune in pleasures, in diversions, and worldly enjoyments; a stranger to watchings, fastings, prayers, and mortification; how can it be said that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling? If there is nothing in my life that shows me to be different to the infidels and heathen…why should I think that I am amongst those few who are walking the narrow way to heaven? (Ibid, 29)
So Mr. Law reminds us that Christ intends that our lives should be different - yes, radically different from those of our neighbors. Christ intends that those who would follow Him should walk the narrow way to heaven. He says, 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 neighbours need to wonder why we appear, look, think, speak, and act in ways wholly unlike theirs. What they see and perceive should compel them to question our manner and mode of existence. They ought to learn, eventually, that like the multitude in this morning’s Gospel, that we go to the Lord to eat spiritual food. When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? (St. John vi. 5) The multitude is seeking to satiate a spiritual hunger, far greater than any worldly hunger. And Jesus is intent upon fulfilling that hunger with the spiritual food that will save their souls. Men hunger for God’s Word. Earthly goods pass away; the satisfaction they generate is ephemeral and temporary. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. (St. John vi. 7) What men need is what God’s Word alone offers as sustenance and nourishment on this pilgrimage to his kingdom. And that food we should desire is God’s Real Presence – his Word and Sacrament offered habitually in the life of his Church. And to desire such food we must be stirred up to recognize our need for it and seek out its healing, curative, and redemptive power.
To be stirred up wholly and completely to serve and please God, we must intend to please God in all of our lives. Perhaps the intention can be prayerfully summed up like this: Father, help me to know that I need thee above all things. Help me to realize that if I do not need thee, I will be stirred up by all sorts of false gods who lead me away from thee. Help me to see that thou desirest to meet my need in feeding me on thy Word. Prevent me from being stirred up by people, places, situations of passing meaning, unlasting merit, and little worth. Help me to be stirred up within my heart for thee alone. Lord let me never cease until I need thee and receive thee. In receiving thee, Lord, let me know that I have received a treasure beyond all earthly value, human expectation, and passing love. Then, Lord, let me give my all to thee, by ‘intending to please thee in all my life’. This must become that prayer that stirs us up to live a devout and holy life. Then, with Mr. William Law, we shall be intent upon the perfection of the present day, making ready for that kind of Advent whose mortification and fasting impoverish the soul that will need and desire the birth of Christ within, once more at Christmas time. Amen.
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