But praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over
for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the
snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered.
(Ps. cxxiv. 5,6)
Easter Tide is all about avoiding those things that are contrary to our profession and follow such things as are agreeable to the same. (Collect Easter III) We do this, of course, because if we have been admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, this alone as a habit of life will ensure that our pilgrimage is sanctified and that we shall be saved. In Easter Tide, we undertake the hard labor of dying to our old selves and coming alive to the new life that we find in our Resurrected Christ. We die to ourselves as we petition God to show [us] that are in error the light of [His] truth. (Idem) Satan’s power must be banished. And all of this must come to us by the Grace of the Holy Spirit. Christ desires for us to partake of His Resurrection and participate in the New Life that He has won for us. But the power of hope and belief in His Resurrection involve a transition from one state to another –from sin to righteousness, from death to life, in rejecting Satan and embracing our Heavenly Father’s will.
Thus, the Resurrected Christ invites us into a relationship that will ensure our deliverance to His Kingdom. With St. Peter, in this morning’s Epistle we must come to discover ourselves as strangers and pilgrims (I St. Peter ii. 11) in a fallen creation. And this means that we must no longer be at home with this world and its impotent gods. St. Peter insists that the starting point is to
abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul; having [our] conversation honest among the Gentiles: that whereas they speak evil against [us] as evil doers, they may by [our] good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (Idem)
We must say No! to any inordinate desire or longing that is not of God. Isaiah the Prophet reminds us that for the iniquity of [our] covetousness was God wroth, and smote [us in times past]: [God] hid [Himself], and was wroth….(Is. xviii. 17) Our old selves had forgotten the secret things that belong to the Lord our God (Deut. xxix. 29). Because we did not remember that our true relationship is always with God, who seemed hidden but was present to the spirit, we were strangers and pilgrims to His Omnipotent Wisdom, Power, and Love.
St. Peter reminds us that we must be cuttingly candid about the spiritual warfare that threatens to envelop us if we forget God. David the Psalmist reminds us If the Lord Himself had not been on our side…when men rose up against us. They had swallowed us up alive, when they were so wrathfully displeased at us. Yea the waters had drowned us, and the stream had gone over our souls. The deep waters of the proud had gone even over our souls. (Ps. 1-4) David claims that the troubled sea…[whose] waters cast up dirt and mire, [in which is]…no peace, always threatens to devour and drown the souls of those who forget God’s Invisible Power. The man who struggles to be faithful to God is even hindered, harassed, and hijacked by those who have no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. iii. 18) He is assaulted by a blasphemous and brutish generation, that set their mouths against heaven, out of [whose mouths] belch forth impieties and impurities, to dishonour Him who made them, to grieve the souls of his servants, and to spread the contagion of their ungodliness. (B.Jenks: P.P., p.240) But because David knows that his enemy is too strong for him, he resorts to God’s strength in all humility. Praised be the LORD, who hath not given us over for a prey unto their teeth. Our soul is escaped even as a bird out of the snare of the fowler; the snare is broken, and we are delivered. Our help standeth in the Name of the LORD, who hath made heaven and earth. (Ibid, 5-7) David believed in and embraced the presence of the Invisible but living God. He grasps too that God alone can chase away the birds of prey that would [ensnare and] devour God’s Sacrifice in his heart. He believes that God alone can drive out the unclean beasts that would trample down the plantation of God’s Grace in his soul. (Jenks, 224) He trusts that the Lord of hosts is with him; the God of Jacob is his refuge. (Ps. lxvi. 11) He sets aside the clear and visible threats of earthly enemies and in meekness of mind humbles himself before God, for that continual proneness which is in him to sin against His Maker and Redeemer, that makes him so unlike to God, and so contrary to what His holy laws require him to be. (Jenks)
David was a stranger and pilgrim in this world. He looked forward to God’s deliverance by hoping for the fulfillment of His promises in Jesus Christ. Christians know the benefits of Christ’s all-saving life and believe in the power of His deliverance. But for that power to liberate us effectually, we must declare spiritual war on this world and its ship of fools. The fool hath said in his heart there is no God. (Psalm xiv. 1) Fools trust in their wits and the stirrings of their hearts. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool. (Prov. xxviii. 26) A fool despiseth wisdom and understanding. (Prov. i. 7) Fools rejoice when they should lament and mourn when they should rejoice. Because they are at home in this world, they exult only in the temporary pursuit of happiness and joy. Because it is convenient to their idolatries, they are glad to think that God cannot be bothered and thus remains unmoved by their sin. They have forgotten the wisdom in the wise man’s understanding:
Whither shall I go from thy spirit?
or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:
if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
even there shall thy hand lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
(Ps. cxxxix. 7-100
The wise man mourns when he forgets the Invisible God because he has forgotten that he is a stranger and pilgrim. He laments that he has not awakened sooner to God’s caring desire for his soul. For David’s heirs, who have witnessed Christ’s Resurrection, as a manifestation of God’s Invisible Wisdom, Power, and Love, Jesus says to us: Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy. (St. John xvi. 20) Mourning and lamentation for man do not disappear with the Incarnation. Rather, they comprise an essential moment in that spiritual movement whereby Christ carries us from the death to sin into new and Redeemed Human Life. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that the wise Christian will be sad for three reasons. First, by sadness of evil, man is corrected. (Easter III: TA) When Christ promises to depart from us in the flesh, He will correct us inwardly and spiritually. Unless we mourn our sinful rejection of Him, the Resurrection virtue that Christ longs to infuse into our bodies and souls will remain dormant. Sorrow for our abandonment of His ever-present sacrificial love renew our passion for finding it anew. Second, by temporal sadness, man escapes eternal torment. (Idem) A healthy sorrow for our refusal to embrace the means of Grace compels our souls to long more fully for the stronger medicine that Christ has for our bodies and souls. Third, by a mean measure of justice, we acquire eternal joys. (Idem) Punishment through sadness impels us to accept the just punishment for our sins now. Then we begin to treasure the gain of Christ’s lasting victory over our earthly sorrow for our sins in this body of death. Temporary suffering will be converted into soaring desire for the exceeding and eternal weight of God’s glory.
Jesus is teaching us that for so long as we are in these earthen vessels, we must become strangers and pilgrims in this world. If we seek Him out amidst it all, His Invisible Presence will enable us to persist. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (St. John xv. 4, 5) If Christ lives in us now Invisibly, our sorrows shall be transformed into the permanence of His joy in our hearts. He likens it to a woman who is with child. A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world. And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (Ibid, 21, 22) The expectant mother endures all manner of suffering and sorrow in joyful expectation of her child’s birth. So too the wise man must endure the suffering and sorrow that accompany the conception of the Word of God in the womb of his soul before he is born again from above and by the Invisible God. Calvin tells us that Christ means that the sorrow which we shall endure for the sake of the Gospel will be profitable. (J. Calvin: Comm.)
St. Augustine reminds us that, At present, the Church is in travail with the longing for this fruit of all her labor…now she travails in birth with groaning, then shall she bring forth in joy; now she travails in birth through her prayers, then shall she bring forth in her praises. (John xvi) The end that we seek is the consolation of the Divine Presence. So, over and against ungodliness, St. Peter tells us that our incipient joy should be caught up with well doing, [that we] may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and not using [our] liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. (Ibid, 13) Christ tells us today, I will see you again, and you will rejoice. (St. John xvi. 22) If we believe in Him, He will take our bodies and souls into all joy, and others shall join us as strangers and pilgrims, visibly and truly embracing the love of the Invisible God, that no man shall take away from us. (Idem)
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: