Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. (Col. iii. 2)
Our journey through the Lenten Season to Good Friday will have been of no use if it has not been characterized by affection. Set your affections on things above, proclaims St. Paul this morning, and not on things of the earth, and if we have been conscientious, this is exactly what we have been doing. Affection is passion, desire, yearning, and longing, and loving. And throughout the Holy Season of Lent, we have prayed that the Holy Spirit might purify the thoughts of our hearts so that we can follow Jesus up to the Jerusalem of His Cross and beyond. Our affections have been set…on the things above [and] not things of the earth, things which have come down to us in the passionate heart of Jesus Christ to lift us up higher. Out of the unquenchable love of His heart, Christ desired that our affections should rise up to embrace Him in the Death He died for you and me. From there to here, on this Easter Morn, Christ now longs that our affections might rise higher still into His Resurrection Love.
Throughout our journey to Easter, we have learned that setting [our] affections on things that are above and not on the things of the earth is no easy business. And yet our distraction from it comes not from God but from us. God’s affection and desire for us have never ceased. From the Divine Depths, articulated and expressed in the incessant, loving Passion of Jesus on the Cross, the uninterrupted longing of God for our salvation has persisted. The Word has gone out. God’s desire and affection have never swerved from His Great Unseen Eternal Design. The Word of God came down from heaven to live in man’s heart. His Good Friday is but one moment in the unfolding drama of our Redemption and Salvation.
The common lot of men are always too busy for Good Friday. Their affections and desires were otherwise occupied. The mighty engine of Caesar’s Rome could not accommodate the strange Passion of a loving God whose affection was lifted high on the Cross of suffering and dying for us. Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, could not feel such love and affection conquering their Law of sin and death. Even the fear and the cowardice of those with the best of intentions were rendered equally confounded by God’s unfolding affection. Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. (St. Luke xxi. 26) Human affection for God is fickle, unreliable, inconstant, and ultimately treacherous. Man’s fallenness cannot bear God’s Omnipotent Love found in the death of His own Son.
And yet, God’s Love persisted on the Cross with a Passion that longs always to redeem the affection of men in all ages, even His worst enemies. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 34) From the Cross, Christ said to the Good Thief, Come follow me. Today thou shalt be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) From His Cross His loved reached out to His Mother and the blessed disciple. Come follow me. Woman behold thy son…behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 26, 27) From His Cross, His love shared the fear of the hopeless and longed to overcome their despair. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) Come follow me. From the Cross, Christ cried out, I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) because His thirst for God’s love was greater than enduring unjust Death. Come follow me. From the Cross, He cried, It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Father into thy hands, I commend my spirit. (St. Luke xxviii. 46) Come follow me even into my death, as my death that shall become yours also. On Good Friday, I pray we began to see that something Divine was still at work. Sin would not put Christ down and death could not stop Him! On Good Friday, I pray that we began to see that Christ was conquering sin and death with the Omnipotent Power and Love of His Father. Christ died, and Man died.
With pure affection, God made all things, and with the same affection He will remake all things. Christ’s love for us invites us into His Death. With sinful affection, we all desired God’s death. God in Christ suffered our sinful affection that sentenced Him to Death. God seemed dead. Christ was interred in the sepulcher, and with Him, it would seem, man’s affection for things above, which He was, was gone. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. (Genesis i. 2) Sin and death seemed to swallow up the Love and extinguish the Light. His Death held hope hostage in the cruel knot of confusion, fear, and despair. But, as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 22)
As we move from the seventh to the first day, something strange begins to happen. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. (Genesis i. 3,4) In the beginning, God lovingly made the Light to inform, define, and enliven all of creation. In the same Light now, incandescent beams of Divine Affection will open the eyes of believers’ hearts to a new creation being illuminated by that true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into world. (St. John i. 9) Darkness flees, sin is dead, death is conquered, and ignorance is overcome as the Divine Affection jumps up from Death in the heart of Jesus. The pure Affection and eternal desire of the Father of lights have transformed the Son as flesh from Death into New Life. The old Man is Dead, and the new Man has come alive.
At first only angels and nature sense the strangeness of this Light. The elements stirred, the air was parted, the fire blazed, and the earth shook and fell before the rising Light that follows the passion and affection of its Mover and Maker. The Father’s immortal, immutable, and immovable course of affection for man’s redemption is on course and thus is still at work in the heart of Jesus. Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. (Romans vi. 9, 10) The question and answer of the prophet Ezekiel are fulfilled.
Son of man, can these bones live? …And 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…(Ezekiel xxxvii. 1-10)
Christ fulfills Ezekiel’s prophesy. Yes, these bones can and will live. In Him the Light of God blends with rising Love in the transfigured flesh of Man. The pure affection of Man for God brings Light out of Darkness and Life out of Death. God’s Word rises, informing still the now transfigured flesh of Jesus. Christ’s uninterrupted affection for God and Man is one Light whose Love makes Death into something new. Christ is Risen from the dead…Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast…as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Cor. xv. 20, 22; 1 Cor. v. 7)
But there is more. And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. (St. John xii. 32) At first, the affection of both the Apostles and the women is confused. On this first day of the week, Mary Magdalene is moved still by her affection and love for Jesus, to anoint the dead. She finds the stone rolled away. Her affection for the Light is not yet redeemed. They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulcher, and we know not where they have laid him. (St. John xx. 2) In darkness, she believes that Christ’s enemies have stolen the body. But she remembers the words of the prophet: And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have…brought you up out of your graves, And I shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live. (Ezekiel. xxxvii. 12-14) Her stirring affection for things above runs to find John and Peter. Their affection and love run to the empty tomb. As Eriugena says, John outruns Peter because contemplation completely cleansed penetrates the inner secrets of the divine workings more rapidly than action still to be purified. John represents contemplation and hope. Peter represents action and faith. The faith of Peter must enter the tomb of darkness first to then understand with John. (Hom. Gospel of St. John, 283, 285)
God’s uninterrupted affection and desire for all men’s salvation is still at work in Jesus Christ. Stirring within the hearts of Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are the affection for, faith and understanding in the Light that said, I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world seeth me no more; but ye see me: because I live, ye shall live also. (St. John xiv. 18, 19) Christ is risen. Soon the Apostles will see Him and begin to Live in Him. Christ is risen. In the Resurrected Light that shines through His transfigured flesh, we must remember that we are dead and our life is hid with God in Christ. (Colossians iii. 2,3) In the Resurrected Light, let us reckon [ourselves] to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans vi. 11) In the Resurrected Light let us embrace Christ’s affection with our own –that affection and desire for becoming very members incorporate in His Risen spiritual and mystical Body, transparent, obedient to His Holy Spirit…apt and natural instruments of His will and way, (The Meaning of Man, Mouroux, p.89) reflecting His Light and Love into the hearts of all others. And with the poet let us rejoice and sing:
Then comes He!
Whose mighty Light
Made His clothes be
Like Heav’n, all bright;
The Fuller, whose pure blood did flow
To make stained man more white than snow.
And none else can
Bring bone to bone,
And rebuild man,
And by His all subduing might
Make clay ascend more quick than Light.
(Ascension Hymn: H. Vaughn)
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons