Today we read from the Gospel According to Luke, that beloved physician who has been mistaken all too often for a Gentile convert, and therefore as someone who came along later. Not so. He was among the disciples who actually followed Jesus when the Lord was going about doing good, and healing. Luke interviewed the Blessed Virgin Mary without difficulty,1 because he was among the first Christians when she was present also, in the upper room. It is obvious from the internal evidence of his writing that Luke was very much a Jew, and very steeped in his Judaism; and it is most likely he was one of the seventy who were sent out, not relying on other eyewitnesses (as a careless reading might seem to imply), but on his own very reliable memory: "It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write..." (Luke 1:3) he tells the reader, that reader being any Theophilus, that is, anyone who loves God.
And, to love God, or to be friend of God (which is also a good translation of Theophilus), gets very much to the heart of today's Gospel; in fact to the heart of the combination of this day's Gospel and Epistle readings. Both are about the presence of Christ in his temple. Both are about being at peace with him. Both are about visitation, that odd word used to speak of God's special purpose in making himself known. Both call us to a high standard of faith in our response to the visitation of Messiah.
"And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it," Luke tells us. Only in one other passage does Christ weep, and that passage is where the unbelief of his people, and their hopeless attitude toward death, prevented them from understanding that his healing power was not hindered even by the death of Lazarus, that friend who Jesus called out of the tomb and back to life after being four days dead. There Jesus wept because of unbelief among his people, and here he weeps for their unbelief again, foreseeing the terrible consequences of a future in which a hopeless attempt to battle an empire would serve as a poor substitute for a higher and better calling. He knew that many of them were about to reject that calling by not knowing who it was that was coming among them.
"If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace but now they are hid from thine eyes."
What is this peace? Probably, Jesus was speaking in Aramaic, so it would have been that Hebrew word, shalom. It would have implied more than simply a time without violence; it would have meant a kind of prosperity that is spiritual and holy. In the original Greek of the New Testament, that same word was translated εἰρήνη (eirēnē). Peace, as used in the Bible, ought to remind us of certain important things.
The 118th Psalm clearly foretold the events of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday. Read the whole Psalm, and notice how much it foretells Palm Sunday, and the whole procession into the city, and his purpose in coming to be rejected, to die by offering his life in sacrifice, and then becoming the Head cornerstone of his new temple to be built of living stones, the Church. See these words:
"Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD." (Psalm 118:24, 25)
That word hosanna, which the multitude used as Christ entered into the city, does not mean the same as hallelujah, or any kind of joyful praise. It is, rather, that same phrase we see in the Psalm, "Save now." From two Hebrew words (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), one of which is a form of the very name of Jesus (Salvation), they besought him to save them right now, not to wait. Yet, he wept. He said they did not know the things that make for their peace, and did not recognize the day of visitation. The cry was not for salvation from sin and death, but for salvation from the empire of Rome, and its oppression. This was a worthwhile, and meaningful desire. But, it fell short of what Jesus came for.
Many people today see our needs as a nation. We see the economic need. We see the need for national security. But, do we see the need for the things that truly belong to our peace? What peace is that? "Lord we beseech thee, send now prosperity!" What prosperity? For over thirty years, over thirty-five years, greedy and unprincipled men have used the Christian ministry and the Bible (I say used, that is, for their own ends) to become rich by duping poor and barely literate people to follow their Faith and Prosperity cult. You thought only the old established churches, like the Episcopal "Church," had problems? Oh no, there exists all kinds of deception out there. Many people see faith only in terms of what it offers here and now. All the needs of this life, health, well-being, a good and stable economy, national security, motivate people to cry out to God: "Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity." And, that is fine; but here is the rest of that phrase: "Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
If Christ walked into this room in his glorious resurrected body of flesh and bone, and we could fall at his feet in worship, I hope that we would have more on our minds than the things of this world. What does it mean to recognize the day of visitation?
Look again at that word peace, shalom or eirēnē. On the night of his birth the angels used it: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace (εἰρήνη), good will toward men." (Luke 2:13,14) What is this peace on earth? What peace? Do we see peace on earth? Perhaps there is no peace here or goodwill between men, but there is "on earth peace and goodwill toward men." That is, peace of another kind. I do hope you are ahead of me, anticipating what I am going to say. I am going to quote St. Paul the Apostle, writing to the Church in Rome: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace (εἰρήνη) with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Writing to the Ephesians, the Apostle said, "For he is our peace (εἰρήνη)." And, from my knowledge of Hebrew and the Hebrew Scriptures, and how they were translated into Greek, you may for right now take my word for this: "He is our peace" strongly refers to the "Peace Offering," one of the various sacrifices made for sin by the Aaronic or Levitical priests, commanded by God through Moses.
Christ is our peace, that is peace with God. Sending his Son into the world, God makes peace with mankind, no longer waging war (as he promised Noah when he hung up his bow in the heavens). God has a right to be at war with sinful mankind, but he makes peace instead. He has just cause to treat us as enemies. But, he reveals his heart of love and goodwill toward men, that is goodwill toward us by sending his beloved Son into the world. "Blessed is he that cometh in the Name of the Lord." Christ is our peace. He went to the cross and hung there, dying for the sins of the whole world, for your sins and for mine. He was the Peace Offering that reconciles us to God.
But we must recognize the things that belong to our peace, and the day of visitation. Are you at peace with God right now? Have you surrendered to him? For his terms of peace are nothing less than unconditional surrender; you must surrender. There is no tomorrow, at least not one that is guaranteed: "behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (II Cor. 6:2)
Now, let us speak of visitation a bit further. When Christ cleansed the temple, he quoted first the Prophet Isaiah, and then the Prophet Jeremiah, in rapid succession: "It is written, My house is the house of prayer (Isaiah 56:7): but ye have made it a den of thieves (Jer. 7:11) ." He showed zeal for the House of God. In this time, the House of God is not a building made by human hands, but rather it is the Church.
"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (I Pet. 2:5)
"[Ye] are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (Eph. 2:20)
The Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. In our Offices of Instruction we teach that the Church is holy "because the Holy Spirit dwells in it, and sanctifies its members." Today's Epistle is part of a larger text that teaches us that the Church is the Body of Christ, meaning that after his resurrection from the dead, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Christ remains present in the earth. He is not only present among us, but present in the world through us, extending his Incarnation through his Body the Church.
Today's Epistle mentions mysterious and glorious gifts of the Holy Spirit, even gifts such as miracles. No matter what we experience or do not experience, in the Body of Christ we have the active presence of the Holy Spirit, and by the Holy Spirit a continual abiding visitation of Christ among his people. He does not come and go, but rather he is present now. His visitation is now. It is always now. I have no doubt that many times throughout history, unbelief of his people the Church may well have caused the Lord to weep, and move him to cleanse the house of God with the same authority and zeal we read about. Any student of history can pinpoint many such times. And, we may trust that in our own time people moved by faith and following their consciences have been instruments of cleansing. And, with our warts and imperfections, I am persuaded of these good things: We exist as a true particular branch of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church by the grace of God, because of honest and sincere motives of conscience and faith.
The Epistle portion read today gives us reason to be joyful, because of the presence of God in us, his Body the Church. The Gospel portion read today gives us reason to be sober and take warning, also because of his presence in us. His visitation is constant, his presence abiding. Let us, therefore, be always at peace with God through his Son, and at peace with each other through his Holy Spirit.
1. That is, he would have had no difficulty. Sure, it may have been years later in Ephesus, but it did not have to be.