Saturday, April 11, 2015

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

I John 5:4-12 * John 20:19-23
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

At the beginning of Saint John’s First Epistle we see a connection between the fellowship that the Apostles had with Jesus Christ during the years in which they followed Him from town to town, the fellowship they maintained with Him after His resurrection, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit that began to be manifested on the day of Pentecost. Among those charismatic realities we are given the sacraments that belong to the priesthood. This continued fellowship with the Risen Christ is, in a sense, Part II of the Incarnation. It is the Incarnation as it continues to affect the fallen world through His Body the Church, from which the Lord is never absent. He is its chief member, the Head of the Body.

So now, hear these words from that Epistle:

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. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”

We should think together about how this brings us to the words in the fifth chapter that we have read this day, especially, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” We should reflect on the charismatic reality and power of the Church, and of how we remain in this blessed fellowship. We should reflect on how the hands of the apostles handled the Risen Lord, and how their eyes saw Him, and how we continue in that fellowship. We should reflect upon the reality of His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament when our eyes see and our hands handle the Word of Life even here and now. All of this is part of having fellowship with the Apostles, and in that fellowship, fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, that our joy may be full.

We speak of the Sacramental Life, and we need to know that this is, indeed, Part II of the Incarnation. The Sacramental Life is everything that we have read about. We know that our Lord came to his earth by taking the limitations of human nature into the infinity of His Divine Person as God the Son, time into eternity, creation into uncreated Life, man into God. The means of our salvation are physical, located in time and space, visible in history. His conception and birth, the Nativity in Bethlehem wherein the words of Christopher Smart ring true: “God all bounteous, all creative, Whom no ills from good dissuade, Is incarnate and a native of the very world He made.” In going “about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the Devil” the Son of Man made use of matter, the touch of His hands and the vibrations of His voice, serving to heal through these means. By taking all of our sins and dying on the cross as the “sacrifice for sin,” and then after death “prolonging His days” by rising again (see Isaiah 53), He used the physical means of our world, our home, to bring us salvation. He bore in His own body our sins on the tree, and by rising to life again destroyed death, and the one who has the power of death.

Therefore, to conclude that salvation is sacramental in nature, that it depends on the Incarnation, and is both the Church’s message and ministry, is to understand the Apostolic fellowship (κοινωνία ) about which Saint John taught us. It all comes from the richest truth gleaned from that simple phrase “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” With Jesus, who is fully God and Fully man, and with His resurrection, by which He ever lives to make intercession for us, and with His continued ministry through His Body the Church by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we may enter and remain in the fellowship of which Saint John speaks. We have our Lord Jesus who is fully God and fully man, risen from the dead, our Great High Priest, our only Mediator, our Advocate and Propitiation, who calls you and me to live in fellowship with Him and His Father, that fellowship He established in the Church of the Apostles so long ago, and which has never passed away from heaven and earth. We need to be in that fellowship. We are invited in, welcomed in, and even urged in. The benefits are eternal. “This life is in [God’s] Son.”

We see from the Gospel this day that our Lord ordained the Apostles, and that this included the priestly gift of the power to absolve sins. Make no mistake. This is the power about which the people had rejoiced when “they glorified God, because this power had been given unto men (Matthew 9:8).” To the Jews of that time, when the temple yet stood, this was indeed a Levitical priestly power. In the Law of Moses, the laws of Kippur, Atonement, required a priest to offer sacrifice for the penitent Israelite who, coming to the priest, made his confession of sin. In order to reconcile the penitent to God, the priest was required to make atonement. But, he could not kill himself, and so had to slay an animal in sacrifice (in his own place as the atonement), so that remission of sins could come through the shedding of blood. Of course, to the Israelites, it was only natural to understand confession of sin in relation to the priests and sacrifice.

For us, the sacrifices are a type and shadow of the real sacrifice, that of Christ on His cross. So, on our altars we do not shed blood, but rather we obey the words, “do this as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of Me.” As we sing in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, “Types and shadows have their ending, for the newer Rite is here.” So too, when we hear confession, we speak words that are the sacramental matter and form to effect genuine absolution. When the Lord granted to men this power in His own words of Ordination (as we have seen in the portion of the Gospel read this morning), He handed on the priestly ministry of forgiving sins that is granted by His own priestly act as the true Atonement, the real Kippur, by the shedding of His own blood. The Risen Christ has, by this sacrifice, given to the Church, by means of apostolic and priestly ministry, this great gift as part of that fellowship, “this life [that] is in His Son.”

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men (John 1:4).” So wrote St. John in his Gospel, in a context that indicates that He is the source of life for all creation. The life is eternal. When we enter into it fully, this life will have seemed to have been no life in comparison. When we enter into the resurrection life of Christ’s own immortality on the Last Day, it will be a birth, a beginning.

“And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Revelation 21:3-5).”

While around us the world is dead in trespasses and sins, we are alive in Christ, though as of this present time yet mortal in Adam. In that we are alive in Christ, we await our birth, our resurrection, to be made like Him. So many have been invited into this life, full of joy beyond anything this world can know. Already we have a foretaste, times when we are allowed somehow, mystically, to experience something of that glorious future. But so many who have been invited make excuses, and will not come (Luke 14:16f). They choose to miss out, both on the foretaste of that world to come, and then to miss out on it altogether. Hell itself might be nothing more than standing outside, unable anymore to respond to the invitation to eternal joy.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure (I John 3:1-2).”

The Life of which St. John writes comes to us from the Incarnation; it comes from the manifestation of the Word of Life in the Flesh; it is continued as Christ remains incarnate here in His body the Church. The Risen Christ is known to us in the waters of Baptism, in the Apostolic gift of Confirmation. He is known to us in the priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins. He is known to us in the Breaking of Bread.

He is known to us by faith, which can never be separated from hope and charity.

Even now, in His Body the Church, by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, those charismatic realities that make the sacraments genuine and powerful, He yet goes about doing good, healing all who are oppressed by the Devil. Even now, this very day, within His Body the Church, He gives the fullness of this rich salvation. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”


10 comments:

Pr. H. R. said...

Thank you for posting your sermons, Fr. Hart. I enjoy them greatly and often find inspiration for my own preaching. It is so nice to find someone preaching on the Historic Lectionary.

Rev. H. R. Curtis
Pastor, Trinity & Zion Lutheran Churches, Worden & Carpenter, IL

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

Father what would do you think of the following on the treasurey?

Some persons, by grace and agape, store up treasure in heaven. “But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven.” (Matt 6:20; cf. Rev 19:8) This is not a material treasure, but a treasure of merit, and it is made possible only by grace. The ability of any righteous man to merit anything comes from the merit of Christ. “It is a defined article of the Catholic Faith that man before, in, and after justification derives his whole capability of meriting and satisfying, as well as his actual merits and satisfactions, solely from the infinite treasure of merits which Christ gained for us on the Cross.”1 So all the merit of the saints is in this way merited by Christ, and is a participation in the merit of Christ.

The way that I’ve heard it is that because the saints compose of the Body of Christ they add a small portion to the infinite love of the work of the cross (the infinite love of Christ for the Father given as a more valuable offering than all of sin was displeasing). Because the saints are composed of the Body of Christ they have access to the merits won over by the Head (Christ). By participating in Christ they participate in the Cross in a very very small but important way and thus they add a small portion to the treasury of merit (though they are only able to add due to Christ’s work). Perhaps the analogy that works here is to say that because we are children of God, we as young children want to imitate and add to the work of our parents, and our parents invite us to do that, even if we add a small bit to their work, it is still very important to the parents because we are their children and they love us. Similarly, I think the analogy works with God, who invites us each to live the holy life and participate in the love and suffering of Christ’s Passion. Our small works become lovable by God because we have become adopted sons of God in regeneration by which our hearts are renewed to God. Perhaps this makes some sense as to why the small merits of the saints can be considerable to God in order to move Him to giving grace to others on account of a saint’s intercession. I think this makes sense and is within the bounds of orthodoxy in Catholicism.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

“Teleo” in John 19:30: “It is paid in full.” The misuse of the Bible, in this case of Matthew 6:19-21 (“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”) is the kind of thing I would expect from an Italian banker (like a Medici pope). The obvious meaning of those words of Jesus is the same as what St. Paul would later write. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. 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 (Colossians 3:1-3).” Also, to address what you wrote, nothing can be added to infinity.

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

You are right that nothing can be added to infinity, but what if by way of participation? Like this part: So all the merit of the saints is in this way merited by Christ, and is a participation in the merit of Christ. I know that Aquinas and Bonaventure and other medieval theologians understood the treasury in this way.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Ultimately, such imaginative speculation, for whatever purpose it may be thought to serve, is based on no revelation known to the ancient Church.

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

What is your opinion on Bonaventure and Aquinas by the way. The development of the treasurey doctrine in explicit form was the work of the great Schoolmen, notably Alexander of Hales (Summa, IV, Q. xxiii, m. 3, n. 6), Albertus Magnus (In IV Sent., dist. xx, art. 16), and St. Thomas (In IV Sent., dist. xx, q. i, art. 3, sol. 1).

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The Scholastic writings of the Medieval period were, in some ways, brilliant, but in other ways either erroneous or a waste of time.

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

Pope Francis said the following when it comes to indulgences:

A Jubilee also entails the granting of indulgences. This practice will acquire an even more important meaning in the Holy Year of Mercy. God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God makes even more evident his love and its power to destroy all human sin. Reconciliation with God is made possible through the paschal mystery and the mediation of the Church. Thus God is always ready to forgive, and he never tires of forgiving in ways that are continually new and surprising. Nevertheless, all of us know well the experience of sin. We know that we are called to perfection (cf. Mt 5:48), yet we feel the heavy burden of sin. Though we feel the transforming power of grace, we also feel the effects of sin typical of our fallen state. Despite being forgiven, the conflicting consequences of our sins remain. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God forgives our sins, which he truly blots out; and yet sin leaves a negative effect on the way we think and act. But the mercy of God is stronger than even this. It becomes indulgence on the part of the Father who, through the Bride of Christ, his Church, reaches the pardoned sinner and frees him from every residue left by the consequences of sin, enabling him to act with charity, to grow in love rather than to fall back into sin.

The Church lives within the communion of the saints. In the Eucharist, this communion, which is a gift from God, becomes a spiritual union binding us to the saints and blessed ones whose number is beyond counting (cf. Rev 7:4). Their holiness comes to the aid of our weakness in a way that enables the Church, with her maternal prayers and her way of life, to fortify the weakness of some with the strength of others. Hence, to live the indulgence of the Holy Year means to approach the Father’s mercy with the certainty that his forgiveness extends to the entire life of the believer. To gain an indulgence is to experience the holiness of the Church, who bestows upon all the fruits of Christ’s redemption, so that God’s love and forgiveness may extend everywhere. Let us live this Jubilee intensely, begging the Father to forgive our sins and to bathe us in His merciful “indulgence.”

Notice that the harsh legalistic language is absent.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

This has practically nothing to do with "Indulgences" as Martin Luther had no choice but to oppose. Of course the RCC isn't as bad as it was in those days.

Vincent VAN DER WEERDEN said...

So those words of Francis are different from the indulgences the Articles condemned? Would his understanding of indulgences offend Luther?