Saturday, March 26, 2016

EASTER 2016


In recent years it has become fashionable to produce documentaries that simply omit the resurrection of Christ when attempting to provide information about Christian history. It is not enough for such businesses as The History Channel to refrain from presenting the resurrection of Jesus Christ as a fact; they refuse even to acknowledge the historical fact that the Apostles preached the resurrection of the Lord from day one, and did so as eyewitnesses and eventually as martyrs. The most glaring example I have seen was one documentary about Jesus, which aired on Holy Saturday night in 2015 (and will probably air again). It seemed to be not bad until the end. In the closing moments, as the credits were appearing on the screen, the viewers were left with Christ dying on the cross just outside of Jerusalem. The narrator finished the script by telling us that it was the message of Christ’s public crucifixion that gave Christianity its start and a strong enough popular appeal that it could take root and spread.

In fact, a message about yet another Messianic claim that ended in the death of the claimant would have ended up like all the others, forgotten to all but a few very knowledgeable historians who deal in the most trivial factoids of antiquity. Certainly we would have nothing called “Christianity,” no such thing as the Church, and no historically significant knowledge of the Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. His followers would all have scattered and returned to making a living, hoping not to be identified with that embarrassing younger period of having followed Jesus.

Furthermore, the death of the cross, far from attracting anyone to form or join a movement, was seen as shameful. As St. Paul wrote about the cross:
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I Corinthians 1:18-25).”

However, why is it “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” to all who believe? For that we look again at St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed (15:1-11).”

Christ crucified and Christ risen is one message, one Gospel. A Christ crucified, with the story ending at His brutal death, is not the full message. A Christ risen, without the death of the cross, is not the full message either. And, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, thus paying the full price of all human sin by the one offering of Himself, only cures one part of our terrible condition, namely the guilt of sin that causes estrangement from God. We need as well the risen Christ, the One who has conquered death itself, so that we may receive of His eternal life, never again subject to death when He comes again and makes all things new, just as He is never again subject to death.

NOT AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY STORY
At this point I must state my objection to using the popular phrase “The empty tomb.” Just as the Church would never have taken root and spread if the story ended simply with Christ’s crucifixion, so too had it ended only with an empty tomb. The empty tomb is the question; the appearances of the risen Christ to His chosen eyewitnesses answers that question. After all, unbelievers spread the story of the body being stolen – a story that makes no sense in light of the privation and persecution to the death that would have brought an end to any con game. Nonetheless, even St. Mary Magdalene had a mistaken explanation for the mystery of the empty tomb, and that after hearing from angels.

“Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre, And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.  And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master. Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.  Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her (John 20:10-18).”

No. We don’t preach some mystery of the empty tomb. We preach the risen Christ, seen by eyewitnesses; indeed, eyewitnesses who gave their whole lives to hardship, persecution and the death of martyrdom to make us know the certainty of their faith.

Let us stand together and recite the words we see in the Book of Common Prayer on page 162 and 163:

CHRIST our Passover is sacrificed for us : therefore let us keep the feast, 

    Not with [the]* old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness : but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7.

C
HRIST 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. 
    Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin : but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi. 9.

C
HRIST is risen from the dead : and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
    For since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
    For as in Adam all die : even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv. 20.


[Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the holy Ghost;

    As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.]*



Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Friday

A sermon by Lancelot Andrewes. Click on the picture below for the link.


Fr. Wells on Good Friday

ONCE FOR ALL. 
Click here to read it.

Maundy Thursday


This night is the night of the Passover 1 that Christ ate with his disciples, and so we rightly ask, why is this night unlike all other nights?

First of all, the Lord gave the answer to a riddle that had long been in the minds of his disciples. Like other Jews who turned away from him, these Jewish men also must have wondered, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 2 They expected a genuine answer, unlike others who asked hypothetically (to put it mildly). This night the answer was given. He took bread and wine, and told them that it is his body and blood. He commanded them to do this in remembrance of him. So, from the earliest times to this very night, we do this in remembrance of him. We remember that he promised us that to eat his flesh and drink his blood is to take the food and drink of eternal life.

As Anglicans, we are instructed that this eating and drinking benefits only those who believe. Following the teaching of St. Paul about the dangers of eating and drinking this holy sacrament without first knowing in ourselves “hearty repentance and true faith,” Article 25 warns, “And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.” And, Article 27 tells us, “it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” (The scholarship of those Anglican theologians led them to use the word “partake” to mean having communion or fellowship with Christ.) And, the warning of St. Paul is repeated again in Article 28: “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.”

This must be true, because of what the Lord told us: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 3
And, St. Paul says that those who eat and drink unworthily do not discern the Lord’s body, and endanger their souls. 4 So, we learn from these scriptures that a person may eat and drink this sacrament, and yet not in the saving way that Jesus taught. This is because the sacraments are one of the ways in which God imparts his grace; by these mysteries that signify what they effect, and effect what they signify. If the heart is not right with God, one may eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, and yet not feed on the Living Christ who is himself the food and drink of eternal life. What is the effect, then, of eating and drinking with a bad conscience but to harden one’s own heart against the very grace of God that is only in Jesus Christ himself, and nowhere else? The sacraments are charismatic, not magic. They work with the conscience; not mechanically, but honestly and truly.

He referred to the cup as the cup of the New Covenant in his blood. Our translation says “testament,” but we know that the meaning was the closest that Greek came to the Hebrew understanding of B’rit. The reference is to the New Covenant. Hear what Jeremiah said, and you will know what these words meant to the apostles who heard Jesus refer to them on the night in which he was betrayed.

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”5
What does it mean to have the Law of God written in our hearts, to know that our sins have been forgiven, and to know God?

All of this is more than simply observing a ritual, and more than eating and drinking these mysteries as part of a ceremony. We are here to feed on the Living Christ himself, the only one who is the food and drink of eternal life. We must bring to the altar, as we come to eat and drink this sacrament, “ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.” 6 We dare not bring only our bodies simply because it is the custom. We must bring our whole selves along with the truth that speaks to an honest conscience, knowing we are sinners, knowing we need his mercy, knowing that he alone is the food and drink of eternal life, and the fountain that washes us from every stain of sin, and the Passover that frees us from slavery to sin and death. He established this New Covenant in his own blood that we may know him. Knowing him is eternal life, knowing him is salvation.

On this night he established this sacrament so that we could die to sin and live again in him, so that in this New Covenant we could enter into a special intimacy with him, and through him, with the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 7 He established this sacrament so that we could enter into his life as he enters into us. He uses such earthly things as bread and wine, just as also he uses water, and as he uses the oil with which we anoint for healing. This is because he uses earthly things for heavenly purposes, just as he himself took the fullness of our own human nature. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 8

The hope imparted in this sacrament is tied to all that will follow in the night in which he was betrayed. He will begin to shed his blood in the duress of his prayers in Gethsemane. He will offer himself willingly with the words, “not my will, but thine be done.” He will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And we all know what will follow the pain and suffering of death. It will be the resurrection that completes the true Passover.

About this sacrament we will pray words in the Prayer of Humble Access that have been deleted from a new version created in 1979. The words appear to have a historical root that is dubious; but they can be used to convey a perfectly orthodox statement of truth, and should be retained for that purpose. We will pray: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” How can the body be sinful? Because death is unclean according to the Law of Moses. But, as we feed on the Living Christ, we are freed from death, with that freedom and cleansing we look for when he comes again in glory. The soul, the nefesh, of all flesh is in the blood, says the Book of Leviticus, “therefore I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” 9 Christ has established the New Covenant in his blood to wash our souls clean from all stain of sin: "Because he hath poured out his soul (nefesh) unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." 10

When you come to the altar rail this night, the night in which he was betrayed, understand the meaning of all that has been done for you in the Passover of Christ. Your sins have been nailed to the cross in his own body, to die and pass away. Just as we look ahead to Sunday morning remembering his resurrection victory, we look ahead to his coming in the clouds of heaven and in his Father’s glory to give us our share of his immortality and eternal life.

Yes, this sacrament is a means of grace. It effects what it signifies. Your sinful body will be cleansed from the uncleanness of death and your soul will be washed in his most precious blood, because you are coming in the fullness of a living faith to offer back to him your very self, your soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. You are coming with hearty repentance and true faith. You are coming to feed on Christ, who is himself the New Covenant, and the food and drink of eternal life.
  1. Luke 22:11-15
  2. John 6:52
  3. John 6:54
  4. I Cor. 11:29
  5. Jeremiah 31:31-34
  6. From the service of the Holy Communion based on Romans 12:1,2.
  7. John 17:3
  8. John 1:14
  9. Lev. 17:11

10. Isaiah 53:12

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Friday, March 11, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Lent

 Passion Sunday 





Hebrews 9:11-15 * John 8:46-59

The Church, in her wisdom guided by the Holy Spirit, chose today's Gospel reading for the beginning of Passiontide, the climactic final weeks of Lent that carry us right through the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday. Now, the emphasis is on the cross in a special way, for we must fix our gaze on it and what it means. Before we begin to consider any other aspect of this time of the year, and of our Scripture readings as appointed, and what they teach us, we ought to bear in mind that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection many times long before entering Jerusalem. He meant to go there; he saw the cross as his mission; he insisted on giving his enemies the opportunity to do quite literally, their worst, with such words as:
"And [you] say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers."1
In short, not only did he refuse to avoid the cross; he ran toward it.
And so it is with his words in what we read today:
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple."
I will provide an explanation of why this statement is a picture of Jesus running, figuratively speaking, to the cross. But, first, we should clear up one possible objection. It may appear otherwise, inasmuch as at this point in the story He, as it says "hid himself." Frankly, the reply to that objection is obvious: As He had once said to His blessed virgin mother: "mine hour is not yet come." 2 His disciples had not yet been prepared; all things had not yet been accomplished. 3 But, in this passage we see that he gives his enemies a cause for pursuing him, hounding him unto death.

I could say this in my own words, but it was said so well already by Fr. Laurence Wells that I will simply quote from his Passion Sunday bulletin insert:
                                "God revealed His name...telling Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM.' That mysterious and awesome Name was abbreviated with the one word all devout Israelites past and present feel is too sacred to be uttered aloud, the Divine Name YHWH. When Jesus began to make statements, 'I am ....' it surely sounded as if He were claiming for Himself the very Name of God, the Name too holy to be spoken above a whisper. But in John 8:58, He left no room for doubt, when He stated firmly to His opponents, 'Before Abraham was, I AM.' Not only did He claim to be older than Abraham, He claimed to be God. If the words are obscure to us, the meaning was perfectly plain to the Jews. It is no wonder that they attempted to stone Him on the spot."

I do not know how important each of you considers the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity to be; but, understand, that it was Jesus Christ's open revelation of these two doctrines, the eternal truth about Himself as God the Word (λo’γος), with God and in the beginning with God, 4 though clearly visible as a man with flesh and blood, that led to his death. He confessed and revealed that he was one with the Father, and it was this that made his enemies mad with hatred, and that caused the opposition and hostility that became present throughout the time of his public ministry among the people. If Eusebius was correct, these things were spoken before most of the events we read about in the other Gospels, even before the Sermon on the Mount where he also spoke of himself as one with God: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord..." 5 However, whether he spoke them very early or near the time of his entry into Jerusalem, the effect of the words, "before Abraham was, I AM," is obvious: They picked up stones meaning to stone him to death.

In chapter 10 of the same Gospel, we see a strikingly similar passage:
           "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him." 6

The Incarnation and the Trinity are the double theme that sounds clearly in each of the four Gospels, and especially so in the Gospel According to John; it is even more clear in this, the fourth Gospel. And, here, in these passages from that Gospel, we see the strong connection binding together this double theme of Christ the Son of the Everlasting Father, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and the theme of the cross. That Jesus is fully God and fully man, that he has revealed His uniqueness as One with the Father, led directly to the enmity that culminated in his cross and death. So, in her wisdom, the Church opens Passiontide with an explicit public statement Jesus made about his divinity: "Before Abraham was, I AM." He revealed this to a hostile world, and he did so because his mission to die for the sins of the world was, as the Scriptures call it, His passion. 7

We see what his cross does for you and for me by hearing the Epistle appointed for this day:
"By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"
Saving the human race from sin and death, most especially those who believe in him, was his passion. For that cause He embraced the cross as His passion. Nothing could keep Him from it. The revelation that He, as He stood before them in creaturely flesh and blood as a man, is One with the Father, was both worth dying for, and was the motive that He handed them to go ahead, in their madness and fury, to seek His execution.

It also tells us that terrible truth we do not want to know. Throughout the history of Christianity many preachers, even some of the brightest, have made a habit of using these passages to speak of the Jews as especially evil, as the ones who hated God. But, if we understand clearly the words of John, we see a double lament in his first chapter, in the eleventh verse: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." The fact, however, is that John was also one of "his own," that is, His own chosen covenant people. So were all the disciples, So was the Lord's blessed virgin mother. So, also, was God the Son Himself, the incarnate Word. He was flesh in the general sense, fully human. Specifically, as every human being who lives in the world comes from a specific people, He was a Jew; He chose the Jews, and He came into the world as a Jew, born the son of a Jewish virgin, raised in a Jewish home, affirming always the truth of Jewish religion and Scripture as God's own revelation to His one and only chosen, beloved covenant people.

When John specifies "the Jews" he merely relates, on one hand, a fact of history: that is, it was Jewish people to whom, he spoke. But, in emphasizing their Jewish identity (which they shared with Jesus, and his mother and all his disciples), He was not saying they, as Jews, were especially evil. He was saying that even the best people, the people of God who were born into His covenant and who knew His revelation, were lost in sin and death. How much more so, then, were we who were once Gentiles born into a hopeless condition of sin and death, born into the world as children of the devil, needing adoption and new birth to become children of God. We stand in total dependence on, and in need of, God's grace. That is why, in his love for fallen mankind, for you and for me, it was his passion to embrace the cross.

After all, that eleventh verse from John's first chapter follows the tenth verse, which is why I said it is a double lament: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The evil of those who "knew him not" as children of the devil is not some special designation of Jewish unbelievers; it is the terrible truth about the whole human race - the world that does not know Christ; for not knowing Christ is what defines "the world." And, but for His grace given to you through baptism and through your faith, it would be the truth about you. You were born a child of the devil, subject to the full wrath of Divine justice. That is, in fact, why the cross was Christ's passion.

When Jesus was betrayed , He called his betrayer "friend.”
"Now he that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him. And Jesus said unto him, Friend, wherefore art thou come? Then came they, and laid hands on Jesus, and took him." 8

Judas Iscariot was no friend, was he? But, Jesus was not saying that Judas loved Him; rather he meant that Judas was still the object of His, that is Christ's, love; of Divine love. Christ still loved His betrayer, calling him "friend." And, as everyone can quote, he said about all his persecutors among both the Jews and the Romans, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."9 This is consistent with his words, "And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."10 Saving the whole world was His passion, whether Jews or Gentiles, that is, the people of all nations. He went to His cross willingly; indeed, no one could have kept Him from it. It was His passion to save all the children of the devil, and make them into the children of God through Himself; as Possessing the infinite power of Divine love, He calls his enemies and betrayers, and you and me, "friend."

1. Matt. 23: 30-32
2. John 2:4
3. John 17: 1, 4
4. John 1: 1-14
5. Matt. 7:21, 22
6. John 10:27-31
7. Acts 1:3
8. Matt. 26:48-50
9. Luke 23:34
10. John 10: 47




Saturday, March 05, 2016