Friday, April 22, 2016

Fourth Sunday after Easter

No variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Morning Prayer: Psalm 116; Job 19:21-27a & John 12:44-50
Holy Communion: James 1:17-21 & John 16:5-14
From today's Scripture readings we may learn that God is the author of our salvation, that it was all his plan, and that it is his gracious will that sustains us throughout this life, and guarantees the joy of eternal life in Christ. None of these good things were our idea, nor were they a grudging benefit in answer to our pleading. Our entire inheritance given to us in Christ's Testament, the New Covenant, has been the will of God the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. In that long discourse after supper, recorded by John, Jesus spoke words beyond the understanding of the disciples, words that demonstrated how fully, how detailed, is the counsel of God's will (Eph.1:11). Jesus said to them just enough, in that discourse, for them to remember later, at the time when the Holy Spirit would be with them as the other Comforter, the other paraklētos, and as the Spirit of Truth.       
That time arrived, the Day of Pentecost, when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5), and began to be the voice of God in the earth, the messengers by whom the Holy Spirit convicted the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment. They knew the truth and were able to teach it and hand it down to all generations that have followed. This plan from eternity, the eternal counsel of God's will, has meaning today for the Church, and for each one of you as a member of the Body of Christ. 

To begin with, based on the promise made here by the Lord Jesus Christ, you may believe the teaching that has been handed down throughout the centuries. "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth," is not spoken to any of you as an individual. You cannot decide the truth, in this sense, for yourself. 

The truth has been revealed; and so, from earliest times, the Church has heard the voice of the Lord above all in the books set apart as Holy Scripture, the New Testament books recognized very much as we have them in our Canon alongside the books of the Law, and of the Prophets and Sages of Israel who had spoken before of the coming of Christ, all quoted as having special authority by the earliest Christian writers.           

In spite of popular fiction to the contrary, the New Testament was recognized by the Church, it was a vox populi recognition, with a few questions raised about II Peter and Revelation, and a few people who believed in a book called The Shepherd of Hermes. But, the overwhelming consensus throughout the Church was that the voice of God was recognized clearly in the Twenty-Seven books of the New Testament, as it had been recognized in the Old Testament all along. No one imposed any of it, certainly not an emperor.    
And, even with its human imperfections and sins, the Church has been what St. Paul called her, when writing to St. Timothy, "the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15) What it means for you, as an individual, whether or not you are scholar, is that when people come literally knocking at your door with another gospel about another christ, you may be certain that the Holy Spirit, in his role as the Spirit of Truth, guided the Apostles into all truth, and the Church has received by revelation what it has passed on to you and your children with authority, especially as it is summarized in that great Creed we have said together this day.       
The old phrase from what we call the Vincentian Canon is not true literally; but is true with poetic license. The phrase translates into English as "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all." In fact, nothing has been "believed everywhere, always and by all," perhaps not even that two plus two equals four. But, using poetic license, it tells us that from earliest times the Church was guided by pastors and teachers who received the teaching of the Apostles and understood the Scriptures with a like mind. The poetic license by which we say "That which has been believed everywhere, always and by all," means, in fact, that they heard their Master's voice in words of the Apostles and preserved that same doctrine in the Scriptures, which they understood. 
What makes us catholic people is that we receive not only the books they believed in, but we receive those books as they understood them, not with some novel interpretation. As Anglicans, everyone of you is encouraged to read the Scriptures yourselves. We, among the clergy, do not teach the whims of human beings, the doctrines merely of men, hoping that we may rely on your ignorance. We teach the plain meaning of Scripture relying on the Spirit we have all received, that reading it daily yourselves, you may glean the truth from what we say, however imperfectly we may express it.         
Be like the noble Bereans, and search the Scriptures daily to see if what we say is so. (Acts 17:11) And, be guided by the wisdom of the Church from its earliest generations. Let me make this simple; if someone's teaching and preaching does not agree with that Creed we said, you may be confident that it does not agree with Scripture; and that means that it contradicts what the Spirit of Truth revealed to the Church. By the way, the Holy Spirit does not grow in His understanding. He does not learn new things. He does not, as the banal statement of today has it, “evolve.” He does not change his mind. His wisdom is perfect and eternal.        
This brings us to the Epistle we heard, the words of St. James, that with God there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning." In fact, we have two phrases from that Epistle that can cause problems to modern ears. This phrase, "no variableness, neither shadow of turning," sounds so grand and musical that we may fail to think about it. The other is, "superfluity of naughtiness," because it makes sin sound trivial. Today we think of "naughtiness" merely as childish misbehavior, and it suggests innocence. The Third Millennium Bible is almost word for word the King James, but with a few differences. It says "superfluity of wickedness," which communicates better to modern ears. We need to understand both of these phrases, and to understand them in context.  
First of all, however, notice that James affirms what I told you, that our salvation is God's gracious will in eternity. It was all his initiative. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth," says James. That means that everything that happened in Christ's coming, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), was the plan of God in eternity, the one will of the whole Trinity. It was God's will to beget us again, that we could be born again unto eternal life, delivered from sin and death. Christ delivered us from sin and the consequences of sin by his cross.  
This was not Jesus dying to pacify his angry Father, though some have accused the entire western tradition of teaching such an error. This was God satisfying the just requirements of his own holiness, acting in his own love, and also healing the conscience of each person who repents. God saved us in that terrible way, by the cross, because our condition of sin was truly terrible, as St. Paul wrote: "To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:26) God's love turned on his own holiness and perfect righteousness, and his own holiness and perfect righteousness turned on his love, so that God himself, in the Person of the Son, Jesus who is the Word incarnate, took the full weight of human sin himself and bore it unto death. This was the will of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the eternal counsel of God's will. Therefore, God justifies sinners, and is also just in doing so (Romans 3:26); for on the cross he took away the sin of the world. This is the greatest love story of all.
He conquered death also, which is what this season of Easter is all about. His resurrection will be our resurrection when he comes again in glory. And as he cannot die again, (Rom. 6:9) we too will become immortal through him, and live forever. Now, that is the Gospel, and never let anyone tell you another gospel; for there is no other authentic Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9). 
So, that phrase, which sounds so grand that we may fail to hear its meaning, ought to comfort us greatly: "The Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." The word for this in academic theology is "Impassibility." It means, simply, God does not change. He does not change his mind, he does not change his nature, he does not change his will, he does not change at all. In all eternity God is perfect in three Persons. He has no need of learning, he does not need to gain wisdom (certainly not from puny creatures like us), he does not need to mature, does not “evolve.” Nothing has ever effected a change in God. He is perfect in all eternity. The cross and resurrection did not change God; they changed us.  
    
The impassible God, the God who does not change, will not forget you.


       "But Zion said, The LORD hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me." (Isaiah 49:14-16)

In some religious circles it is popular to promise that everyone who has faith, that is real deep faith, will be healed of all earthly sickness, will be in perfect health, will be rich, and live in victory over all things all the time. By twisting the Scriptures (in a manner that should fool neither Berean nor Anglican Catholic) and wrenching Bible verses violently from their context, they present this burdensome, impossible, and dangerous doctrine, and often extract great sums of money from people looking to escape from desperate poverty by what actually constitutes a practice of attempted magic. But, these "faith and prosperity" preachers will get old themselves, and they will die the death of all men. 

Real faith carries with it trust. If God seems to hear your prayers and grant you what you ask of him, it is because of his love and wisdom. But, if he seems not to grant your prayer, and perhaps even seems as if he is far away, that too is because of his love and wisdom. He need not prove his love. He proved his love for you already on the cross, and calls you his friend from the cross. It is the same love and the same Fatherly wisdom from God who does not change. You may have faith enough, for a grain of mustard seed is enough, and yet have a share of suffering that seems impossible to bear. Another may hate God and seem to have all his heart's desire. What matters for you is that God knows what is best for each of his children, and so you may trust his love and wisdom, the love of the one who has the scars in his hands and feet, with the wound of the spear in his side. You may trust him whether you have prosperity and healing, or whether you have a share of suffering for a time.

Only one thing can stand between you and the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, and it is not a created thing, that is, it is not a thing that God made (Romans 8: 38,39): That one thing is unrepentant willful sin, or, as James calls it, "superfluity of wickedness." Remove all such barriers, if they are in your life, and you may trust that whatever comes is, ultimately, in the hands of the one you may trust absolutely.

Then we have only one thing left to do, and that is to give thanks. In the words of today's Psalm from Morning Prayer:



What reward shall I give unto the LORD * for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?



I will receive the cup of salvation, * and call upon the Name of the LORD.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Surgical Fantasy

My newest article in Touchstone has been posted online.

Surgical Fantasy

Robert Hart on Biblical Compassion for Sex-Change Confusion
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:33)
The invention of a new "civil right" is being forced upon us. I believe that if the great martyr of genuine civil rights could see what is being done in the name of his cause, he would be displeased—that is, if the things he actually believed in his lifetime are taken into account.


Read more:http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=29-03-025-v#ixzz46J8oKzNh


Friday, April 15, 2016

Saturday, April 09, 2016

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER


II Peter 2:19-25 * John 10:11-16


The Epistle we read today is drawn, as I hope many of you have noticed, from that very famous Suffering Servant passage in the book of Isaiah, specifically chapters 52:13-53:12. I have said before that the Suffering Servant passage goes beyond Christ’s atoning death, predicting as well his resurrection by telling us that he would, after death, “prolong his days” as the agent of God’s will. It predicts the day of Pentecost by telling us that Christ would “divide the spoil with the strong.” This echoes words from Psalm 68: 18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” But, as the chapter draws to a close, the prophet takes us back to the cross, because that was the main thrust of this particular passage. In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us, through the prophetic oracle, that all of the grace, and, indeed every gift, that God gives to us has come by way of the cross of Christ. St. Anselm taught that Christ did all the work, and after earning a great reward for his labor, gives all of the benefits of his work away. He gives all of the earning, profit and reward to us. For, he is God the Son, and has need of nothing.

The emphasis of that passage is what Jesus did for us, and very importantly, what he did as the One for the Many. And, I can think of no better summary of that prophetic passage about the sacrifice Jesus offered of his own life, than the words of St. Paul from the fifth chapter of Romans:

"For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

So, we get that message, that Jesus died for our sins just as scripture foretold. St. Peter puts it to us with great force: “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” That’s the first message. Christ offered himself as the Lover of mankind, in fact, as the one who loves you. He is the sacrifice not just for the whole world, but for you; dying as much foreach as for all.      This is why I tell you so often; when you look up at the crucifix where he pours out his soul unto death, and you see his love there, take it personally.

When we prayed the Collect today, we asked for understanding and for grace to see in his death two very important things that go together. This is what we prayed: “Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This Collect is drawn from the Epistle we read.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not: but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray: but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

This follows an exhortation to be patient when suffering wrongfully.   “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” Peter tells us that when we follow Christ our Lord, we may expect to find the cross awaiting us. When we find it, and find no way around it, we may embrace it as the will of God, just as Jesus did.

The Lord spoke clearly of the difference between a true shepherd and a mere hireling, “whose own the sheep are not.” The Church has had its fill of hirelings. We know that the Church must tend to business in this world. Indeed, every family must conduct business. We all must have a place to live, food on the table, and utilities. So, the Church, like every family, must engage in a certain amount of practical business. Jesus sent his disciples to buy the things needed for the Passover; every family must conduct these practical matters of business.

But, though the Church must take care of a certain amount of necessary practical matters of business, the Church is not business. We are not here to earn a profit (and thank God, because we would be failures if we had to be judged by the criteria of the marketplace).   And, the work of the clergy is to serve as shepherds, and so carry on the work of Jesus himself.        It is to care for God’s people, not to devour them, and not to abandon them in the face of danger, like the hireling who sees the wolf coming, and flees.

Some men receive Holy Orders and become hirelings; and, if they are not hirelings for money, they may be hirelings for something else.  I see, sometimes, young men who were ordained much too early, and who imagine that the priesthood will give them status and prestige. They love the title, they love the vestments, and, they remind me all too often of the words of Jesus, about the Pharisees who loved greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. 1 Well, if they stick long enough, they find the cross that they cannot get around. That is when they find out if they were ordained for the right reason.

Look at the closing words of today’s Gospel: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.” I have no doubt that this speaks mainly about the inclusion of the Gentiles, the grafting in of non-Jews to the cultivated olive tree of Israel. These words only started to be fulfilled when St. Peter went to the House of Cornelius to see Pentecost repeated and the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentiles. It is also right for us to see that, even today, there remain yet other sheep, not of this fold, who need to be brought in. The work is far from over, and each of you may have a share of that work. Because “you are the Body of Christ and members in particular 2,” each endowed with special gifts for ministry by the Holy Spirit, you are called to share the work of bringing those other sheep in. And, that is a win-win proposition. It is good for the parish, and good for them, indeed, a lifeline sent out to them.

If we are to work in God’s field with all the mess sheep bring, and the dangers presented by the wolf, we need not worry about finding the cross. It always finds us if we are faithful to Christ. It will be there; that I can promise each of you. The cross, in some form or other, is all that the fallen sinful world has for true servants of Jesus Christ. Not honor, respect or esteem; the cross. So, you don’t need to go looking for the cross, because the world is quite aggressive in providing it. Like the Son of God, who endured the cross, and thought nothing of the shame of the cross, for the joy set before him3, may each of you have grace to endure, to hope, and to follow in his footsteps. The suffering is but for a moment; the joy is eternal.

On his cross, the Good shepherd died for us; and by his cross he showed to us how to follow him on the path of life.

1. Matt. 23:7
2. I Cor. 12:27
3. Heb. 12:2

Monday, April 04, 2016

The Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary.


Transferred this year to April 5 from March 25th
For this Feast day of the Annunciation I want us to meditate on two very important things.

The first is the meaning of the Incarnation in light of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. For, as soon as the Angel Gabriel announced to the blessed Virgin that she was to become the mother of God, the miracle happened. "The Word was made flesh" at the very instant that she accepted her mission with the words, "behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." 

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) tells of those on the Lord's right hand, to whom the words are spoken: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." It also tells of those on his left to whom terrifying words are spoken: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." 

The Word became flesh, that is, he took into his Divine nature the fullness of human nature. In so doing he sanctified every stage of life, including that of the youngest and most helpless of all people. His brethren include children in the womb, boys and girls not "lumps of tissue," many of whom are murdered every day for the selfish convenience of fallen men who do not know God, who have allowed love to grow cold. The culture of death teaches us that life in the womb is worth nothing, a mere thing to be thrown away. Indeed, the pressure today is to accept birth as the beginning of life, when, in fact, it is simply an early stage in a life that has existed already, generally for about nine months.

As Christians, we must continue to work for the sanctity of all life, from the moment of conception until death. We must do all we can to protect the children in danger, and to come as well to the rescue of expentent mothers who feel afraid, who feel undue pressure to kill their children before seeing their faces, and think they have no one to whom they can turn. We must be that lifeline to them. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "

 Also, I want us to consider this miracle, the Incarnation, itself. I mentioned before that Mary accepted her mission, a mission that would bring such pain to her, one Friday, that it would be, in the words of Simeon, a sword that would pierce her own soul. Her willingness to accept this mission would be fulfilled thirty three years later by her son, as he would pray in his agony, "not my will, but thine be done." Mary was the only person to share directly the miracle of the Incarnation with the Lord himself. She also felt keenly the pain of his death.

What happened when the Word, that is the Logos (λόγος), was made flesh? How did God do this thing? Not by reducing Divinity so that it could fit into a small receptacle. Think of our human nature as but a drop. A drop that falls into an ocean is transformed into something grand, into part of an ocean. He did not reduce divinity. Rather, he took human nature into his own divine Person as God the Son. God the Son has taken human nature into His Divine Person, our created nature into uncreated Person. He has taken what is alien to Him, our humanity, as the One who is wholly other from every created nature, to forever transform human nature and by grace make us partakers of the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4). This Person, the Logos, is both Uncreated and creature; both Eternal and in time; both omnipresent and local; both King and servant; both Lord and worshiper; both God and man.

This, the Incarnation, is, along with the cross, the expression and revelation of God's love; so it is fitting to remember that the Annunciation was originally thought to be the correct date of the first Good Friday. That love is the charity that St. Paul wrote about to the Corinthians, and is poured into our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us.
__________________________
 

The Angleus

V/. The Angel of the Lord brought tidings unto Mary,
R/. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. (Lk 1:28) Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. (Lk 1:42). Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
V/. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
R/. "Be it unto me according to thy Word."

Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. And the Word was made flesh,
R/. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R/. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Let us pray: We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts, that as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by His Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

First Sunday after Easter

    

I John 5:4-12 * John 20:19-23

One day in 2011 Diane and I went together to Carol Woods, to the nursing home building, so that we could visit a long time member of St. Benedict’s, and I could give her communion. When we were there she told us about someone she knows who has been in absolute terror because of the recent tornados (some of the worst ever that very morning). As we conversed, we discussed the theory that our technology can give us the illusion of safety. But, it is an illusion. Anyone of us could die at any moment. No one is guaranteed another breath. Our Archbishop likes to tell the anecdote of a priest who signed the record book we all keep before a service began. An older gentleman said to him: “You have shown great presumption, and may be guilty of falsifying a public record.” One presumption, I think, was that he had been so confident that he would be alive at the end of the service.

On April 28, 2002, an F4 tornado landed in a Southern Maryland town called LaPlata. That is the second largest kind of tornado. The storm then came across the Chesapeake Bay, unknown to Diane and me. We had started a drive home from Easton, Maryland, where I had celebrated at the altar of St. Andrew’s. During our drive home, which was usually half an hour, we had to pull off the road into the parking lot of a large shopping center. The reason we had to pull over was that rain was blinding us. The rain was coming at us sideways from all directions. As we sat in that parked car, I looked up into the actual F4 tornado. It was right over us. Lightening was going around in a circle, seeming more like a man-made light show than anything natural. Suddenly it was all over, and everything was peaceful.

Looking up into the belly of the beast, I realized afterward, that I did not have any feeling whatsoever of fear. This may be due, in part to the purpose for which God created fear, namely a survival instinct. For, there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. It would land on us and kill us, or it would not. But, especially after celebrating the Holy Eucharist, I think the bigger reason why I did not feel any fear had everything to do with what I am about to tell you.

"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."
This is one of the most important lines in all of Scripture. Our faith is not based on religious concepts and ideas, but on solid fact. They were glad, and that means they saw and believed. When St. Paul summarized the Gospel for the Church in Corinth (Cor. 15:1f), he recited four facts: 1. Christ died for our sins, 2) He was buried, 3) He rose the third day, and 4) He appeared to witnesses. These facts of the Gospel were "according to the Scriptures," meaning, these facts fulfilled the Scriptural foretelling of the prophets that Messiah would come the first time as priest and sacrifice, and that after his death he would rise again:

"Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." (Isaiah 53:10)

He had died as the sin offering, and now he was alive again, a man once dead, but who prolongs his days as the one in whose hand the will of God prospers forever. For a dead man to prolong his days, he must rise again. And, what is the will of God that prospers in his hand? Our collect for today provides part of the answer: "Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification..." These words were drawn from St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Rome:

"And therefore it [faith] was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:22-25)

On Good Friday we had a very mournful service, for that was the day in which Christ fulfilled the Scriptures of the prophets, that he would die as the offering for sin, fulfilling as well the entire symbolic system of sacrifice in the Law of Moses. On that day we saw him as Passover Lamb and as the Atonement slain on Yom Kippor. We saw his soul sorrowful unto death the night before in the garden, and we were with him at the cross. On Sunday, that is on Easter, we were suddenly glad, sharing the joy of those who first witnessed the sight of the risen Christ. "And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. "

Our faith is based on fact. They saw him risen again, and they witnessed this sight together as a group. Their testimony was a shared testimony, something that by its nature cannot be dismissed as a delusion. His death was a fact, and his resurrection was a fact. But, now we must see not only these facts, but the meaning of these facts. His resurrection showed that He had been, all along, exactly who he claimed to be. He was vindicated. Indeed, before Abraham, He had been and always was I AM. He was, and throughout eternity had always been, One with the Father. And, yet though he was the one vindicated, that is whose words were proved true, it is we who are justified freely by His grace.

His vindication was made into our justification; for now Christ Jesus the Lord had taken away sin and had defeated death. If we hold fast and believe, we will spend eternity not only as forgiven sinners, whose Lord died to bring that forgiveness to his people; for even beyond having been forgiven, if we hold fast and believe, we will spend eternity as the children of God through the grace of the risen Lord, fully justified as if we had never sinned at all. We are forgiven because he died, and we are justified because he rose again and ever lives to make intercession for us. That means we have been made righteous, as if we had never sinned at all, in the sight of God. Forgiveness is made richer because of Divine forgetfulness, as the Bible also states plainly: He forgets our sins. So, in the eyes of God, because Christ rose again from the dead, we are restored fully and given the eternal inheritance that our first father lost. 

We have been allowed to start all over again, and to become God's own children through Christ. This has everything to do with that little two word phrase that St. Paul repeats throughout his epistles: "In Christ." It is a small phrase, and thus easily overlooked. And, yet, it is our identity in the eyes of God; it is your identity, and has been ever since the day you were baptized into Christ. If you are "in Christ" and if you abide and dwell in Christ, God sees you in the Person of His only begotten Son. He sees you in His Son, the one Beloved of the Father in all eternity.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Eph. 1:3-6)

That God sees you in the Person of His only begotten Son means that, even beyond forgiveness, you have been justified as if you had never been born in sin, and had never sinned yourself. That is justification; that is adoption as a child of God; that is what it means to be "in Christ."

This is why it is so very tragic when any child of God chooses to live as merely a son of this fallen world ("For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"). You do not belong to this world of sin and death, and have no business living as if you did. Because we are justified freely in the Risen Christ, we are called to sanctification, that process whereby we become saints.

A saint is, simply, a holy person. In an objective sense you have been made holy by having been separated from the world of sin and death, and set apart unto God. This was done in your baptism. But, in terms of the life you live here on earth, as we also have seen in the epistles of St. Paul, you have the vocation, that is the calling, to become holy, to be a saint, conformed to the image of Christ in this world. Growing in the grace of God and acquiring holy virtues, above all charity, is the vocation every child of God has in common. This we cannot do if we choose to live in the darkness of carnality and selfishness.

The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, though as yet they did not fully comprehend all that it meant. But, they could quickly comprehend that Christ's resurrection demonstrated the goodwill, the love and saving intention, of God. Somehow, it meant that everything he had suffered was part of the plan; it demonstrated that he had been in control all along; it meant that the fear and suffering of Friday was not a defeat, but rather the very plan, just as their Master had foretold several times. For example, hear these words from the Gospel of Mark:


"And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again." (Mark 10:32-34)

The resurrection demonstrated that Christ had come to be our Salvation from sin and death, that God had come in peace rather than as an enemy. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)

"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."

Now, it was time for the Lord to send them out.

"Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."

This means that the Apostles were, and therefore the Apostolic Church is, in the world as the Body of Christ, the extension of His Incarnation. It means the Apostolic Church (including you and me) is here to assist and work with God in the service and ministry of reconciliation, calling all men everywhere to repent, filling the world with the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken away sin and conquered death. It means the Apostolic Church, of which you are a part, is to go into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that his house may be filled. It means that you are here on a mission of peace, to help your neighbor obtain peace with God through Jesus Christ.

"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

This too speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ. Of course, it speaks directly of a sacrament that belongs to the Apostolic ministry of Christ's own priesthood though ordained men. And, I have challenged those who reject our belief in the sacrament of Absolution, in these words: "If your church has no one in it who believes that he has the authority to forgive sins, how can you say that you are in the same Church founded by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ through his Apostles?"

More largely, it speaks of God's purpose that forgiveness of sins be spread far and wide. Yes, forgiveness is conditional. Indeed, after the General Confession (for example) you hear conditions in the Absolution that follows, namely, "hearty repentance and true faith." "Hearty" means simply, from the heart, or, sincere. Repentance must be sincere; not necessarily emotional; but sincere. And, "true faith" may be as small as a grain of mustard seed, for even that little is enough; for it is faith in God Who is infinite. More largely, the Good News is that the risen Christ has commissioned the Church of His Apostles to be His instrument of forgiveness, not of condemnation.

In all of history, no line has been more important than this: "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." His resurrection was a fact they could see, hear and touch. To this fact they have borne witness by preaching the Gospel, their own eyewitness testimony courageously declared, unrelentingly declared even to the shedding of their blood as His faithful martyrs. For, above all else, the message of his resurrection from the dead on the third day is the message of God's love, that God sent his Son came into the world to be our Salvation; He is our peace and reconciliation with God.

This is the message Christ has commissioned though His Apostolic Church. Therefore, we too believe he has risen, and are glad.