Saturday, December 28, 2013

First Sunday after Christmas Day

Galatians 4:1-7 * Matthew 1:18-25

It is a principle of interpretation that the fullness of revelation in Christ unlocks the mysterious sayings of the Prophets. Always remember that it was the seventy rabbis in Antiquity, translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, who understood the words of Isaiah to mean “A virgin shall be with child.” For so they translated Almah into Parthenos before Jesus was born, before any Christian could interpret the words of the prophet: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).”     

It was a sign, that is a miracle to direct our attention to God, that a virgin was with child. It is no sign whatsoever for a “young woman” to be with child, inasmuch as it happens all the time. And, in what context did Isaiah speak this prophecy, some seven hundred years before Christ was born? In the context of a king, Ahaz, worried about a political and military conspiracy from a fifth column allied with a foreign power. That is, Isaiah answered the fearful inquiry of a political leader who was afraid of domestic rivals and foreign enemies. He answered in the context of concerns about politics and war. That is, the same old normal situation we see all the time and everywhere throughout history.

          Isaiah gave the Divine answer, as if God was ignoring the same old questions about power, politics and war, about the things people think about and talk about, the things people consider to be of the greatest importance. The answer to what really ails us is in the Sign: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” That is, “God with us.” The prophet did go on to answer the concerns of King Ahaz about the king of Assyria and domestic conspiracy; but first he foretold the greatest deliverance of all. He foretold the Sign of the only real salvation for all people for all time.

Human power cannot conceive this salvation. No military power, no intellectual power, not even any religious method; No one but God could make it happen. So, He chose and willed that a virgin would be with child. And, for the real salvation of the world, it takes no less than “God with us.” It takes no less than the Word (Logos) made flesh, the Person Who is One God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, with us as a human being, born of a virgin. The human race is impotent to save itself, because the real enemy is not the king of Assyria and domestic conspirators. The real war is not with man made weapons of destruction. In every generation and place these are the enemies most on our minds. But, the enemy of mankind is hidden away behind millions of lies, inciting hate and destruction. Because of that enemy, and his deception, we need salvation from sin and death.

“Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

          Jesus, in Hebrew Yeshua, means Salvation. “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

What does it mean to be saved from our sins? How eager are we, really, to be saved from them, and wouldn’t we prefer to be saved along with them? Therefore, the first command of the Gospel is to "Repent; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand." We must repent, confess and live free of willful sin. Do we understand that salvation from death is not possible without salvation from sin? This is why, even in the joy of Christmas, we cannot afford to forget the cross. Indeed, as Martin Luther once observed, “If you think you have found God without the cross, you have found the Devil.”

God with us, the Word made flesh, our Salvation Himself, took away sin before He conquered death. First came the harsh wood of the cross, where He so willingly took away the sins of the world. It was on “the altar of the cross” that Jesus became the Lamb of God.

Just about everyone, understandably, speculates about life after death. The Ghost Hunters plumb the depths of this mystery – literally. People have engaged psychics and spiritualists, and today use electronic equipment. For Christians, there must be no psychics or spiritualists because God forbids such practices (as a doorway to the demonic realm). As for Ghost Hunters, and research into near death experiences – or, more accurately, real but temporary death experiences – those things actually involve scientific methods and genuine memories. But, the ultimate answers are still beyond the grasp of everyone looking to them.

The real hope is in the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Christ rose from the dead and forever conquered death. His promise to all who repent and believe in Him is that He will raise each one “on the Last Day,” when he comes again. But, before we get to eternal life and all of “the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last day,” we must take a long stop at the cross. Before He saved us from death He saved us from our sins. So, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

It doesn’t seem fair. We have been thinking about the baby born in Bethlehem, and here I am on this Sunday right after Christmas Day, speaking about the day, some thirty-three years later, when He would give up his life and die on the cross. Is there no break from the cross? Can we ever have such a break, some period when the cross is not part of message? Only if there is a break from the love of God (Romans 5: 8). For it is on the cross that Jesus saved us from our sins. That is what the angel Gabriel said to Joseph; without the cross His name would not be Jesus, Salvation.

This was the will of God; not the will of an “angry Father” created by human imagination. It was the will of God, of whom the Apostle John wrote, “God is Love.” It was the will of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was the will, therefore, of Jesus, our Salvation, to take away our sins, to save us from our sins; our Salvation Himself, “Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Romans 4:25).

That is, He died for our offences, our sins, and was raised again on the third day for our justification. We are forgiven because of the cross, and justified because He rose from the dead afterward. It is not enough for God to have forgiven the past; it is also His will to make all things new, to make each of us new. For this we are given the great gift of sharing Christ’s resurrection. This is how “our sinful bodies” will “be made clean by His body,” cleansed from the defilement and uncleanness of death itself because “our souls [are] washed with His most precious blood.” He “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.”

So, the angel Gabriel told Joseph the true meaning of the Prophet’s words. This is the good news of God’s salvation. We are saved from sin and therefore saved from death, looking forward to a whole new beginning because He is alive even now. In Bethlehem “the babe, the world’s redeemer, first revealed His sacred face.” To understand this great revelation of God’s love, we need to know the message of the Gospel in its fullness. That message is what the Prophets saw and foretold; it is the mystery opened up to Joseph in a dream by the words of Gabriel; and it is all the factual events to which the Apostles have borne witness.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

At this Christmas time

Please pray for the retired Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Dr. Peter Akinola. He was kidnapped early today. Pray for his safe return.

Once again we are reminded that "Peace on earth" is not the peace of this world. but Christ's peace that He gives us, not as the world gives. It is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. While we, who are safe in the west, can be very particular about our Christmas observances, many of our brethren are being persecuted right now, and living always in danger.

I have just returned from two things at St. Benedict's: The annual children's Christmas Pageant (a Nativity play), and our first Holy Communion service for Christmas. In a few hours I go back to do the 11:00 PM service, the traditional Midnight Mass.  You may click on this link for a Christmas sermon.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A good sermon for Advent IV

The following was written and preached by Mr. Richard Tarsitano at St. Michael and All Angels Anglican Catholic Church in Jacksonville Florida. Mr. Tarsitano (son of the late Rev. Dr. Louis Tarsitano) is currently studying for holy orders.

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

The Epistle and Gospel appointed for this Fourth Sunday in Advent compare two important time periods in which the God of Time and Space reaches through his creation to make all things new.  The incarnation and return of our Lord Jesus Christ reveal a surprising and magnanimous saving effort by which the three persons of the Blessed Trinity confound our wants and assumptions for the good of the beautiful creation we mar through sin.  The propers for today really reveal two advents in which the people of God prepare for their great king to die and to reign, to rise and to return, to ascend and to descend.  These two advents, these great comings, should be times of humbleness and thanksgiving, but then and now, we push the mysterious, distant past and future reality away to focus on the jarring spectacle produced by the burdens we inherit and create.  Exploring the two advents through God’s revealed word we see a different path.

St. Paul in today’s Epistle is writing to his beloved church in Philippi which has its struggles but certainly give the Apostle much less grief than say the church in Corinth.  Throughout the letter he rejoices in their faith and thanks them for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5).  High praise from a man who is writing this correspondence from the dusky light of a 1st Century prison cell. But, being a partner with Paul attracted attention from forces both natural and supernatural which were persecuting the kind and generous congregation in Philippi.  Over and above that overt resistance, we hear the familiar refrain of a people attempting to live in light of the gospel. We hear the echoing heartache and struggle of souls besieged by their inner temptations and constantly threatened by the outward malice of a world that must kill the idea of a savior-God to protect its grip on the hearts of men. 

Then and now, to safeguard that circular justification of ungodliness, whereby man is god and man makes the rules, it is not enough to simply disagree with Christianity.  In this way, I really do understand the vitriol that flows from the mouths and pens of Anti-Christians; for, these men and women oftentimes understand the ramifications of Christ’s message better than many who claim him as their Lord. Distressingly, many in the Western Christian world seek to accommodate and assimilate into a human spirit poisoned by greed and lust and murder in an abortive attempt to “trick people” into believing as much of the gospel as we can to occasionally get them to sit in a pew.  Thankfully, this path of least resistance, this perilous bridge leading back to the spiritual ghetto we all come from, has been burned by our Lord and our only way back to that place is to jump into a never-ending chasm. 

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus states these hard words, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.  And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).  Jesus’ description of the effect of the Gospel on families does not sound like the kind of message one hears from TV commercials and newspaper ads.  We are familiar with church advertisements that basically boil down to one of two ideas: 1. Come to church and your son or daughter will do what you say more often or 2. Come to church to fulfill a vague sense that your family is missing something it needs to get along better.  These two ideas completely miss the point and serve as a pitiable distraction from the glorious good news of the Gospel.  Jesus has not come to bring peace to the world.  He has not come to bring peace to your family or your job or your lodge or your political party. He has come to bring peace to his people, our brothers and sisters he fashions from the dust of the earth. A peace that flows from the new creation begun in Christ, a peace that calms the martyr’s heart as he walks to the cross, a peace that raises dead men and women from the cold grave, a peace that passes all understanding.

The conceptions of peace in our culture are intimately linked with ideas we have inherited from the 1960’s peace movements and the work of non-violent protesters such as Henry David Thoreau and Mohandas Ghandi.  From these modern movements and thinkers we tend to picture peace as a very human-centered idea.  In this conception of peace, mankind–either through enlightenment or horror–chooses to stop killing ourselves and one another.  We are exhorted to “give peace a chance” as it were, but St. Paul presents a very different picture of peace.  This is not a peace accessed by people in pursuit of fashioning a perfect world from the ashes of the human experience: a peace too often willing to scheme and compromise with evil in order to secure a momentary absence of conflict.  That is the type of peace Jeremiah rebukes in chapter 8 of his prophetic work, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 8:10). 

True peace can only come from a personal God who guards our hearts and our minds from fear, despair, and sin.  Sin scuttles all human developed projects for world peace even as it subverts our own personal peace keeping missions.  From Thucydides to Henry Kissinger, great minds have tried to crack the puzzle that is world peace, and from Buddha to Deepak Chopra men and women have attempted to conjure a personal peace that is lasting and real.  These attempts fail because they are like lost souls trying to bail out a leaking boat without patching the holes.  In truth, our situation is even more dire than that as there are too many holes for us possibly to fill with our own effort.  Humanity is on the Titanic, and our sin and hubris has prevented us from bringing life-boats. 

I would ask you to be cautious in interpreting this metaphor I have just presented because I do not want you to take away the wrong idea.  An idea I have heard preached on more than a few occasions: Jesus is not our life-boat; He is our King.  Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world, is not a product we desire or a last-ditch “break-glass-when-needed” eternal life insurance policy.  The peace that St. Paul promises to us springs from the grace of God and our participation in a life focused on God through prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving.  This connection to God and his bountiful fount of grace through these seemingly ordinary means is discounted and ignored at humanity’s everlasting peril.  Psalm 145 tells us, “The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him; yea, all such as call upon him faithfully.  He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry, and will help them” (145:18-19).  St. Paul comforts the church in Philippi and the church on Fleming Island by assuring them of Christ’s return in the final judgment, but he is also writing a referral to physically and spiritually correspond with the God of the universe.  That peace that passes all understanding is the God of Peace, the creator of heaven and earth, holding us up as we face the hourly challenges of being one of His people in a land of rebellion and strife.  The reality of our heavenly companionship is how St. Paul can say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).    

We are in the last Sunday of this year’s Advent season, but this yearly observance should remind us that we live in a perpetual Advent as we await the second coming of our King.  We do not await that great and glorious day alone, trapped in the loneliness and squalor of an unredeemed mind, we count the days to his return with the communion of saints, but even more amazingly, we commune with God himself–for Christ has given us confident access to the heavenly throne of grace.  The world hates prayer (it says: “shouldn’t we be doing something instead of wasting our time praying”), the flesh hates prayer (it says, “I’m so busy, who has time to pray”), the devil hates prayer (in the same way a murderer prefers if you don’t dial 911).  These powerful forces have so twisted our culture and society that we fail to see that our moments on bended knee, in communication with God Almighty, are the most important thing we do in our day.

 More important than reading the newspaper, more important than doing our job, more important than kissing our loved ones goodnight.  None of those other relationships matter if we do not have a right relation with our God and our King, and we can never hope to be in a right relation if we ignore this most generous invitation to address Him in His heavenly court. 

Finally, as Advent comes to a close, I would ask you to meditate carefully on the familiar words we sing in our beloved Christmas carols. For, a Christian cannot sing a Christmas carol in the same way a non-Christian can.  We are not absent-mindedly singing about peace and good-will.  We are beseeching the King of creation to return and make the world whole, to bring a peace that passes all understanding. 

He hears our prayers, and He will come.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 80 * Phil. 4:4-7 * John 1:19-28
With Christmas so close at hand it may seem a little difficult to go through even one more Sunday of Advent. We want to burst forth into the next season and rejoice. Well, very soon the time for that will be upon us (in fact at sundown this Christmas Eve). Right now, however, it is time to think through the meaning of today’s scriptures for the last Sunday in Advent, and not to miss it.

Again we are given that mysterious image of John the Baptist, the burning and shining light who bore witness by his life and death to Jesus Christ. “He must increase, and I must decrease,” said this prophet, this man whose unique vocation was that he bridged the Old Testament and the New. Two weeks ago we saw that all of the scriptures bore witness to Jesus Christ; and now, this last prophet of the Old Covenant bears direct witness to Christ, baptizing Him, and seeing the Spirit of God come upon Him as a dove out of Heaven. This last prophet of the Old Covenant is the first prophet of the New Covenant. The Lord said through the prophet Isaiah, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert (Isa. 43: 19).” God called this prophet, this unique prophet, to show that the new thing, the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet (Jer. 31:31f) was upon them. John’s father was a priest under the Law of Moses, a descendent of Aaron. Therefore, John was also, by that Law, a priest. Yet, John the son of Zechariah, went into the desert to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “prepare the way of the Lord.”

Advent is about the last things, and especially meant to remind us that Christ will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, to make the heavens and the earth new, and to rule forever on His throne, surrounded by saints whom He has redeemed from sin and death to rule forever with Him. But, as we have seen, instead of having us read the many passages of scripture that deal very directly with eschatology- the study of the end- the Gospel readings appointed by the Church give us a glimpse of Christ’s second coming by reminding us of events that happened when He came at first. The first week we saw that His kingdom brings judgment on the very House of God in the midst of the holy city, and cleanses it by driving out those who defiled it by their willful sin, cheating the people on holy ground. The picture ought to inspire the healthy fear of God, and to make us repentant and resolute to live in such a way that we will be among those who remain in His house forever, instead of being driven out to spend eternity in outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

And now, thanks to the wisdom of the Church, we are reminded of the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord by preaching repentance and cleansing. John the Baptist bridged the Testaments and prepared the way for Christ by offering hope, by giving sinful people a chance to start over again. The sinners who came to him were given a new beginning, hope and cleansing- themselves cleansed rather than tossed out as the Lord tossed out the money changers when it was the temple that He cleansed. In other words, the vocation of John the Baptist was to prepare people to see Jesus as the Messiah, and the preparation was repentance, the only way to be prepared to meet the Lord. The Advent message of repentance is necessary. Modern popular religion tells everyone that they need not repent of their sins, but rather that everyone is accepted with all of their ungodly baggage. The truth is, some churches are simply helping people go to Hell, due to the false teaching of Satan’s ministers. The truth is, the real ministry of the Church is the most important and serious thing in the world. Here we deal with things more important than mere life and death. We speak and administer the word and sacraments that have to do with eternal destiny. We give out both a warning and hope: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

Now, about the comings of Jesus Christ, and the life of this mysterious John the Baptist, we should dig a little deeper. The word “Christ” is from the Greek for the Hebrew word Meshiach, or as we pronounce it in English, “Messiah.” We have come to call the Lord by two names more than all others, Jesus and Christ. The one means Salvation- Y’shua. The other means “the anointed” – Meshiach. The implication is the Old Testament expression, “the Lord’s Anointed.” This comes with two pictures, as the word "messiah" is sprinkled generously throughout the pages of the Old Testament. The word speaks of priests and kings, and the anointing comes by the hand of a prophet.

The first men to be called meshiach were the brother of Moses, Aaron the High Priest, and his sons the priests. The King James Bible uses the phrase “the priest that is anointed.” The original Hebrew is h’ kohan h’ meshiach- “the priest the messiah.” The second class of men to be called messiah (meshiach) are the kings. David would not stretch forth his hand against Saul, because he was “the Lord’s anointed.” That is, the Lord’s messiah. Every priest was a messiah, and every king was a messiah. And, yet, the scriptures clearly speak of the one Man who would be both priest and king, and who would be the only hope of the whole world, H’ Meshiach- The Messiah. So, first Messiah is the priest, and then after that He is the King.

Jesus Christ’s two comings are foreshadowed in these pictures. First he came as priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews is the most explicit New Testament book that tells of Christ’s priestly ministry when he came the first time, and does so in light of the hope of those who look for His second appearing. As the priest He offered Himself as the sacrifice. The Book of Leviticus tells us clearly how a priest made kippur, that is atonement, for a repentant sinner who confessed his sin to the priest and brought a sacrifice. The real meaning is that the priest himself is the atonement, and offers the animal because he cannot sacrifice himself. This is a type and shadow of Jesus, who did offer Himself as priest and sacrifice when He came the first time. The importance of the Suffering Servant passage to the clear New Testament proclamation of atonement cannot be overstated. You will find it in the 53rd chapter of the Book of Isaiah. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

This Suffering servant, after His death in their place, rises and takes up a ministry of intercession for sinners. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” A dead man cannot prolong his days unless he rises again. In this passage, His death and resurrection are priestly, because he dies as the one true sacrifice, the atonement, and after rising “he ever lives to make intercession for them,” that is, for those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). The Old Testament sacrifices on those altars foreshadowed His true sacrifice, just as our sacrifice on this altar, in which nothing is killed, proclaims it. In fact, there is only one Eucharist (or Holy Communion or Mass – it’s all the same), and always when it is offered anywhere in the world by the Church, it is joined to the one true sacrifice on Calvary.

When He comes again, the image of Messiah as King will be fulfilled in all of its glory. This is the terror of all that is evil, and it is the hope of the Church. It is a certainty that he will come on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead, to establish Heaven on Earth, to rule and so grant peace forever. Both Testaments speak of His coming as the King Messiah. Daniel saw one coming in the clouds of Heaven as the Son of man to rule with the Ancient of Days; Moses saw that “the Earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” Our eternal hope is not based upon imagination and conjecture, but upon the sure promise given in and by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. We are given the “sure and certain hope of the resurrection on the Last Day.” It is the only such hope, and it is impossible to separate that hope from Jesus Christ, because immortality, the hope of eternal life, is ours only through His resurrection. So writes Saint John about those who, due to this hope, purify themselves: “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 (I John 3:2).”

John the Baptist prepared the way of the Lord by his message of repentance. Pondering these pictures of the Messiah as priest and King we are both warned and encouraged with both fear and hope. This is the meaning of Advent. It is of eternal consequence that we give heed.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent

                                                      Illustration by Gustave Dore'

I Corinthians 4:1-5 

Matthew 11:2-10

Our Collect today contains this petition: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” These words remind us that the prophet, St. John the Baptist, prepared the way for the Lord’s ministry in Israel by preaching repentance from sin, and by inviting the people to come into the waters of a mikvah, a ritual bath of cleansing that the Greek New Testament calls baptisme, that is, baptism. It draws from two sources, the book of the prophet Malachi and the Gospel of St. Luke. Malachi said: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”1 In the Gospel of Luke the angel Gabriel expounds on this passage of scripture when he announces to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, about John: “And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias (i.e. Elijah), to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”2 

We need to understand why the Lord told Peter, James and John, as they came down from the Mount of Transfiguration that Elijah had already come and suffered the fate that would be dished out to the Son of Man. He tells the crowd to whom he speaks in today’s Gospel reading (a little further on), “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.”3 To understand this we have to pay attention to what the angel said. John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy, because it was not really a prediction that Elijah would come himself, but that this other prophet would come in the spirit and power that had rested on that Old Testament prophet. Only this time, the Ahab and Jezebel of the period, namely Herod and Herodius, would kill the prophet, John, who confronted their sin; something that the Old Testament king and queen could not do to Elijah. 

Where does this phrase come from: “and he shall turn the hearts…?” The very concept of a prophet who turns the hearts comes from that story in the first book of the Kings where Elijah confronts the prophets of Baal. The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel were filled with terrible confusion, having the religion of Baal worship all mixed up with the worship of the true and living God of their fathers (and seemed to have forgotten the golden calves of Jeroboam). Baal worship is the same as the worship of Molech, the god to whom agonized parents would offer their own children in sacrifice, because by this religion they were deceived into a dreadful compulsion. We need to understand something very important. All religions are not the same. We need to understand something else. Whenever Paganism is properly researched we learn of its unspeakable cruelty. I know why the Law of Moses commands that the altars and groves of idols must be torn down. Whether it was the human sacrifice of the so-called peaceful Celts (and the idea of “peaceful Celts” is a historical absurdity), or simply the indifference of the Norse gods who offered no blessings, but only the darkness of fate; whether it was the human sacrifice of Aztecs, or the impersonal nothingness of some far Eastern mysticism into which individual consciousness and identity is, at best, swallowed up and lost; whether it is the violence of Islam (that pagan version of monotheism with its god who is alone), or the cruel caste system of Hinduism with its Suhtee ritual banned by the British, in which widows were burned alive at their husband’s funerals (in front of their children and everyone): Paganism is often darkness in which Satan has longed imprisoned and tortured the human race due to its ignorance and fear. And, only the worship of the True God has ever set people free from this cruel tyranny of mind and spirit. That is historical fact, and as such a theme oft repeated in various times and places of human experience. 

The people of the Northern kingdom of Israel in Samaria were lost in Baal worship due to the evil queen Jezebel and the weakness of her husband Ahab. Elijah called together the prophets of Baal and challenged them to a supernatural contest. They agreed, and the contest was to see who had the power to bring down fire from heaven to consume an offering. From morning until noon the prophets of Baal called on their god, finally waxing so desperate they resorted to cutting themselves. Elijah called a halt to the spectacle, and summoned the people to gather to him. He made it hard on himself by pouring a large amount of water in a trench around the altar and the dead animal, just to show that no fire could be lit by natural means. Then he prayed: 
“LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again.”4 

There we see that phrase about the turning of the hearts, the work that God did through his prophet Elijah. The scripture goes on to say: 
“Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The LORD, he is the God; the LORD, he is the God.”
This is how their hearts were turned back by the prophet Elijah, back to the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 

Some modern Bibles have quite dishonestly rendered the Hebrew word for “fathers” in the book of Malachi as “parents.” This is completely unjustified. The word does not mean parents, it means fathers, specifically and clearly. When the ideology of the zeitgeist is allowed to interfere with Bible translation, the results cannot be good. Nothing is more disastrous than loss of fatherhood from homes, and in a larger sense, from a society. The father is the protector and provider, above all, the God appointed head of his family. In this case, when the prophet Malachi speaks of the hearts of the fathers turned back to the children and of the children to the fathers, and the angel expands that to include the turning of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, we dare not lose the meaning, for it is to our loss.  

We can speak of the fathers as the fathers of our whole Jewish and Christian heritage, a line dating back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that continues through Moses and the prophets, right up to that Man that Isaiah called “the everlasting father,” our Lord Jesus Christ; the last Adam by whom comes the whole spiritual seed of the redeemed, the Church of the living God to be granted eternal life by means of, and following the pattern of, his resurrection.

We see the fathers of the Church, and among them the holy fathers who gathered for the Ecumenical Councils. In terms of today’s Collect, which is based on the meaning of today’s Epistle, we must see the fathers who stand in Apostolic Succession, those of us, unworthy as we are apart from the grace of God, who have been ordained to be fathers among the people of God. So writes St. Paul to St. Timothy, “if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” 6
Today’s Epistle says: “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” This is what the Collect draws from also, for it says: “Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight.” To some, the ministry of the priest takes place only in functionary terms. He fulfills his religious role in services, and does all those social and religious things that they require of him, such as weddings and funerals, and some community things from time to time, like praying at civic events, and so on.

The priesthood is not only the ministry of the altar. To reduce anything to one function, no matter how important, at the expense of its entirety is a serious mistake. A priest is always alter Christus, not only when he offers the Eucharist. And, this gives a special sacramental charism to his teaching, his advice, and his fatherly love for the people of God. An individual priest may fail to exercise all the gifts of his office, but he does not lose the sacred character implanted in him. So we do not agree with those who say that the priesthood is only about the ministry at the altar and nothing else. Rather, as the ministry of the Church extends the grace of the Incarnation among mankind, the priesthood extends the graces of the Incarnation among the people of the Church, and does so at all times by the sacramental charism of the indelible character added to the man who is ordained to the priesthood.

It is our responsibility in this Advent season to call upon the people of the Church to be holy, and to attend to their own salvation, to walk with God in all purity of conscience. What we do is not simply about feeling good. It is far more than a warm and fuzzy feeling that we seek to impart. 

As part of my own stewardship in the mysteries of God, for your benefit, I want to plant a thought in your minds. For some of you, this new year that began on the First Sunday in Advent is a good time, especially during this Penitential season, to come and make your first ever private confession. The sacramental power to absolve sins is so important in Anglicanism that it is mentioned directly in our Ordinal. When a priest is ordained, the bishop speaks the words of Christ (that is, he is Christ’s own mouth, through whom the Lord speaks) words from the Gospel of St. John.7 The bishop says these words: 
Receive the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Confession followed by Absolution hurts before you do it; but it feels very good after it has been accomplished. When I have gone to another priest for confession, I have had to remind myself that I am there to appear for the prosecution. Jesus Christ is my Advocate, and he pleaded my case with his own blood as he poured out his soul unto death for me on the cross.8
Quite often people come to church without realizing the wonderful gift imparted to them here. Have you ever wondered why the Church of England added to the list of names that already had been given to this principal service of the Church? In addition to the names “The Holy Eucharist,” “The Divine Liturgy,” and “The Mass,” the English Reformers came up with the name, a name taken directly from scripture, “The Holy Communion.” As St. Paul wrote: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”9 The English Reformers were not rejecting the word “Mass.” But, they wanted to correct a false understanding among the common people, namely that their religious duty was to come and “hear Mass.” So, in that first English Book of Common Prayer in 1549, they named the service: THE SUPPER OF THE LORDE AND THE HOLY COMMUNION, COMMONLY CALLED THE MASSE. The Anglican message about this service is that you come here not simply because it is your religious duty to attend; you come here to receive from God that grace by which he meets the deepest need of your soul. You have that need whether you believe it or not, whether you see it or not, whether it presents itself to your conscience or not. The Holy Communion is not where you come in order to affirm that you are a good person, but where you flee to Christ as a sinner in need of his grace. You have come here today to receive the food and drink of eternal life.

Jesus said:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”10

 In the comedy, Life with Father, Clarence Daye, played by William Powell, had a great line: “If there’s one thing the Church should leave alone, it’s a man’s soul.” Well, as “stewards of the mysteries of God” who must give an account for your souls,11 we simply have to meddle. As much as I still encourage you to make a private confession (and to do so without fear, “early and often”), consider the grace that is offered even in the General Confession that comes up shortly. If you want to appropriate what God offers you in the General Confession followed by the General Absolution, then take time before you come here to ask the Holy Spirit to show to you your own sins, not to be morbid, but in order to make a good and sincere confession. Remember the lesson I had to learn for myself: You are, when you confess, appearing for the prosecution. Jesus, your Advocate and the propitiation for our sins, has already appeared for you. He appeared for you on the cross. He ever liveth to make intercession for you at the right hand of God. 12 Finally, to summarize the responsibility that stewards of the mysteries of God have within the Church, I quote St. Paul:

"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."13

  1. Malachi 4:5,6
  2. Luke 1:16, 17
  3. vs. 13, 14
  4. I Kings 18:36, 37
  5. Isaiah 9:6, 7, I Corinthians 15:45f
  6. I Tim. 3:5
  7. John 20:22, 23
  8. Leviticus 17:11, Isaiah 53:12
  9. I Corinthians 10:16
  10. John 6:51-59
  11. Hebrews 13:17
  12. Hebrews 7:25
  13. II Corinthians 5:17-21

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-nine Articles

 Article XXVIII - Of the Lord's Supper
The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather 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 o a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament and hath given rise to many superstitions.

The Body of the Lord is given, taken and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

De Coena Domini

Coena Domini non est tantum signum mutae benevolentiae Christianorum inter sese, verum potius est sacramentum nostrae per mortem Christi redemptionis. Atque ideo rite digne et cum fide sumentibus, panis quem frangimus est communicatio corporis Christi: similiter poculum benedictionis est communicatio sanguinis Christi.Panis et vini transubstantiatio in Eucharistia ex sacris literis probari non potest, sed apertis Scripturae verbis adversatur, sacramenti naturam evertit, et multarum superstitionum dedit occasionem.
Corpus Christi datur, acciptur, et manducatur in Coena, tantum coelestis et spirituali ratione. Medium autem quo corpus Christi accipitur et manducatur in Coena, fides est.
Sacramentum Eucharistiae ex institutione Christi non servabatur, circumferebatur, elevabatur, nec adorabatur.

Archbishop Peter Robinson
The twenty-eighth Article is the first of four dealing with the Sacrament of the Altar which points to the significance of the subject, and the centrality of the Eucharist to the Christian Life. The other two - 29 - 'On the wicked,' 30 - 'Of both kinds' and 31 - Of the one oblation of Christ finished upon the cross' complete the treatment of the subject in the Articles of Religion, and will be dealt with in turn. Just reading through the 28th Article, it is very clear that the framers - Cranmer and his advisors originally, then Parker and Convocation in 1562/3 - were looking for both a Consensus and a positive statement on the nature of the Sacrament. In particular, they were trying to sidestep the brewing dispute between the Swiss Reformed and the Lutherans over the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, and in this they had a measure of common ground with John Calvin, and Martin Bucer, who were both trying to avoid the rigidities of both Wittenberg and Zurich. In its moderate tone, it is at one with the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Scots Confession of 1560. However, Article 28 is a little bit looser in that it permits not only receptionism, but also some sort of 'spiritual real presence' of which the "virtualism" of Johnson of Cranbrook and the later Non-Jurors is the main representative in Classical Anglicanism

So let us start by looking at what the Article condemns. Specifically, it rejects the doctrine of Transubstantiation, as overthrowing the nature of the Sacrament by denying the reality of the outward sign after the consecration, it being replaced with another substance which leaves only the accidental signs, not the substance of Bread and Wine. Mere memorialism is a 'fail' in much the same way except that in this case it is the spiritual grace, rather than the outward sign which is denied. However, having ruled out these two extremes the 28th Article then goes on to take a middle way which insists on Christ's presence in the Supper without defining whether it lies in the celebration, or in some change of significance in the elements. However, it does seem to give first preference to the Receptionist doctrines that were current in the 1560s in the attempt to reconcile Lutheran and Zwinglian views on the Eucharist.

This sort of 'true Presence' theology derives in large part from Cranmer's controversy with Stephen Gardner in 1550-1551. This was a lively little pamphlet war which was later consolidated into Cranmer's book 'On the Lord's Supper.' Gardner's contribution is largely uninteresting in that it is a vigorous defence of the traditional doctrine of transubstantiation, except for the point that he regarded the 1549 BCP Mass as being valid and upholding the doctrine of transubstantiation. This was a point that greatly riled Cranmer, whose theology had already assumed its mature position under the influence of Ridley c.1545. Cranmer's contribution is far more constructive in that it is quite obvious that Cranmer is trying to formulate a position which takes account of all the major Biblical texts concerning the Eucharist, namely the institution narratives from the Synoptic Gospels, and 1 Corinthian 10 and 11. However, like the magisterial reformers, he misses the Eucharist references in John 6, or spiritualizes them, thus missing one of the major Evangelical keys to understanding the Eucharist. The position Cranmer finally adopts is reminiscent of Ratramnus of Corbie, a ninth century Frankish monk who denied any change in the elements whilst affirming a true spiritual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Ratramnus had been rediscovered by Nicholas Ridley (1500-1555) c.1545, and Ratramus, and an anonymous Anglo-Saxon text were to be determinative in forming Cranmer's final position on the Eucharist. It should also be noted that Ratramnus' writing 'On Predestination,' in which he argues for Predestination to life against the double predestination of Gottschalk, anticipate the position taken in Article 17. Anyhow, in the final analysis the key to understanding Cranmer's doctrine of the 'true presence' are St Paul's words in I Corinthians 10:16-17
The Cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the Blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.

This text maintains both the reality of the bread and wine, and also the reality of Christ presence as we sacramentally participate in his Body and Blood. St Paul's words also make it clear that the Eucharist is a sign of unity between the believer and his Saviour, and between believers. This idea of the Eucharist being a sign of unity also occurs in St John's Gospel, especially in John 6:48-61, and in the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch and in the Didache. All of these elements are honoured in Cranmer's book. In his mature thinking, Cranmer's doctrine of the Eucharist resembles that of Martin Bucer, or Peter Martyr. It is also fair to mention that it bares a remarkable resemblance to the Receptionism of Calvin's Institutes.

However, the 28th Article is not so tightly worded as to limit our understanding to Cranmer's true presence, or Calvin's Receptionism. It is quite clear that in the early part of Elizabeth's reign its language was acceptable to "Lutherans" such as Edmund Gheast (Bishop of Oxford, then Salisbury) who affirmed a Eucharistic doctrine resembling the hypostatic theories of Luther, rather than the Consubstantiation of Lutheran Scholasticism. Their belief that Christ was present 'in, with and through' (to borrow the classic Lutheran formulation) the Bread and Wine was not incompatible with Article 28, but it did lead to the temporary suppression of Article 29 from 1563 to 1571. It also seems to have given birth to the localized theories of the Eucharistic presence that were to crop up from time to time among the English Arminians, the Non-Jurors, and the Old High Churchmen before becoming commonplace among Anglo-Catholics in the third-quarter of the 19th century. However, from 1560 to at least 1860 the dominant doctrine of the Eucharistic presence in Anglicanism was a strong form of Receptionism which saw Christ's presence as being in the celebration of the Lord's Supper, not specifically in the elements. This also explains why reservation for the sick disappeared during this period, being replaced with an abbreviated Eucharist celebrated in the home of the sick person. However, in the Scottish Episcopal Church, where virtualism was prevalent, reservation for the sole purpose of communicating the sick and housebound remained reasonably common.

But what about those other theories? After the initial hiccup with Lutherans such as Gheast, the main revival to Receptionism was not, as is still occasionally claimed, the Memorialism of Benjamin Hoadley, but the Virtualism of the Scottish Episcopalians, the English Non-Jurors, and their sympathizers within the Established Church. The classic exposition of this position is Johnson of Cranbrook's early eighteenth century manual on the Eucharist "The Unbloody Sacrifice." Johnson contended that the consecration of the elements changes their significance not their physical state, so that whilst they remain bread and wine, they become, "in virtue, power and effect" the Body and Blood of Christ. In short, Johnson affirms a spiritual presence in the elements by which the bread and wine become in their spiritual benefits the thing signified. However, he also affirms that the presence is discerned by faith. This localisation of the presence in the elements seems to have been uncontroversial from 1720, until the Low Church counterattack against the Tractarians in the 1850s.

One thing that has to be made absolutely clear is that between 1770 and 1845 the Eucharist was not a source of controversy between Evangelicals and High Churchmen. Evangelicals accepted receptionism as the doctrine of the Church of England, as did a majority of High Churchmen. Virtualism had a following amongst a minority of High Churchmen, but on the whole comparitively little of a controversial nature was written about the Eucharist between 1740 and 1840. The controversy only erupted in the aftermath of John Henry Newman's Tract XC, which was published in 1841. The original centre of attack in 1841/2 was not so much Newman's theology, but his methodology, which resurrected the logic chopping of Dr Samuel Clark, the early 18th century Arian, whose theories had been masterfully countered by Daniel Waterland (1683-1740.) The strongest exception was taken by Henry Phillpotts, (1778-1869) a strong High Churchman, and an ultra-Tory appointed to Exeter by the Duke of Wellington. Phillpotts was strongly anti-Calvinist, and had given discrete support to the Tractarians, but he was having none of Newman's Romanizing. Whilst Phillpotts' Charge against Tract XC is the most vehement and readable of the reposts to Tract XC, it was not the only one, as all but one of the mainly Old High Church bishops slammed Tract XC.

The direct attack on the 'real presence' came with the Forbes and Dennison Cases in the 1850s. The case against Alexander Penrose Forbes was the simpler of the two mainly because it took place in Scotland where the Canonical procedures were simpler. In a charge delivered to the Diocese of Brechin he used language that suggested that he held a doctrine very close to transubstantiation. This drew a protest addressed to the House of Bishops, and as a result charges were brought against him by Fr. Henderson of Arbroath. Terrot, the Primus, tried to reconcile the two sides, but eventually the matter went to trial, and the case was heard by the remaining six Bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church. To all intents and purposes, they convicted him of nothing worse than intemperate language with Forbes doctrine surviving uncensured. The Dennison Case was far broader in scope in that it attempted to get a condemnation of all forms of the doctrine of the Real Presence which localized the presence of Christ in the elements. Had it been successful, it would have made Receptionism the official doctrine of the Church, but it was eventually dismissed on a technicality leaving the doctrinal position exactly where it had been before. We also need to consider that given our greater familiarity with the Eucharistic orientation of the Fourth Gospel, and of the teaching of the Sub-Apostolic and Ante-Nicene Fathers, we probably need to broaden our view to include objective theories of the Real Presence that do not commit us to Aristotlean physics or any view that might 'overthrow the nature of a sacrament.' Therefore one may safely conclude that the Twenty-eighth of Thirty-nine Articles vouchsafe a considerable latitude as to the way in which we understand the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, asking only that we reject the extremes of Transubstantiation and Memorialism.

The final paragraph deserves a brief treatment of its own. The closing words "The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's Ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped" as a statement of historical fact more than anything else, agrees with the assertion in the first paragraph of the Article that Communion is the main function of the sacrament. At the time it was probably intended to forbid elevations during the Canon of the Mass and processions of the Blessed Sacrament as these had become the focus of some quite superstitious popular piety. Four hundred and fifty years on, it has to be regarded as an open question as to whether ceremonies such as Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament are acceptable Anglican practices, especially as most of the superstitions associated with late mediaeval Eucharistic piety are long since forgotten except by scholars of the period. I would therefore suggest that, like all such open questions of ecclesiastical discipline, the final judgement as to whether such ceremonies are licit must be left to the competent ecclesiastical authority, and not become a focus for activist liturgics.

Fr. Robert Hart
Article XXVIII defends a high view of the sacrament of Holy Communion, and also rejects Transubstantiation. In doing so it is consistent with the Anglican mind in rejecting man made extremes. It is also written so as to keep the doctrine of the sacrament within the boundaries of scripture, and to base our understanding of it on what has been revealed, and therefore recorded in scripture.

In Anglicanism, as we have seen, emphasis was placed on the sacrament as instituted to be received. It is meant to be taken and eaten, and drunk. Christ’s presence in the sacrament is taught as receiving grace, or deserving judgment for partaking unworthily, as St. Paul warned (I Corinthians 11:17-34). It is therefore no “bare sign” as in memorialism. The Anglican emphasis is on receiving Christ Himself in faithful partaking of the sacrament; and apart from partaking of the sacrament, the English Reformers saw no reason for its institution anywhere in scripture. “The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.” This is a simple recognition of fact, the boundaries of revelation as it is written. What Christ ordained is found in the words, "Do this in remembrance of me," namely "Take eat...Drink ye all of this..."

Nowhere is the purpose of sacraments more clearly stated than by Richard Hooker in the Book V, of his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. “When sacraments are said to be visible signs of invisible grace, we thereby conceive how grace is indeed the very end for which these heavenly mysteries were instituted, and besides sundry other properties observed in them, the matter whereof they consist is such as signifieth, figureth and representeth their end.”1 He continues by saying, “…it seemeth requisite that we first consider how God is in Christ, then how Christ is in us, and how the sacraments do serve to make us partakers of Christ.”2

Hooker then continues to write about the sacraments by grounding them theologically in the Incarnation: Chapter 51 has as its title: “That God is in Christ by the Personal Incarnation of the Son who is very God.” Consistent with the Athanasian Formula (“God became man that man may be deified”), he takes the combined subject of the Incarnation and the sacraments to a great height: “… God hath deified our nature, though not by turning it into himself, yet by making it his own inseparable habitation…For man is in both an associate of Deity.”3 Is it any wonder that Hooker’s writing eventually takes us to where he says, “The real presence of Christ’s most blessed body and blood is not therefore to be sought for in the sacrament, but in the worthy receiver of the sacrament.”4

Before someone objects too strongly, mistaking this for too low a view of the sacramental elements themselves, it is actually a very high view of the sacrament indeed, rooting the sacrament in Christ’s own Incarnation, and then describing our salvation as becoming “partakers of the divine nature”5 though grace. This clearly echoes the words of II Peter 1:4. It is no small matter that in that verse the word for “partakers” is a form of the word koinōnia,6 which word is translated both as “fellowship” and as “communion” (most notably in I Corinthians 10:16). Hooker is talking not about the elements as such, but about the end result of faithful receiving; that is, he is speaking of where Christ’s real presence is to be “sought for.”  

As for the rest, except in rejecting the extremes of Zwingli’s reputed “Bare Sign,” and Transubstantiation, Hooker goes on in Book V to emphasize the importance of receiving Christ Himself by means of the sacrament through faith, not on some need to figure out and describe exactly how He is present. In the course of that Hooker says, “…that Christ assisting this heavenly banquet with his personal and true presence doth by his own divine power add to the natural substance thereof supernatural efficacy, which addition to the nature of those consecrated elements changeth them and maketh them that unto us which otherwise they could not be; that to us they are thereby made such instruments as mystically yet truly, invisibly yet really work our communion or fellowship with the person of Jesus Christ as well in that he is man as God, our participation also in the fruit, grace and efficacy of his body and blood, whereupon there ensueth a kind of transubstantiation in us, a true change both of soul and body, an alteration from death to life.”7

(It is worth noting the repeated use of the words “communion,” fellowship” and “participation” in light of what we have already seen concerning the word koinōnia. Hooker appears to be thinking of all those meanings.)

In line with the Article, where it says, “The body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is faith,” we find in Hooker the rejection of a physical change of the elements. Hooker says: “In a word it appeareth not that of all the ancient fathers of the Church any one did ever conceive or imagine other than only a mystical participation of Christ’s both body and blood in the sacrament, neither are their speeches concerning the change of the elements themselves into the body and blood of Christ such, that a man can thereby in conscience assure himself it was their meaning to persuade the world either of a corporal consubstantiation of Christ with those sanctified and blessed elements before we receive them, or of like transubstantiation of them into the body and blood of Christ.”8

Contrasted against centuries of what seems to be an obsession by many with describing the sacrament mechanically, Anglicans early on lifted up their eyes to the heights. The meaning and purpose of the sacrament has everything to do with what it is, with what the elements become for us. The emphasis is on grace.

The words of Christ that we call “the words of institution” do not begin with “This is my body…This is my blood.” Rather, they begin with, “Take eat…Drink ye all of this (or “Drink this all of you”).” This point seems obvious, but it seems also to need highlighting. Of what value is the Lord’s Supper “reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped,” compared to, or in absence of, the grace received by partaking of the sacrament with genuine faith? It may be argued that the Article does not forbid reservation or lifting up of the sacrament, or carrying it about. Indeed, reserving it primarily to be received by those to whom it must indeed be carried, is perfectly consistent with the theology taught in the Article, and also by Hooker in Book V. But, what is positively stated in Anglican teaching is the value of receiving the sacrament “rightly, worthily, and with faith.” That is why the Book of Common Prayer added an additional name to the service itself, “The Holy Communion.”

1.      The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 50.3
2.      ibid
3.      Book V 54.5
4.      Book V 67.6
5.      II Peter 1:4
6.      Specifically in this verse, koinonos.
7.      Book V 67.11
8.      ibid

Friday, December 06, 2013

Second Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 55 * Psalm 119:1-16* Rom. 15:4f* Luke 21:25f

“Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away.”

Several years ago I met a man who decided to impress me with his knowledge. He took one look at my collar, and began to tell me about a book he was writing, based upon his idea that the Old Testament has a very different message, and a very different image of God, from the New Testament. He seemed to take this notion of his for granted as a self-evident bit of common knowledge, and he expected me to agree with conclusions he was drawing from this idea. He was shocked when I told him that he was completely wrong.

As you can tell, the Collect has drawn from the Epistle for today. The clear message is that God caused the Holy Scriptures to be written for our comfort. And, we need to know what is meant by comfort. We think of the word “comfort” in a very different way than this older English usage. We think of an easy chair, or lounging on a sofa, or roomy clothes. Well, the definition of the word has shifted, or, rather, its primary usage has changed. In the word “comfort” we find the word “fort.” And “fort” is a form of another word for strengthening, namely to fortify. Fortitude is courage, a fortification is a strong wall of defense, and comfort is to be “strengthened in the inner man,” to borrow a phrase from Saint Paul.

Another point, stated already in the words that the Collect has drawn from the Epistle, is the simple fact that the Holy Scriptures were written because God caused them to be written. In his second Epistle to his son in the faith, Saint Timothy, the Apostle Paul also wrote that the scriptures were, all of them, inspired by God. And, the word “inspired” means that God breathed them into existence, or that the scriptures were created by His Holy Spirit. Saint Peter made it clear that the scriptures were written because holy men were moved by the Holy Ghost. The scriptures are not merely human thought, and not merely enlightened thought. They are the word of God. The scriptures deal with something even more important than life and death; they speak directly to eternal destiny.

We need to know what this means. When the new Testament was being written, the scriptures were the Old Testament, since that was what had been written and received. It is a completely false idea that the Old Testament is inferior, or less the Word of God than the New Testament. When our Lord Jesus Christ spoke of the writings of Moses and the prophets, He commanded respect for those scriptures. He said: “the scripture cannot be broken.” He made it clear that the scriptures spoke of Him, that every one of His public actions was a fulfillment of what God had caused aforetime to be written for our comfort. He identified the Old Testament scriptures with Himself.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17, 18)."

Consider these words from the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Saint John, vs. 37-39:

“And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape. And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not. Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.”

Listen to what Saint Luke writes about Jesus after His resurrection:

“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24: 25-27)."

Notice, “not all the scriptures concerning Himself” but, “the things in all the scriptures concerning Himself.”

Luke goes on a few verses later:

“And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things (vs. 44-48)."

While walking the earth, the Son of God proclaimed that the Old Testament scriptures were, in fact, actually testifying about Him. He was their subject. After His resurrection He expounded on the meaning of all the scriptures as the things concerning Himself, and opened the minds of His disciples to understand them.

As Saint Augustine put it, “The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed.” The Old Testament, you see, is all about Jesus Christ. The absurd caricature of an angry god of the volcano at Sinai, full of nothing but wrath, being replaced by the good God and Father of Jesus Christ, was the anti-Semitic ranting of the ancient heretic Marcion, the worst of the early Gnostics. The God of Moses is our God; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; and Christ is One with Him, as is the Holy Ghost. In fact, we can say that Christ gave the Law to Moses, in the words of the great Advent hymn, O’ Come O’ Come Emmanuel:

"O’ Come, O’ Come Thou Lord of might
Who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the Law
In cloud and majesty and awe."

So, too, the New Testament is rich with the reports of Christ’s actions, His words, His life, His death and His resurrection. They tell us, also, who He is: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God… And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:1,2, 14).” It goes on to tell us how His Incarnation is extended in this world through time and space in His Church, founded by Him and indwelt by His Spirit. The doctrines of that Church are forever enshrined in the Epistles, and our hope made firm by the last prophetic Revelation.

I remind you of the Old Testament lesson appointed for Morning Prayer on this Second Sunday of Advent. Let’s take a look at part of that lesson from the 55th chapter of the book of Isaiah, vs. 6-11:

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”

Often this passage is quoted as an excuse for ignorance. The implication is, we simply cannot know God’s ways, so let’s not form strong convictions about anything; let’s not be dogmatic. But, a careful reading shows the opposite. Wicked and unrighteous ways and thoughts must be replaced by God’s ways and thoughts through serious repentance. The ways and thoughts of God are made known to us, because like the rain and snow, they come down from heaven. His Word goes forth from His mouth. The key words are “ways and thoughts.” Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts…For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.” Like the earth drinking up the rain and snow, we must drink up His word that comes down from heaven and that goes forth from His mouth. Our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts must be replaced by God’s very own revealed ways and thoughts. That will, indeed, comfort us, as in fortify.

And, looking at today's Gospel reading in that light, we see that even the passages about the end times, the close of the age in which we live, were not written to satisfy fleshly curiosity. Like the passage from Isaiah, the message is to repent and be ready to meet the Lord face to face. A lot of time is wasted on useless speculation instead of hearing the clear message to repent and believe.

The Church has a very strong message. We have the scriptures in which we hear the voice of God Himself speaking to man. We can teach their meaning correctly, and no one else can even understand it. Only in the Church can we know how to understand the book of the Church. The scriptures did not simply appear out of nowhere. The Old Testament came through the first Church, which was Israel, the Jewish people. The New Testament has come to us through the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church guided, as Christ promised, by the Spirit of Truth. The Holy Spirit spoke through holy men of the household of God. We know what our book means. It has belonged to us, as God’s gift and deposit, from its inception.

And, on every page of it, whether in words written by Moses, or the Passion narratives written by the four Evangelists; whether the heart felt cries of David in the Psalms, or the patient and passionate teaching of Saint Paul; it is all speaking to us about Jesus Christ, the Living Word and incarnate revelation of God.