Friday, April 18, 2014

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts

GOOD FRIDAY

The special liturgy for this day is one of the great treasures of Christian spirituality.  As a sign of unusual mourning and penitence, both today and tomorrow the Church refrains from celebrating the Holy Eucharist and still in most places does not administer Holy Communion to the faithful.  In effect, we place ourselves under a sentence of excommunication as we remember the crime of our Saviour's death.  Today's liturgy is merely a "liturgy of the Word," which Anglicans of another generation called the Ante-communion.

Two further features of the Good Friday liturgy are the Solemn Collccts and the Reproaches which are chanted or read during the Veneration of the Cross.  Both of these have archaic qualities which recall the earliest centuries of Christian history.  In the "Solemn Collects" we remember that in His very death our Lord was officiating as our Great High Priest .  His first "word from the cross" was a prayer of intercession, "Father forgive them."  So His Church, keeping vigil with Him on Calvary, intercedes for all her children and likewise for the whole world.

The nine prayers of intercession are comprehensive, beginning with the bishops and hierarchy of the Church, proceeding with "all estates of men in thy holy Church," continuing on with various special needs, and concluding with prayers for the Jews and for the heathen.  Each intercession has a special bidding, "Let us pray for..."  One phrase runs through and unites them:  "the Lord our God."
Here we have an echo of the covenant formula which unlocks the entire Bible, "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people, and I will dwell with you."

The covenant of grace, first intimated in the Garden of Eden in God's curse of the serpent and later inaugurated with Abraham, comes into sharp focus today.  When was that promise ever so rejected, or ever so confirmed, as it was at the death of the Messiah?  When the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus Christ, human wickedness (the depravity of all mankind) reached its lowest and vilest point in His murder.  But never has the covenant promise been so ratified as it was when He prayed "My God, my God."  We might lose our way in the rest of that word of dereliction, "why hast thou forsaken me," if we forget that He was pleading the covenant promise, "I will be your God."  Never was God so perfectly "our God" as when He put forth His only-begotten Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  The covenant language in the Solemn Collects should remind us that like our dying Saviour we are pleading the promises of the Covenant sealed in His Blood.

In the Reproaches, we have a meditation on a passage from the prophet Micah.
Here are the original words (Micah 6:3--5).
O my people, what have I done to you?
How have I wearied you?
Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt
And redeemed you from the house of slavery,
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.
O my people, remember what Balak, king of Moab devised,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the LORD.

This address of the LORD to Israel was part of a covenant lawsuit, in which He had called on his unfaithful and idolatrous people to to give an account of their breach-of-contract with the God who had redeemed them.  Their situation is untenable, they have no defense in the LORD's courtroom, they have invoked His curses, their doom is certain.

Micah's description of the covenant lawsuit of God against His people is recalled on Good Friday because on Calvary this untenable situation was resolved, when Jesus Christ took upon Himself our guilt and our doom, by enduring the curse which we have justly provoked.  It is of some interest that Micah describes this lawsuit as taking place "before the mountains."  He may have foreseen Jesus' walk up Calvary's hill to answer for us.  Surely it was there that the greatest "saving act" of the Lord took place.

It is truly sad that this magnificent liturgical poetry (brilliantly set to music) is so little known.  This is owing to the frivolous notion that the Old Testament allusions are somehow anti-Semitic and offensive to the Jewish people.  We must be quick to say that the address "O my people" is not directed toward the idolatrous Israelites of Micah's day, nor to the Sanhedrin which sent Jesus to Pilate, and certainly not to the Jewish people of later centuries.  The Reproaches are addressed, specifically and painfully, to ourselves, the Christian community of here and now.  Because of the "new covenant" which our Saviour announced in the Upper Room (really the ancient covenant of grace re-established and made new), we are God's covenant people.  And we too are faithless, idolatrous, guilty covenant-breakers.  I am not convinced that it was sensitivity for Jewish feelings that has placed the Reproaches in our liturgical attic.  Each time I read them I feel bound to respond, "Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy" not upon them, but "upon us."

Mercifully, the Reproaches do not end with the covenant lawsuit in which we are convicted.  The conclusion is, "We venerate the Cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify thy holy Resurrection, for by virtue of the Cross joy hath come to the whole world."

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday

Phil. 2:5-11 * Matt. 27:1-54

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus

In a rather unhappy conversation with a man who aspired to be a priest, I asked the question, “What is it that you want?” He answered me, “I want to be a priest; in fact, I want to be a bishop.” He even said, “Isn’t it right to want to get to the top of your field?” I told him that he should forget the whole idea of Holy Orders for himself. I said I would not help him with it at all. I went on to explain to him that this is not about ambition. Every priest, including the Archbishop, is forever a deacon, that is, a servant. He said that he had never heard that before. Had he not read what Saint Paul tells us? “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In fact, that is for everyone.
The passage we heard in the Epistle appointed for Palm Sunday, the great Christological passage in Philippians, has been the subject of very important, indeed necessary, theological writing and teaching since the earliest times. In no uncertain terms it teaches us that Jesus Christ is equal to God, that is, by His very nature He is God; as the Creed says, “Light of Light, very God of very God, of one substance (homousion)  with the Father.” And, just as St. John tells us that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” St. Paul tells us that this Person, equal to God, was “found in fashion (σχῆμα) as a man.” This passage tells us what John told us: “And the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh.”
          And, it goes on to tell how He emptied Himself, which means that He humbled Himself. He remained equal to God, and is equal to the Father as God, but nonetheless took upon Him the form of a servant. And, as a servant He “went about doing good, healing all who were oppressed of the devil. (Acts 10: 38)” Above all, in that role of a servant He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
          “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Important as the theological meaning to this whole passage is, the Apostle wrote it for a pastoral reason that included that same call Jesus had made to everyone who would be one of His disciples:

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:24-26)” 

As we begin Holy Week, we need to hear this call. When I consider the damage that has been done to the Continuing Church, I know that much of that damage was from men who wanted to slice off a portion of the Church in order to rule over something. They were not servants in their hearts.
When the Lord told His disciples that He was going to the cross before entering into glory by His resurrection, it was the same St. Peter, who had only just said his great confession, who took the Lord aside and tried to talk Him out of it. One minute earlier, Peter was told that he was blessed, because flesh and blood had not revealed to him that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Father had revealed this to him. Jesus then gave a new meaning to Simon’s nickname, Peter, the Rock upon which Christ would build His Church (a special calling that Peter would later fulfill in the early chapters of the Book of Acts). But, now Jesus corrects Peter for speaking the devil’s words.

“From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (vss.21-24)”

Well, that only goes to show that Peter was not yet ready, and he would not be ready until he had seen the risen Lord, and until he was filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. He had not yet learned to have the mind of Jesus in him. He had not yet learned the meaning of the cross.
          And, we see that ignorance of that way, the way of Christ’s cross, made even this blessed man a mouthpiece of Satan; this same man who had been given the most important of revelations directly by God the Father. He had been given the revelation of Christ’s glory, but he needed to learn the way of Christ’s cross. Jesus resists Peter’s words, of dissuasion from the cross, in a way that is reminiscent of the temptations after His forty day fast in the wilderness.
          Whatever your personal opinion may be of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, it does show the real horror to which the Lord submitted Himself. It is consistent with Scripture and informed by archeology and history. Roman “justice” was that cruel. The soldiers did get their fun by crowning the Lord with thorns, beating Him and mocking Him after a near fatal scourging that would have killed a weaker man. The theory of Biblical interpretation upon which the movie was based seems to have gone over the heads of many critics, especially over the heads of those who thought it portrayed the Lord as weak or helpless.
          From the first scene in Gethsemane, the devil is trying to talk the Lord into refusing the death of the cross, and the burden of carrying the full weight of human sin. It shows a contest, a wrestling match, between the Lord and Satan. When the Lord, in the garden, says to the Father, “not my will, but thine be done,” the moon goes behind a cloud. If the Lord is willing to submit Himself to the power of evil men, then the devil is going to make sure it is as painful as possible, to tempt Him. Recall the words that were flung at Him when He was on the cross:

“Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. (Matt. 27:40-42)”

In fact, the movie was all about Christus Rex, or Christus Victor, that is, that on the cross Jesus was still in complete control as King of kings, and by His death Jesus won the victory.
            Listen to the words Jesus spoke:
“Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be? (Matt. 26:51-54)

And this:
“Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. (John 10:17,18)”

Why did Jesus make His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? What is the real reason for His words? “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done. (Matt. 26:39,42)” We know from other occasions that Christ spoke prayers so that others could learn from them, saying when He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, “And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. (John 11:42)
This is all about why the Lord would so willingly fulfill the Scriptures about the Suffering Servant of YHVH (Isaiah 52:13-53:12): Because without Christ’s cross the will of God is not possible. That gracious will by which we, lost in sin and death, could be saved. “If it be possible,” said Jesus in the Garden. If what be possible? If it were possible that we could be forgiven, that the sins of the world could be taken away—for they could not be taken away unless Jesus gave Himself as the Lamb of God. His prayer in the Garden was not a moment of fear (he expressed no fear, but only sorrow). He did not pray to be spared: In fact, the effect of His words was very much the opposite: “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt… thy will be done.
          He willingly drank the cup of sorrow. And, about that prayer in Gethsemane, He said it for our sakes. We need to know that only by His cross, only by His obedience unto death, even the death of the cross, was the curse and burden of sin carried away; and that it could not be carried away by any other means. Could God forgive and justify sinners without the cross? No; for He would then be neither just nor holy (Rom. 3:26). Could God then destroy the human race? No, “for God so loved the world…” For our sakes, Jesus submitted to the will of the Father who loved us, Who gave His own Son for us (“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom. 8:32”).
Jesus was Christus Rex on the tree. And he was Christus Victor by His death. In all of this, He also shows us the way to live. If the One Who is equal to God could “humble Himself to behold the things which are in heaven in earth (Psalm 113: 6),” so much so that He “took upon Him the form of a servant,” just who is any one of us? Are you too good to be a servant? Am I? Is anyone here willing to claim a station, in this world, greater than that of God the Son? He became a servant, the Suffering Servant.


Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Faking a Bundle

This is relevant yet again as we approach Easter

"There was also a book, The Jesus Family Tomb (co-authored by Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino), to go along with the TV special, and even an article in Newsweek on the subject. Medved noted that this was not coincidental: “Could this sudden flurry of interest possibly relate to the upcoming Easter holiday?”


Friday, April 04, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent commonly called Passion Sunday


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

The Church, in her wisdom guided by the Holy Spirit, chose today's Gospel reading for the beginning of Passiontide, the climactic final weeks of Lent that carry us right through the betrayal and crucifixion of our Lord on Good Friday. Now, the emphasis is on the cross in a special way, for we must fix our gaze on it and what it means. Before we begin to consider any other aspect of this time of the year, and of our Scripture readings as appointed, and what they teach us, we ought to bear in mind that Jesus foretold his death and resurrection many times long before entering Jerusalem. He meant to go there; he saw the cross as his mission; he insisted on giving his enemies the opportunity to do quite literally, their worst, with such words as:

"And [you] say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets. Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers."1
In short, not only did he refuse to avoid the cross; he ran toward it.
And so it is with his words in what we read today:
"Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple."

I will provide an explanation of why this statement is a picture of Jesus running, figuratively speaking, to the cross. But, first, we should clear up one possible objection. It may appear otherwise, inasmuch as at this point in the story He, as it says "hid himself." Frankly, the reply to that objection is obvious: As He had once said to His blessed virgin mother: "mine hour is not yet come." 2 His disciples had not yet been prepared; all things had not yet been accomplished. 3 But, in this passage we see that he gives his enemies a cause for pursuing him, hounding him unto death.

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

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

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

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

We see what his cross does for you and for me by hearing the Epistle appointed for this day:

"By his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

Saving the human race from sin and death, most especially those who believe in him, was his passion. For that cause He embraced the cross as His passion. Nothing could keep Him from it. The revelation that He, as He stood before them in creaturely flesh and blood as a man, is One with the Father, was both worth dying for, and was the motive that He handed them to go ahead, in their madness and fury, to seek His execution.

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

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

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

When Jesus was betrayed , He called his betrayer "friend.”

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

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

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent


Galatians 4:21-31 * John 6:1-14
No more sophomoric a gesture can be made then to try, by measures understandable to the created mind, to discredit the Almighty. We have all heard it, the attempt to bring the idea of omnipotence into question by a foolish question: "Can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?" Well, of course, to raise the question at all only demonstrates the absurdity of measuring infinity by ordinary and mundane things, that is, the One who is Wholly Other from every created nature by things in creation. And, of course, if we reply that such an attempt to ask a hypothetical question has been answered in the Incarnation, our hypothetical sophomore is likely to be terribly confused.

But, we have the answer to a counter question, one that exists on our level as creatures. God has made a stone so heavy that we cannot carry it. In fact two. The two tablets of the Law teach us of our duty to love God and our neighbor. Even without all of the regulations and ordinances of the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah, all of those burdens about everything from Kosher laws to ceremonial laws, just the Ten Commandments alone are more than anyone of us has kept perfectly..

Now, St. Paul, in the Epistle, wants the Galatian Christians to know that the Old Covenant of Sinai will not give to them the freedom that comes from a good conscience, and that faith in Christ does. All too often Christians are short sighted on this subject. Too many have been programmed to perceive every reference to a difference, in the two covenants, in purely legal terms. The Jews in the Old Testament were burdened with laws about food, and all sorts of things like that, and we are not. So, they figure, we have less of a burden, fewer laws to worry about.

Well, that may very well be true. But, the difference between the two covenants, in this case the Covenant made when God revealed the Law through Moses and the New Covenant1 in Christ's blood, is far more significant than simply the fact that they were forbidden to eat pork, or had to be kosher, or had to practice all the ceremonies of the temple that no longer even stands. The difference, in light of today's Gospel, is about whether you are feeding on Christ, the food and drink of eternal life, or receiving the judgment of condemnation. It is the difference between grace and wrath.

Indeed, the tablets of the Law are too heavy for anyone of us to carry. And, those two tablets were just the moral Law alone, without all the regulations and ordinances. Those heavy stones contain the Ten Commandments. Now, recall what you were taught for Confirmation (or should have been taught before receiving that sacrament). Remember, assuming you heard it, that when you look at the Ten Commandments in light of the two Great Commandments we hear in the Summary of the Law, you notice that the first four are about loving God, and the remaining six are about loving your neighbor. The tablets of the Law boil down to those two Great Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets."

Let us consider what those poor Galatians were being taught by the first heretics in Christian history. St. Paul was setting them straight because false teachers had gone out, with no authority from the Apostles, and told converts from among the Gentiles that they had to keep the whole Law of Moses with its six hundred and thirteen commandments, and had to be circumcised, in order to be saved. So, he told them that the children of that covenant were like the children of the bondwoman, not heirs with the true children. They were Ishmael, not Isaac.

But, he does not stop there. He makes the issue of the Law relevant for everybody, even those who had turned to Christ from among the Gentiles, by telling them the Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. Indeed, that is part of the same Epistle that today's reading came from. For, with all of the condemnation and fear the Law brings, it is a good thing. As he says in another Epistle: "Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." 2 In addition to teaching us how to live, it reveals to us that we are sinners, and that we need a Savior.

Frankly, the New Testament gives us the commandments of God in a way that requires us to take them internally. Which is easier, to keep the body from infidelity, or to keep the heart from it? Jesus tells us that the commandments against murder and adultery are broken, by God's absolute and holy standard, whenever we are resentful or lustful. Unjustified anger, or coveting a woman by looking at her with lust, are not just tendencies toward sin, but are sin. Oh yes, the tenth commandment begins to say this, for the law against covetousness gives an order to the heart itself, a commandment about motivation and attitude: "Thou shalt not covet." You see, what the Lord taught in the Sermon on the Mount was really the same thing he had taught Moses and the people of Israel centuries earlier by the tenth Commandment.

Is the burden of the Law really easier for us? Well, yes and no. Yes, because we do not have all those many regulations. But, no, because something is happening that is deeper. The nature of the New Covenant, as Jeremiah foretold, is that the Law of God it is written on the heart, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit, who has been active in the Church since the Day of Pentecost. He is the invisible Presence among us that shapes our hearts and minds, which is why true believers inevitably know many things and think alike, that is, with the mind of Christ. But, it may be easier for being less burdensome; it is a closer and more deeply felt reality because it is engraved on the conscience, written on the heart. But, Jeremiah also tells us that the New Covenant comes with the forgiveness of sins, and the promise that we will each one know God.

The same Lord who seemed to make the Law impossible to keep was the one so gracious that He fed the multitude with the loaves and fishes, a miracle of feeding them in the wilderness. He was so gracious that He went on to say that He would give His very self, His flesh for the life of the world. He would be for us the food and drink of eternal life, a saying so hard for many that they never walked with Him again, even after seeing His power and the miracles he worked.

Well, Jesus did not merely seem to make the law impossible. In the Sermon on the Mount He was telling us, in fact, that we are sinners.; that the Law is impossible for us to keep perfectly, and it is our schoolmaster. Moses was in diagnostics, and our Lord is the healer. The stone tablets of the Law are too heavy for us to carry. But, instead of coming to destroy us, the Son of God came to save us.

I described for you the first heresy. That heresy was described in the Book of Acts, and it is answered in that same book. It is answered very thoroughly in the Epistle to the Galatians. Often this can be misunderstood. As should be obvious by now, Paul was not finding fault with the Law. Rather he was pointing out that it cannot save you; indeed, it was never meant to save you. The weakness is in the flesh, not in the Law of God. The way that he uses that word, "flesh," is to speak of the weakness inflicted on our nature by sin and death.

In a very real way, the first heresy was repeated in the fourth century by Britain's first heretic, Palagius. He taught that there is no such thing as "Original Sin," and that we can save ourselves just by the mere strength of human effort. We could make ourselves holy without the grace of God. It takes sheer will power, said Palagius. But, this burden is intolerable, to carry all that heavy weight without grace from the Holy Spirit, and all those wonderful promises of the New Covenant.

The feeding of the multitude in the wilderness shows us the goodness of God. This too was a place of weakness, where the people would become too hungry to go on, and would faint. Our condition, weakened by sin and death, is hopeless without grace. The Lord gave them the bread in the wilderness, showing that what Moses had given by the miraculous Manna, was a picture. That bread, and the bread of Christ's miracle, were there to teach them that they must feed on Christ to live forever.

Every day we all break the Law in many ways. Even with the grace of God, we still live also in the weakness of a fallen nature subject to death. Sinful thoughts and attitudes, with words and deeds, come from us all the time. And yet, even now in this weakened state, the Lord gives Himself to us in his Body and his Blood. Even as we live in this fallen state, we also receive His grace each day. When the people were weak through hunger, He fed them by means of a miracle.

He established the New Covenant, mentioning it the night in which He was betrayed, before completing the painful task later that night and most of the next day. He was sold by a friend, delivered to the Gentiles, tried, mocked, scourged, crucified dead and buried. So He took away the sins of the world. Then He rose the third day and appeared to witnesses. The Law diagnosed our need, and Jesus healed us. He has carried the full weight for us.

1. Jeremiah 31:31-34
2. Romans 7:12