Saturday, April 25, 2015

Third Sunday after Easter

1 St. Pet. 2:11-17  *  St. John 16:16-22


A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.

These words must be taken quite literally, for they were fulfilled literally.
For a brief while they did not see him, and then they saw him. We must hear in these words their blunt, literal, objective meaning. They are echoed in words we say every morning and evening: He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. The third day he rose again from the dead.
          In my younger days I was among people who wanted to be very spiritual, and some who wanted to appear to be very spiritual. The words I have quoted above were treated all too mystically by some people. They wanted to interpret them in terms of spiritual or religious experience. I want to be careful not to rob anyone of the significance of real experience of that kind, nor of a spiritual sense in which these words describe it for them:

A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.

However, I recall the words of G.K. Chesterton writing about the thirteenth century, and the prevailing mysticism of that era. In his biographical sketch of St. Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton wrote: “When Religion would have maddened men, theology kept them sane.”1 So, these words of Jesus, “A little while, and ye shall not see me; and again, a little, and ye shall see me,” must be treated first and foremost by the “Queen of the Sciences” – by which I do mean theology. It is a science, based on facts, facts that amount to revelation. And, if I may intrude upon the religious nature of a church service with the science of theology, let me encourage everyone here to examine the facts.

The scientific approach
Within a few days after the Lord spoke these words, the situation was this: Their Lord was dead. Several times He told them how it would be. He said several times that He would be handed over to the Gentiles and be crucified, and die; and that He would rise again the third day. But their minds blocked out what He told them until they went through the worst of it. That is understandable. Their hope was shattered. They mourned and wept while the world rejoiced.     
But, after three days He appeared to them alive again. He had not conquered Rome; He had, instead, conquered the real enemy. He had overcome sin and death. He had been the Suffering Servant spoken of by Isaiah the prophet; now He was the man who died as “an offering for sin,” and then rose again to “prolong His days” as the one in whose hand the will of the Lord would prevail (all just as the prophet had said).
          Those are the facts, as witnessed by His disciples. That is theology as science, based on facts of revelation. And, indeed, Jesus encouraged the scientific approach:

Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”2

Then saith he to Thomas, “reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said unto him, “My Lord and my God.”3

The Lord encouraged faith too; but He also made known His will that they should accept the proofs He showed them, that He was alive. As I said on Easter, this was not about some mystery called “the empty tomb.” It was about the facts declared by eyewitnesses; and not just any eyewitnesses, but those witnesses who gave the word martyr (witness) its new meaning. They stared down death as the only people in the world who could now laugh at the terror of the grave – or, rather, the former terror; for they feared death no longer.
The other thing some may be moved to do with these words of Jesus is to apply them to their own emotional ups and downs, or to their own fears and the comforts that come by God’s grace in this life. That is fair enough, as long as we see all that as a mere shadow of the true meaning of what Christ said here. And, when we consider the implications of the resurrection of Christ for us, the literal meaning of His words is far greater for us.
          Because He rose again from the dead the third day, your hope is not in this world only, but in the world to come when God makes everything new. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome,

But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.4

We do not believe merely in a symbolic resurrection, something to help us feel good about worldly things, about transient emotional turmoil or desires. Our hope is not about this world that passes away, or the things of this world that so easily draw away our love from God to carnal affections. Besides, it is not always the will of God to deliver us from our perceived problems or to give us what we think we want for ourselves. Frankly, some of our desires are petty, some are sinful and selfish, and some are simply irrelevant to the things that God would have us pay attention to.        

Easter past and future
          Easter is a fact of history; but it is also the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to come. The resurrection is a fact that was accomplished on the Third Day, and a promise that will be fulfilled on the Last Day. “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”5
For "we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is," wrote St. John. 6 St. Paul, writing to the Church in Corinth, says:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.7

The imagery is from the harvest. In spring we have the firstfruits, that first growth of the field; it is a foretaste of what comes later in the harvest. It fulfilled the meaning of the feast of the firstfruits in the Book of Leviticus.8 The feast of the firstfruits was directly after the first Sabbath that followed the Passover. No coincidence that.
After the Sabbath they were to present the firstfruits, just as Christ would rise and appear to witnesses after the Sabbath, on the first (and eighth) day of the week. The firstfruits are a pledge of the future, a promise of what is to come. As Christ rose from the dead in the Springtime of the world, He will come again at the time of harvest. As He rose from the dead never to die again, so also shall those who love God and look for His appearing rise again at His coming, and enter into His Easter life, His resurrected and eternal life, His immortality, never to die again. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church in Rome, writes:

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.9  

You see, "when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is." Easter is history and future. It happened and will happen. The third day, the day after the Sabbath, was Christ's Easter. The day when He comes again shall be our Easter; and like Him, all who have looked for His appearing again, all who love God, will enter into His immortality. Though we will have died, we will die no more; Death shall have no more dominion over us; for it has no more dominion over Him. This is our future if we remain In Christ.
Paul also wrote, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable."10 Modern religion all too often is about feeling good in this life, or being successful in this world, or even about health and prosperity; all of which things, though, they may be good for a time, are ultimately worthless; for this life ends. "Here we have no abiding place." These words that Jesus spoke mean so much more. They mean everything.
Without this hope of the Gospel, the Epistle reading we heard today would come across as moral platitudes. But, in the context of Christianity, of the Gospel and our Risen Living Lord, they take on lively and powerful meaning:

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having your conversation honest among the Gentiles… For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 

          In the context of eternal life, every commandment takes on new meaning. That meaning is,

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another… We love him, because he first loved us.11

          For a brief while they did not see Him, and then they saw Him.

A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.
____________________
1. Chesterton, G.K., Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, 1933, London
2. Luke 24:39
3. John 20:27,28
4. Rom. 8:11
5. John 6:54
6. I John 3:2
7. I Cor. 15:20-23
8. Lev. 23:15-17
9. Rom. 6:9, 10
10. I Cor. 15:19

11. I John 4:10,11,19

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Feisty Converts on a Mission from God

A Frank Admission

I have gotten to an age where I feel less and less inclined to waste my time. When I was younger I felt compelled to prove my case when challenged by people who desired to unchurch me, or to deny the validity of my orders, etc. I was under the mistaken impression that I could reason with them, something I now understand to be impossible.

Perhaps in those earlier days I was really defending my honor more than my church affiliation and its heritage. Perhaps I wanted them to take me seriously. All I know about that for sure is, if I engage in such conversations now it is to help someone in distress who is being mentally bullied by self-appointed "evangelists" of either one or the other of the Two One True Churches. God knows, as do long time readers of The Continuum, that I have written a lot to aid Continuing Anglicans in just that position, including, a few years ago, some who were being bullied by their own bishops to try to slide in to the Roman Catholic Church, by some trick of magic or sleight of hand, without having to change anything. 

Well, my frank admission is that I was a rather bad boy the other day. On a facebook page I stumbled across zealous adherents arguing over which of the Two One True Churches was the One-est and the Truest. They were going on about historical details to prove which one came first. In a curmudgeonly state of mind I reminded them that Henry Aaron still comes in first, if only because he didn't do it with steroids. 

I received a question in reply. "First at what?" My answer, as any sane man should expect, was, "On the all time home run list of course - Sheesh!." After all, it seemed about time that they got onto a genuinely important topic, and one with a reasonable conclusion possible, that is, one that could be substantiated. I was asked what that had that to do with their discussion. I replied with my usual snarky line about both of the One True Churches, expecting to be ignored. Within seconds I was receiving ecclesiastical insults, being told that they pray for people like me that we would return to the true Church, that I was not a brother in the Lord, that I was not one who shared a common faith. The fellows who wrote those comments were all members of the Orthodox brand. 

I know the type. Converts from a lifetime of western Christianity, who are recent converts at that. I replied that I would not enter into any serious discussion with them. You see, when these young men (to me they're young) "convert" they go through a process that begins with being very defensive about why their new Church body is the Whole shootin' match, and why the rest of us are wandering in the dark. I pointed out to them what stage of development they appeared to be in, and that it is something that I hope will not last, and that it is "sort of akin to teething." 

Well, my iPhone kept lighting up with comment after comment. What had I gotten into? - and all just to have a little laugh. That'll teach me not to joke around with ultra serious young men. The comments included my being lectured on why one of them could not, in honesty, call me "Father" (I really never asked to be called by any title in the conversation), receiving the usual goofy remarks about not having a valid line of Apostolic Succession, but mostly noticing that they were trying to get a serious reply from me.

Instead they got the following video, a scene from A Night in Casablanca, the great swordfight scene in which Harpo Marx makes a complete mockery out of the ancient art of dueling. I wonder if they got the message which I meant to impart by this reply. Well, I suppose they have no sense of humor at this stage, what with ecclesiastical teething and all that.




Saturday, April 18, 2015

Second Sunday after Easter




                         The image is based on I Samuel 17: 34-36 
                                                
known as "GOOD SHEPHERD SUNDAY"
Isaiah 40:1-11 * Psalm 23 * I Pet. 2:19-25 * John 10:11f

Today's reading from the Gospel of John can be expanded to include the next two verses, giving us a fuller context:

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.
      
The scriptures we have heard today tie together very profound mysteries about Christ’s sacrificial death, His patience and suffering, and about the care for us that the Risen Christ shows even now by continuing to guide His Church. The Shepherd has died for the sheep. He leads the whole flock, having died to redeem that which belonged to Him; having a double claim as our Creator and Redeemer. Christ is the Shepherd Who even now cares for the Sheep, and leads them, Who protects His flock in folds. 
      “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” So wrote Isaiah in his famous Suffering Servant passage, the passage from which Saint Peter draws in today's Epistle. I have said before that the Suffering Servant passage goes beyond Christ’s atoning death, predicting as well his resurrection by telling us that he would, after death, “prolong his days” as the agent of God’s will.
      It predicts the day of Pentecost by telling us that Christ would “divide the spoil with the strong.” This echoes words from Psalm 68:18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us, through the prophetic oracle, that all of the grace, and, indeed every gift, that God gives to us has come by way of the cross of Christ.
      St. Anselm taught that Christ did all the work, and after earning a great reward for his labor, gives all of the benefits of his work away. He gives all of the earning, profit and reward to us. For, He is God the Son, and has need of nothing. St. Peter puts it to us with great force: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” That’s the first message. Christ offered himself as the Lover of mankind, in fact, as the one who loves you. He is the sacrifice not just for the whole world, but for you; dying as much for each as for all. This is why I tell you so often; when you look up at the crucifix where he pours out his soul unto death, and you see his love there, take it personally.
          After His resurrection, Jesus walked the earth for forty days before His ascension (Acts 1:3). In the Gospel According to St. Luke, we read this:

“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 (Luke 24:44-47).”

          Both in the Book of Acts and in the various Epistles that follow, we are given a great deal of teaching. It would make sense to attribute that doctrine to what Jesus taught, that is, how He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. One thing that is very apparent, from the whole New Testament, is that the Suffering Servant passage (Isaiah 52:13-53:12) was a prophetic foretelling of Christ’s death and sacrifice, and of His resurrection.
          The New Testament gives us a theological understanding of that ancient prophetic passage. From the way the passage is quoted in the Gospels of Sts. Matthew (8:17) and John (12:38-41), from how Phillip used it to preach Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:27-39), from the in-depth explanation in the Epistle to the Hebrews of Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and His post resurrection priestly ministry of intercession, and from the many allusions in the reading today from the First Epistle of St. Peter, one thing becomes undeniable: A very early Apostolic doctrine of the Church is that the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah is all about Jesus Christ and Him alone. It foretells His death, and explains the purpose of His death, “An offering for sin (Isaiah 53:10).” To deny that this understanding of the passage is one of the earliest of Apostolic teachings, is to argue with the writers of the New Testament. In the portion quoted above, from the Gospel of Luke, I believe we may attribute that understanding of the Suffering Servant passage directly to the Risen Lord Himself (and, no doubt, other passages).
      We see in our Collect that we are to look upon Christ’s death and suffering as both an example of godly life and as the sacrifice for our sins. Unless we know that 53rd chapter of Isaiah, we cannot understand what Saint Peter is saying, nor can we fully grasp the meaning of today’s Gospel, or those other words of Isaiah from the 40th chapter: 

He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. 

All that gentle care and goodness involved His death; and the Shepherd is the Risen Christ who cares for His Church until the Day when He comes again in glory. It is not enough to picture the Good Shepherd gently carrying a lamb in His arms, unless we see the print of the nails in His hands. As Fr. Wells has reminded us in one of his Bulletin Inserts

       "John 10 is the great 'Good Shepherd' chapter of the New Testament. The chapter in its entirety (we read only a few verses taken from a larger context) will lift us above the shallow and sentimental notion of what a good shepherd is, as so frequently depicted in religious pictures. What we find in John 10 is rather a picture full of danger and violence."

            Indeed, better than the warm happy picture of Jesus carrying a lamb in His arms, in a peaceful meadow that suggests the second movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (no. 6) to our mind’s ear, is another picture altogether. I prefer a Bible illustration I have seen of David, as a shepherd keeping his father’s sheep in the wilderness, having slain a bear, and now facing a lion, sword in hand. So David described speaking to King Saul, just before facing Goliath. The picture involves battle and danger, and in that way fits the Good Shepherd Passage, in the Gospel of John, far better than the peaceful image on many a stained-glass window.
      The Good Shepherd’s goodness and love are demonstrated by His death. He has nothing else to prove. If His ways seem hard to learn, or His commandments seem burdensome, we must remember that He already has shown His love; therefore, we ought to trust that what He requires of us is due to His love- it is all for our good.
      As the Shepherd He cares for us and commits the cure of souls to earthly pastors who represent Him. The true ministry of bishops, priests and deacons is to aid the salvation of your souls. Easy church membership is a disservice. We must not make everything too easy, because if we do that we frustrate the working of God’s grace in your lives. This is why even in Easter we may need to be reminded that we do not stop carrying the cross in this life. We cannot set our affection on things above (Col. 3:2) without the aid of the cross, that is, the cross we must carry as His disciples.    
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure. (I John 3:1-3)”

Only as the Risen Christ, scars and all, He still leads us. With the marks of His death yet in His hands, His feet and His side, the living risen Christ, our Shepherd, leads us. So, we follow not only the example of patience and holiness; we follow His direction and hear His voice. Herein is a great danger: We can be religious without hearing His voice; we can build churches without hearing His voice. Remember, the Hebrew word sh’mai means both to hear and to obey. If we obey Him, then we will know Him as He knows the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent ( John 17:3).”
      In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan and Lucy, upon hearing that Aslan is a lion, ask, “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver answers: “Lord love ya’ child. ‘Course he’s not safe. But, he is good.” As we all know, Aslan represents Jesus Christ. And so C.S. Lewis provides a true insight for us: The Lord is not safe, but He is good. Goodness means that he does not deal with us as we deserve, but for our well-being. To save your soul from eternal death He endured the cross; and to give you the full benefit of His cross He provides the cross for you to carry as His disciple, so that you may purify yourself as He is pure. That is, to live with the purpose of being made holy. This is goodness, not safety. Christianity is not a safe religion; it is, in fact, the stuff of which martyrs are made. There is no Gospel without the cross. There is no Gospel without the Risen Christ. To follow the Good Shepherd we must go through the valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil. We have this hope in ourselves, because we know that when we shall see Him we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EASTER

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

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

So now, hear these words from that Epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 04, 2015

Easter Fugue

https://soundcloud.com/robert-w-hart/easter-fugue-on-salzburg

Easter

Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen…

From Isaiah chapter 25:

6: And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. 

7: And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the vail that is spread over all nations. 

8: He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. 

9: And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.


In his first Epistle to the Corinthians, Saint Paul lists four points of the Gospel. In the Book of Acts you can find that in all of his sermons, Saint Paul proclaims these four points, and in the sermons of Saint Peter (in the Book of Acts) we see these four points as well. Always they are there, with none missing.

I Corinthians 15:

1: Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 

2: By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 

3: For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 

4: And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 
5: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 
6: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 
7: After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 
8: And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.


The four are:

  1. Christ died for our sins:
  2. He was buried
  3. He rose the third day
  4. He appeared to witnesses.

Notice that little phrase, “according to the scriptures.” Just as in the Creed called Nicene, this phrase (which appears there as well) “according to the scriptures” does not mean, “Well, that’s what the Bible says.” It means that Christ’s death for our sins and His resurrection on the third day, fulfilled the scriptures that foretold these things.

None is better known than Isaiah’s Suffering Servant passage:

5: 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. 

6: 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. 

7: He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. 

8: He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. (Isa. 53: 5-8)


The One Righteous Man, Himself without sin, dies as the One True Sacrifice, the Atonement- the One for the many. Therefore our sins can be forgiven without God violating His holiness and His justice.

It goes on to predict His resurrection, saying of the Suffering Servant who has died in this manner:

9: And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. 

10: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. (Isa. 53: 9,10).


How does a dead man prolong His days, and become the agent of God’s pleasure (that is His will) unless He overcomes death, and lives to prolong His days? He died, and made His grave with the wicked, that is, He was dead the same way that all men die. Except that He alone is not wicked, and died paying the penalty that He did not owe. And, after dying He prolongs His days forever and accomplishes His Father’s will. This happened according to these predictions. They are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Fulfilled also is the 16th Psalm, as quoted often throughout the Book of Acts:
9: Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. 

10: For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. 

11: Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

The resurrection on the third day came before His flesh could see corruption.

The third of Saint Paul’s Gospel points is that He was buried. In the sermons in the Book of Acts, both those of Peter and of Paul, His burial is proclaimed, and, as we have seen, this too was foretold by Isaiah. His burial is important, because His death was certain. It was a fact that he died on the cross.

The resurrection showed that He was not a lunatic, or a devil, but our Lord and our God. Remember what C.S. Lewis wrote, that Jesus was not a “great moral teacher.” “He did not give us that option; indeed, He did not mean to.” Either He was a lunatic, a very devil of Hell, or He was the Lord our God. His resurrection proves which of these three is the truth. It vindicates all that He had claimed about Himself. When He claimed to be God, equal with the Father, He is vindicated by the fact that He rose from the dead. “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  “I and My Father are One.”

And when He rose, He appeared to witnesses. This last point is essential, because the appearance to witnesses is how we know. This testimony is sure and certain evidence. The witnesses of His resurrection, the Apostles and the Five Hundred disciples who met with Him on the mountain in Galilee, did not go on to become rich Television preachers. They became wanted men, fugitives. Their lives were lives of suffering. Peter and John were beaten and imprisoned. James, the brother of John, was slain with the sword. Peter was imprisoned and he expected to be executed. The early Church was persecuted, first by their own people, their fellow Jews, and then by the Romans. The testimony of those witnesses makes the resurrection of Christ a fact of history, recorded by eye-witnesses that He was alive again. It is more than mere myth or even simply an “article of faith.” Most of the apostles were skeptics at first, not only Thomas. Indeed, people may experience a group delusion; but never a group hallucination. That is as impossible as a group of people all having the same dream. It does not happen. The fact is, they saw Him alive again, and, rather than recant their testimony, they submitted to death by various means.

The very fact that the Church survived its earliest years is proof that the witness was true. The Greek word for witness is martyr. The fact that we are here as part of the Church, the Church that is throughout the whole world, proves that we are founded on a rock, a sure foundation, testimony signed in martyr’s blood. This is part of our nature as the Church.

The Church remains a living witness, and life in the Church is a partaking of martyrdom, of the Church’s witness in a hostile world. No matter how comfortable we may feel in this country, let us never forget that the Church is an army of martyrs, and that we may find ourselves called to walk the path of the witnesses. But, death is the one thing we need never fear.

We know that when He returns in Glory, we shall be raised from our graves as well, and His immortality shall be given to us. Death has been defeated, and when he comes again it will be destroyed.

1: Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. 

2: 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. 

3: And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (I John 3:1-3).

We seek to become pure and holy, not simply out of fear. We press on to the life of following Christ in the calling all Christians have- to become saints- out of hope. Christ rose from the dead, the first fruits of them that slept. When He comes again the harvest of the resurrection will follow the pattern of the first fruits, and death shall be swallowed up in victory, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.


Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is risen

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Enemies of the Cross of Christ

"Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)" Philippians 3:17-19

Here is one of those curious phrases of St. Paul, "Enemies of the cross of Christ." Why does he not say, simply, "Enemies of Christ?" What does he mean by specifying the Lord's cross? What sort of enmity is this?

All my life, I have heard people talk of the people who carried palms (an ancient Semitic
symbol of a king), and proclaimed Jesus as the King, the Messiah, the Son  of David, as having missed the mark. They understood Messiah only in terms of the Day when He is revealed in glory and brings the final triumph of the Kingdom of God to all the earth. Indeed, that is true in every way; but so is the Suffering Servant foretold by Isaiah (mostly in Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and the crucifixion foretold in Psalm 22. 

Indeed, the entire prophetic picture of Messiah as priest and sacrifice had also been in the Scriptures all along. But, just as Jesus' own words foretelling His death in detail, and His resurrection on the third day, went in one ear and out the other even of His closest disciples, so too, this entire message of Messiah's first coming to suffer death and thus redeem us, remained hidden. When Jesus had just told Peter how blessed he was for knowing Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God, he had to rebuke him: 

"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. 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? (Matthew 16:20-25, notice the context)."

In Passiontide we emphasize the Lord's suffering and death on our behalf, with great emphasis on how He bore our sins away, and paid our debt of sin in full. And, this is quite right. Who, we may ask, might be an enemy of that? On Palm Sunday we read that great Christological passage, one chapter earlier than what I quoted at the start of this, in the same Epistle to the Philippians (2:5-11). Often that passage is quoted for its theology, and the theological subtopic of Christology. But, at the time that Paul wrote it, he had a pastoral reason, beginning with "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." 

Christ is, thus presented, as the great example of obedience and humility, leading to the verses that follow, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (12, 13)." It is the same thing that Jesus Himself had said: "The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? (Luke 9:21-25)"

Any minister who preaches another way to follow Christ, one which does not involve daily self-denial, and following Him by taking up your cross, is false.

"For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him...For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (II Corinthians 11:4, 14, 15)."

Can I enumerate various enemies of the cross of Christ?

First, the inclusive "and "affirming" church." At a time when the whole world is witnessing persecution of Christians to the death at the hands of such butchers as ISIS and Boko Haram, we see mainline denominations in the United States (chief among them, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church USA, etc.), and other western countries (such as Sweden, etc.) teaching that nothing is more important than "affirming" people in their "lifestyle preferences." This includes treating carnal sexual sins as something to celebrate, rather than to repent from. This includes homosexual relations, and also fornication and adultery. To support all manner of carnal sins, they also support abortion on demand, since they believe no one should have to accept any consequences. 

But, God's true mouthpiece will remain steadfast in the Apostle's Doctrine, and warn that all people everywhere must repent or face the danger of the judgment to come. 

Second is the Faith and Prosperity Gospel. You've seen it. Preachers on TV promise that anyone with true faith will never suffer. Nothing could be farther from the examples of God's greatest servants in Scripture (besides, never trust a man with styled hair).

Third, there is the uplifting and inspirational preacher. This enemy of the cross of Christ can appear in just about any context, including our own if we are not careful. By the end of all his sermons, everyone feels warm and fuzzy, indeed, exhilarated. But, no one is warned to repent from sin, or told how to be faithful, or how to apply the lessons of Discipleship in daily life.

There are others out there, I am sure. But these are prominent in our day and age. Their god is their belly, their glory is their shame, and they mind earthly things. They cannot proclaim salvation. They look for a way to be religious, or filled with faith and power, but in a way that has no cross. 

But, to be one of Jesus Christ's disciples, there is only the old fashioned way. You must take up your cross and follow Him.